Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye was criticized, at the time, as an unfocused, ironic put-down of classic private-eye movies. In fact, it is a long goodbye to the Sixties (1964–73), the last era during which intellectuals believed that social control is exercised through anything so palpable as class domination. Like other paranoid progressives, Altman was disturbed and fascinated by the notion that what passes for life is an invisible prison, that real life (as 1968 Situationist graffiti had put it) is elsewhere. Altman’s avatar of Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) is neither cool, calm, nor collected; in the scene shown here, he wanders the aisles of a supermarket at night muttering to himself. The garish ranks of cat- and dog-food cans are late capitalism’s prison bars. Marlowe is more imprisoned, in this scene, than he is when he actually goes to jail. Although the antidote to such Baudelairean spleen is volupté, i.e., the freedom that we experience at the beach (which, according to the Situationist metaphor, is to be found beneath the street’s paving stones, if only we’d tear them up to form barricades), Altman’s Marlowe is forever prevented from enjoying California’s sea, sky, or sun. He is a creature of the night and the city, a scuttling cockroach (think of all those shots in which he peers out from a dark room); in this, Altman is entirely faithful to classic private-eye movies.

Shocking Blocking (30) | HiLobrow. The Long Goodbye is a neglected masterpiece.