Through All the Lousy Luck
March 4, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I first read "Ask the Dust" in 1971 when I was doing research for "Chinatown". I was concerned about the way people really sounded when they talked, and I was dissatisfied with everything else I had read that was written during the '30s. I wanted the real thing, as Henry James would say. When I picked up Fante's "Ask the Dust," I just knew that was the way those kids talked to each other—the rhythms, cadences, racism.
Robert Towne on adapting John Fante's novel for the big screen. More inside.
posted by matteo (17 comments total)
THROUGH ALL THE LOUSY LUCK: Robert Towne's 'Ask the Dust' and the Saga of John Fante
Arturo Bandini is going to make it as a writer. Of that much he is certain. But until he does, Los Angeles is as good a place as any for him to scrape a living. It's a city of hunger, of earthquakes, and of women . . .

I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer. I did most of my reading at the downtown L.A. Public Library, and nothing that I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me. It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on.
-- Charles Bukowski

About the movie

posted by matteo at 11:18 AM on March 4, 2006

This quintessential L.A. story has been shot, of course, in South Africa
posted by matteo at 11:26 AM on March 4, 2006

Neat. There's a lot of John Fante I still haven't gotten to, but I've read everything by his son Dan. I hope Colin Farrell can pull it off.
posted by bardic at 11:32 AM on March 4, 2006

Here's my list of favorite tough-guy vernacularists, in the order in which I met them: Hemingway->Bukowski->Fante->Celine->Hamsun.

Looking forward to the movie!
posted by notyou at 11:38 AM on March 4, 2006

It all seems too..pretty.
posted by tetsuo at 12:13 PM on March 4, 2006

chinatown is one of my favorite movies .

this looks great .
posted by nola at 12:46 PM on March 4, 2006

After watching the trailer, I don't know... The Arturo Bandini that came across in my reading of 'Ask the Dust' was awkward, definitely not slick and self-assurd like Colin Ferrel in the trailer. Also, the movie seems to be more of a 'love story' than I certainly remember the book being. I thought the Mexican girl was more of an enigma to Bandini - on the periphery - and the book was more about the ways he found to sabotage himself.

Of course, my reading of 'Ask the Dust' was colored by 'The Road to Los Angeles' in which Fante mercilessly mocks what a pompous ass Bandini was in his late teens.

But hey, if it gets more people to read Fante I'm all for it!
posted by crank at 12:58 PM on March 4, 2006

This movie looks fucking terrible. And I loved the book. It's exactly the sort of story that should NOT be films in expensive gloss with Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek.
posted by chasing at 1:23 PM on March 4, 2006

After reading Ask the Dust I was saddened to learn that the Bandini's Bunker Hill area of L.A. had been paved over and skyscrapered. I thought it was gone forever. Then just last week I watched Richard Siodmak's Criss Cross, and discovered that the movie was not only shot in the area, but actually features an amazing shot of the Angel's Flight funicular railroad running in the background, visible through an apartment window halfway up the hill. Check the movie out if want to get a good look at Bandini's scummy stomping grounds.
posted by soiled cowboy at 4:01 PM on March 4, 2006

Crank said it for me. If it gets just one more person to read one more book by Fante, it's a good thing.
posted by Hogshead at 5:08 PM on March 4, 2006

I was surprised to see that the ending to Chinatown in the screenplay is different than the ending to the movie. The film's finish is absolutely perfect... I wonder who rewrote it -- Towne or Polanski?
posted by ducksauce at 6:11 PM on March 4, 2006

I read a few books by Fante because Bukowski said he was such a big influence, but wasn't that impressed. Not bad, not good, not really much effect on me at all.

It reminds me of a book called The Ideal, Genuine Man, the only non-Stephen-King book ever published by King's private publishing company because he said he couldn't stand that it wasn't in print. It had a major major impact on his writing, he said, but again, to me it was just... not much.

(King's other two writing heroes, Richard Matheson and John D. MacDonald, really were giants.)
posted by LeLiLo at 7:09 PM on March 4, 2006


im a huge fan of dan's too. i was afraid he would be a bukowski ripoff artist, but it turns out hes simply an artist.
posted by tsarfan at 7:33 PM on March 4, 2006

Bad FPP: I had no idea which link you took the quote from. Please be clearer. Being forced to click half a dozen tangential links before finding the main thread is irritating.

Really, the link you quote from should be the first link in the FPP.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:18 AM on March 5, 2006

I was surprised to see that the ending to Chinatown in the screenplay is different than the ending to the movie. The film's finish is absolutely perfect... I wonder who rewrote it -- Towne or Polanski?

Polanski (with Nicholson's support), and Towne remained pissed off about it for twenty years. then he admitted Polanski's ending works better. but you have to remind that Towne's first draft was more like a novel, 300 pages of elegy to old L.A., so a lot of cuts -- and changes -- were performed during shooting. another piece of trivia -- Dunaway was actually slapped for the final scene, on her request, to make it look raw and even more shocking and flreal

After watching the trailer, I don't know...

me neither, as a Fante fetishist I'm worried. but a movie is not made for cult-author fetishists, it's made for the general public (Altman made that point during shooting of his Ray Carver excellent film). as others have said here, I just hope this film manages to convince some people to read Fante -- that'd be more than enough for me, to make such an American Master more popular.

I had no idea which link you took the quote from.

if you mouseover the highlighted words you see that the first link is and the second one's a screenplay. the quote is about adapting the book, and it's linked on "adapt". it's not that impossible to figure out. and the other links are not tangential -- clear does not equal idiot-proof. clearly. heh.
but I admit that single-link, video posts are easier to navigate. that I am ready to admit.
posted by matteo at 7:40 AM on March 5, 2006

I saw the trailer about a month ago and was disappointed. I hate Farrell and love Fante (and like Towne's writing, though he's not a great director). I'll see it, but I doubt I'll like it.

I'd like to think that Towne couldn't get funding if he didn't have a name but I think the truth is that they're actually friends (Farrell was in The Recruit, which Towne wrote; CF comments on Towne multiple times on the dvd commentary (often referring to him as Doug Towne or some other name which isn't Robert)).

I missed the Malick movie in the theatre (because of Farrell), but will check this one out. Ugh.

I'm cringing at the thought of Spielberg directing Giammati as Bukowski in Ham on Rye. No, it hasn't been announced but ... well, you heard it here first. ;)
posted by dobbs at 9:25 AM on March 5, 2006

Thanks for the information, matteo! I was guessing it was Polanski... the original ending seemed more realistic and possibly better fitting to the story, but the revised ending was far more dramatic and far more powerful. I could see a director cutting up a perfect fitting ending with much more ease than a writer, especially after the writer had worked so hard to put the finishing touches on a script and found himself with something that stood so well as a finished product.

Thanks for the trivia, too.
posted by ducksauce at 2:31 PM on March 5, 2006

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