Thursday, January 07, 2016

30 Days of The Fade Out: Living in a Memory.

The Fade Out #9 was released September 16, 2015, following a four-page preview, and it marks a turning point in the series' pacing.  The main plot in each issue tends to cover a quite compact span of time, but there tends to be a larger passage of time between each issue -- from the film's halted production in issue #1, to the review of the current cut of the film in issue #2, to the more-or-less pro forma auditions in issue #3, etc.

But here, the plot picks up immediately from the cliffhanger revelation at the end of the previous issue:  just enough time has passed for Charlie to leave his apartment to drive to his ex-wife's house, later that same Halloween night when he went trick-or-treating with Gil's family and attended the Victory Street party on the studio lot.

It's a common approach to time in storytelling: as the tension ratchets up, time becomes compressed.

(This is probably why so many in the audience were thrown off by the pacing in The Dark Knight Rises.  The scope of Nolan's film expanded to a kind of modern-day riff on the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror, so days and weeks were passing when the viewer was probably expecting only the passage of hours.  The sequential chronology from scene to scene in the movie's conclusion actually does add up, but it doesn't feel that way.)

But for those readers of The Fade Out who wait for the trades, this change in pacing will probably be felt even more strongly, as the beginning of Act Three follows very hot on the heels of the end of Act Two.

The Movie.  The Victory Street Halloween party probably continued well into the night, but presumably no real progress was made on the film's production, as the main narrative takes place over a single night.

The Murder.  Understandably terrified by the realization that Gil is evidently blackmailing Thursby, and that Brodsky's men may soon come down hard on the both of them, Charlie retrieves his military-issued pistol and waits in his apartment, where he and Gil do their work writing.  When Gil shows up, Charlie confronts him and starts a long-overdue fist fight, and he learns what Gil has really been up to.  "Rattling the cages," Gil follows Thursby to the studio's original offices, and that Halloween night, he had just followed Brodsky's men and snatched one of the envelopes of sordid photos that they retrieved from the offices and were destroying at the beach.  Knowing that it's a terrible idea, Charlie still decides to help Gil solve the murder "even if it gets us both killed."

Gil's explanation fills in the gaps of what he's been doing since just after the end of issue #6, when he sent the first blackmail note to Victor Thursby. Assuming that each scene in the "main narrative" is really sequential, he presumably went trick-or-treating in issue #7 after stealing the incriminating photos from Brodsky's men.  He and Charlie were together with Gil's family, so he had a chance to tell him about the photos, but he had already determined to act alone in his almost explicitly quixotic pursuit of justice.

Gil had typed the blackmail notes in Charlie's apartment, so maybe he returned there late that night to review his progress, plot his next move, and compose his next note.  Maybe he told Melba he was going to work with Charlie, but he clearly didn't expect him in on the night of the studio's big party.  But Charlie had found his draft blackmail letters and was waiting to confront his friend and partner.

On the technical side of things, this issue gives a kind of master class on how to provide flashbacks without losing the reader; we still want to dig up our back issues of Duncan Rouleau's 2007 Metal Men mini-series to try to make heads or tails of its time-bending and mind-bending presentation.

There seem to be at least three rules that Brubaker follows:

  1. You can have multiple flashbacks in series, even in a single issue as we see here, but you should avoid the nesting-dolls structure of flashbacks within flashbacks.
  2. Within each flashback, each event should occur chronologically, not out-of-sequence, even if -- as is the case here -- the series of flashbacks cover events that must be shuffled together.
  3. Within each flashback, present all the scenes from a single character's point of view, relaying his thoughts and perspective even if the story uses an omniscient third-person narration.

Here's the issue's structure, page by page:

  • 1-3, Charlie retrieves his service pistol from his old house, still occupied by his ex-wife Rebecca and evidently her husband Fred Franklin
    • 3, flashback to Rebecca visiting Charlie recovering from the war
  • 4-8, Charlie returns to his apartment -- the reader is shown parts a scene from the film Shadow of the Valley -- and he picks a fight with Gil
    • 8-12, flashback to Gil's time in Hollywood, from his arrival and his meeting Charlie to their being coerced into an exclusive seven-year contract with Victory Street
  • 12-13, two panels of Charlie and Gil fighting, with Gil fighting back
    • 13-17, flashback to more of Charlie's experiences during the war: his reconciliation with Gil after Pearl Harbor, his living with Gil and Melba after being discharged from the army hospital, and his watching Gil unravel, culminating with his self-destructive testimony before a House committee
  • 18-19, gathering themselves at the end of the fistfight, Gil shows Charlie the photos he was carrying and begins to explain himself
    • 19-21, Gil narrates a flashback of his trailing Thursby following his first note
  • 21, Charlie asks whether Gil broke into the studio's original offices, now used primarily for storage
    • 22-23, Gil narrates a flashback of his trailing Brodsky's men following his second note, resulting in his stealing some photographs before they were incinerated
  • 24-26, Charlie explains that he hasn't given up, and he decides to help Charlie get to the bottom of the murder and cover-up
(That House committee was presumably the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was a permanent committee from 1945 to 1975.  Nine days of hearings in 1947 led to the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten and other artists.  We see part of presumably the same hearing in flashback in issue #2, where we learned, "Gil had been one of the first to be blacklisted after the Hollywood Ten.")

The issue presents series of five flashbacks across 21 pages, almost all in chronological order -- the first brief flashback takes place between the second and third -- and covering the writers' time before The Fade Out and Gil's actions after issue #6.  None of the chronology is unclear, and we find every revelation to be riveting, even if we don't ever quite learn Charlie's experiences during the war, exactly what he saw and what injuries he sustained.

Along the way, we discover more and more about Charlie and Gil.

Charlie suffers from an explicit survivor's guilt, and it emphasizes the point Ed Brubaker made in one of the recent interviews, that the character is "trapped by his tragedies," keeping on because he has to.
"Would he even be able to pull the trigger if they came for him?
"Was he that much of a survivor...?"
Just a couple pages later, we learn that, early in his Hollywood career, Gil was tasked with rewriting an evidently fictional screenplay An American at Cambridge, already revised by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937: neither would get credit for their work upon its release.

Here we learn that Fitzgerald was Gil's favorite author, and way back in issue #5, we find Gil thinking that the famous author was right when he said, "The rich were different than us."  It appears he slightly misquoted one of Fitzgerald's most famous paragraphs from the short story "The Rich Boy,"  originally published in 1926.
"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves."
Gil then thinks to himself, "But they end just like the rest of us, sitting in their own piss, wondering where all their time went."

Fitzgerald really was a Hollywood screenwriter, working exclusively for MGM between 1937 and 1939, where he received no screen credit for work on Madame Curie and an unfilmed draft for Gone with the Wind.

It couldn't have helped Gil's grudge against Hollywood's powers-that-be, that he and his favorite writer suffered the same indignities.  Fitzgerald died in 1940, mocking himself as a Hollywood hack, and Gil was on his way to his own fate.

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Blogger Spence said...

Mate, the title says "30 days of FATALE" dunno if it's on purpose :D

6:35 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

Thanks for the heads-up! The URL still references the error, but I've now corrected the title. :-)

7:44 AM  

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