Saturday, 11 July 2015

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg – part 2



published 1978


Falling Angel Coney 2


THE BOARDWALK AND BRIGHTON Beach were deserted. Where summertime crowds lay sweating like wall-to-wall walruses a few determined scavengers probed the sand for discarded pop bottles. Beyond them, the Atlantic was the color of cast iron, surf surging against the breakwater in a leaden spray.



 Falling Angel paraSteeplechase Park spanned twenty-five acres.The Parachute Jump, a hand-me-down from the ’39 World’s Fair, towered above the factory-size, glass-walled pavilion like the framework of a two-hundred-foot umbrella.
 
 
 





A sign out front said THE FUNNY PLACE above the leering, painted face of founder George C. Tilyou. Steeplechase was as funny this time of year as a joke without a punchline, and I looked up at the grinning Mr. Tilyou and wondered what there was to laugh about.
 
Falling Angel Tilyou


I found a man-size hole in the chain-link fence and pounded on the salt-encrusted glass near the locked front entrance. The noise echoed through the empty amusement park like a dozen poltergeists on a ghostly spree.

Wake up, old man! What if I was a gang of thieves out to boost the Parachute Jump?

I started on a circumnavigation of the vast structure, beating the glass with the flat of my hand. Turning a corner, I came face-to-face with the muzzle of a gun. It was a Colt’s Police Positive .38 Special, 117 but seen from my vantage point, it looked about the size of Big Bertha. Holding the .38 without a tremor was an old party in a brown and tan uniform.
 
observations: I loved all of this book (see entry earlier this week) but most of all I loved Harry Angel’s sleuthing trip to Coney Island. It’s a well-worn subject – the past-its-best resort out of season – but Hjortsberg does a phenomenal job on it. I think my favourite line in the whole book might be
Wake up, old man! What if I was a gang of thieves out to boost the Parachute Jump?
in the passage above. And the book, despite its very dark subject matter, is often very funny and always entertaining. I love the PI language – earlier in this scene Harry has received some key information from Danny who ‘put me wise when I needed some knockdown on the q.t.’

After reading the book I thought I’d better watch the 1987 film based on it: Angel Heart starring Robert de Niro, Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet. And this too was highly enjoyable, although (like all Alan Parker films) over-plotted and over-decorated and over-atmospheric. Part of the action was moved to New Orleans, which seemed unnecessary. But the casting and acting were excellent, it was surely Mickey Rourke’s finest hour, his slight flakiness suiting the part. And the film does full justice to the scenes at Coney Island, with an incredible seascape and a proper sinister air.

The chief guest blogger, Colm Redmond, used a pic of Lisa Bonet from the film to illustrate this entry a while back, and Col (who is not the same person as the Guest Blogger) actually recommended book and film in the comments then. Bonet’s character, in book and film, has the truly splendid name of Epiphany Proudfoot – Hjorstberg has a very sure touch with names.
 
Falling Angel 2

BTW, I would say I could not see this actual shot of Lisa Bonet in the film – she washes her hair but doesn’t dry it.

One of the best books I've read this year, and a candidate for the best ending ever.

The songsheet featuring the Steeplechase and George Tilyou is from the NYPL.

The colour picture shows the Parachute Jump in 1973, from the US National Archives.
The b/w photo of the woman in the Coney Island diner is one of my favourites – I have used it before on the blog, most notably here. It is part of the James Jowers collection at George Eastman House.



















10 comments:

  1. I've been to Coney Island, and my sister-in-law and her husband live in Brighton Beach. So this is all very familiar-sounding territory for me. So is the East Coast-style resort past its prime. I'm glad that it's handled as well as it is here, Moira. And the story certainly sounds like the kind that keeps you reading.

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    1. I'd say you'd enjoy reading the descriptions in the book, in that case Margot - except that they are not meant to make it sound attractive and comforting! It's an area we Brits have read about in books and seen in films a lot, I think we feel we know it well....

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  2. I simply must re-read this, Moira. These extracts are so good.

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    1. He has a wonderful writing style... I'll be interested to read something else by him for comparison purposes.

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  3. I am now moved to want to read the book, finally. I was not aware this exact Epiphany Proudfoot moment isn't in the film, as stated wherever I found the still - I'm pretty sure Lisa Bonet walks around like that all the time, just point and click and you get her looking amazing.

    Speaking of Coney Island: I was at a Lucy Wainwright-Roche gig in a small club once, where she talked about travelling out there from her home in NYC when it was almost deserted, and seeing a man dismantling an iconic shooting-star neon sign that had apparently been there for decades, a landmark everyone knew. Understandably this made her sad and made her want to write a song about it. (In a backstreet club in Manchester on a wet Tuesday night with no more than a hundred people present, there was a pretty intense silence when she said "Has anyone here been to Coney Island...?" Until a loud drawled "Yeah!" came from the back and it was her step-brother Rufus Wainwright, who'd dropped in.)

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    1. Great story about the Wainwrights.
      It's possible the Angel Heart scene was shortened - or of course it is remotely possible that my memory is at fault. But I was kind of watching out for the moment, all the time she was washing her hair....

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  4. Now I really have to read Falling Angel and watch the movie, but unfortunately it will be behind a host of other book/movie pairs I have been planning to read / watch: Funeral in Berlin, and an Eric Ambler I can't remember the name of, and Auntie Mame, and Hopscotch...Too bad I am five years from retiring.

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    1. So long as it is in the list Tracy. Definitely read the book first....

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  5. Now I want to watch the film again and read the book again. Maybe next year - which is soon in my world!

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    1. Yes - I'm sure I'm going to do both again on a regular basis...

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