Sunday, July 10, 2011

Remembering Theodore Roszak

Theodore Roszak, the writer who coined the term "counter culture," has died. He was 77. Roszak (1933-2011) was a social critic, cultural historian, teacher and author who first came to  prominence in the 1960s with the publication of The Making of a Counter Culture. That bestselling 1968 book chronicled the youth-movements of the time.

Roszak was also a novelist, and a fan of Louise Brooks. His singular 1991 novel, Flicker, was described by Publisher Weekly as a "magical mystery tour of the history of cinema" and "an acid satire on Hollywood." Kirkus Reviews called it a "Huge, deep-delving movie-lover's delight - and as rich a novel about the metaphysics of moviemaking as has ever been." While Booklist said Flicker was "An irresistible book . . . the perfect film buff's novel."

The publisher's description of Flicker goes like this:
"Jonathan Gates could not have anticipated that his student studies would lead him to uncover the secret history of the movies—a tale of intrigue, deception, and death that stretches back to the 14th century. But he succumbs to what will be a lifelong obsession with the mysterious Max Castle, a nearly forgotten genius of the silent screen who later became the greatest director of horror films, only to vanish in the 1940s, at the height of his talent. Now, 20 years later, as Jonathan seeks the truth behind Castle's disappearance, the innocent entertainments of his youth—the sexy sirens, the screwball comedies, the high romance—take on a sinister appearance. His tortured quest takes him from Hollywood's Poverty Row into the shadowy lore of ancient religious heresies. He encounters a cast of exotic characters, including Orson Welles and John Huston, who teach him that there's more to film than meets the eye, and journeys through the dark side of nostalgia, where the Three Stooges and Shirley Temple join company with an alien god whose purposes are anything but entertainment."

Later reviews were glowing. USA Today called Flicker "A novel of great force and originality, nearly every page of which crackles with lust for film," while Los Angeles City Beat, in reference to film critic David Thomson's book,said it was "The boldest novel about film since Suspects." 

Roszak loved movies and movie stars, especially the films and actors of his youth. He also mentioned to me that he was a fan of Louise Brooks, and had seen her surviving films including Pandora's Box. The silent film star, or at least a character modeled after the actress, plays a part in Flicker.

If Flicker sounds like it would make a good movie, you're right. At one point, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) was backing a production of a movie version of the book with screen adaptation written by Jim Uhls (Fight Club). However, like so many worthwhile projects, this one seems to have come to a halt. Read more here.

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