Monday, May 19, 2014

Patricia Highsmith: Art and Inspiration

With the recent film release of The Two Faces of January (no relation), yet another powerful vehicle of film comes to the screen based on the work of Patricia Highsmith.

The movie, starring Viggo Mortenson and Kirsten Dunst and directed by screenwriter Hossein Amini, is based on Highsmith’s 1964 thriller of the same name. The Two Face of January is not, of course, the first film to be based on Highsmith’s work. Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train), Wim Wenders (The American Friend), Claude Chabrol (The Cry of the Owl) and others have all adapted Highsmith’s work for the screen.

Other films inspired by Highsmith’s work are coming and there are many novelists who aim props in the author’s direction. As a result of all this art and inspiration, on The Guardian blog, associate media editor John Dugdale asks, “How did Highsmith become so hip?”
In cinema, the main factors seem to be a new awareness of the diversity of her work beyond the Ripley series, and the latterly acquired potential for period nostalgia – although her writing is spare, post-Hitchcock film adaptations have been visually gorgeous, juxtaposing nasty people with lovely backdrops, such as The Two Faces of January's 1960s Athens. For would-be female crime writers today, part of her appeal is that her protagonists are civilians, in contrast to other potential role models, from PD James and Ruth Rendell onwards, who staged a takeover of the police detective novel (although Rendell later developed a cop-free Highsmith-esque sideline as Barbara Vine). These are contemporary, urban characters, making them more "relatable", at least for grownups, than Du Maurier's heroines, who usually live either in the past or in rural mansions.
Today's proliferating psychological thrillers, however, tend to combine Highsmithian modern setups with Du Maurier's first-person narrative technique in Rebecca, a fusion probably pioneered by Nicci French in a bestselling series starting in the late 90s and now widely adopted as bookshops are inundated with tales of stalker nightmares, sociopathic ex-husbands or bosses and evil best friends.
You can see the full piece here.



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