Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Graham Greene and the Third Man

Years ago my friend sent me a card with a quote from Anais Nin - Writers write to experience life twice. I didn't quite get what that saying meant or how it applied to me at the time - think I'd just written my second book - but it intrigued me. So if you think of that as prefacing my relationship to Graham Greene's The Third Man film maybe it still doesn't make sense but herewith goes a feeble attempt to put down what happened to me last night. Our friends, Andi and Isabelle, French neighbors came for dinner. Think I've written about them before. But Andi is actually Austrian, Viennese who grew up in the outskirts of Paris and Isabelle is Parisian born and bred. So I had a DVD copy of The Third Man which I'm using for a workshop I'm giving next week at the SF Writers Grotto.
I love using this particular film in a mystery writing workshop to illustrate sensory details and plot points. Briefly - rubble strewn black market Vienna occupied by the Allies = status quo. Holly Martins=Joseph Cotten, hack Western writer, arrives to work for Harry Lime his best friend to discover he's dead. The Brit Major Trevor Howard tell Martins his friend Lime was a racketeer and get back on the plane and out of Vienna. To prove him wrong Martins stay (answering the call to adventure next plot point - that's only five minutes into the movie btw) Bang we're off.
 So I'd just watched the film - again which I do every year - and always discover something new in it.
Maybe I'm so mesmerized by the visuals - this black and white, rubble strewn post war Vienna, the damp cobblestones so pervasive I wear a sweater watching the film - the zither music ...anyway

 I told Andi. He begged to borrow it for a night and of course, sure.
Andi said 'that film brings my childhood back to me - every summer in the 70's, growing up, we went to stay with my grandparents in Vienna. At that time in the 70's it was still so much like the film, soot stained and some ruins. It was only in 1955 that the 4 Allied powers decamped - a full ten years of occupation. Andi waxed lyrical about the Viennese lilt in the old concierge's harangue,  'I heard that so many times, those old concierges sweeping and yelling. Those buildings yes...my Grandparents lived in the Russian sector."
Watching the film again he agreed that my new discovery, and I've seen the film many times, that Lime, the villain, ratted on his lover to stay in the Russian zone, he'd missed it too being caught up in the visuals.
Then I realized something new that the film's theme was about friendship, neither character wanted to turn in their lover or best friend and the conflict and tension was on until the last few minutes when Cotten shot Lime who's fingers in an iconic shot were reaching out of the gutter. Great fiction is conflict, conflict, conflict  and this film's got it in spades...would you turn your best friend in even if you knew he/she had done something morally reprehensible and wrong? Vienna, at that time in the world of surviving by the black market, is a character and illustrates the the grayness and ambiguity of the shades in between. That's what I'd maybe been trying to do in my book,  I think my friend was telling me.
Cara - Tuesday

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