Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR by Judith Rossner

Charlie Rose interviewed Diane Keaton this past week, as Keaton is promoting her new memoir, Then Again, which I also read earlier this month.  Keaton starred in the 1977 movie version of today's Forgotten Book:  Judith Rossner's novel, Looking For Mr. Goodbar.

The book, a noir crime novel, became a best seller in its day but never achieved the critical respect I think it deserves.  The movie also had a great soundtrack, as dead as disco these days.  The movie is now out of print in VHS and not yet released on DVD or Blu-ray.

The book reveals the killer first thing, making the flashback plot about how we got from point A to point Z.  The movie keeps you in suspense until the very end.  Until then, the movie audience believes that any of the men in the story might be capable of killing her on any given night.

Judith Rossner based the novel on the real New York murder of a school teacher by a man she met at a single's bar.  Her protagonist is crippled when young, scarred by her experience.  As a result of the disease, her spine is crooked, though when her naked body is seen from the front, her twisted nature does not show.  Symbolic.

Keaton plays her beautifully, perhaps even naturally.  She's a material girl.  Movie-goers at the time might have said a liberated woman, but the picture below/right is telling.  She is addicted to material things, to smoke and to drink and to the pleasures of promiscuous sex.  Hedonistic, you might say; I say, a materialist at odds with the spiritual and humanist side of her nature.  She tries to fill her emptiness with material things, but it is a bottomless void, a hungry ghost.

She is constantly after more, in pursuit of some greater thrill that will fill the emptiness inside her briefly, until the addiction cries out for more again.  Or until she finally destroys herself, which of course she does.

Keaton hardly mentions Looking For Mr. Goodbar in her new memoir.  Of course she won the Academy Award that year for her performance in another movie, Annie Hall.  How much of Diane Keaton was in the characters she played in her movies?  Charlie Rose asked her that, but I don't think that Keaton knows herself well enough to say.

She sometimes teeters on the edge between then and again, but always falls off on the ambitious materialist side, quoting Cher on the importance of young good looks; and choosing men--Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino--because, she says, "Talent is so damn attractive."  Yet she allows that she has misgivings and would do some things differently could she do them again.

If so, I'd like to think that she would choose love over anything--over talent, over good looks, over money, over career advancement.  But there's the rub.  She says that she "never found a home in the arms of a man" because she chooses her career over love and everything else, time and time again.  And, at age 65, she claims that it is too late to find love.

Little does she know.

Anyway, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, the 1975 novel, is still a splendid piece of noir.  And if you haven't yet seen the movie, do yourself a favor and find it somewhere.

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