Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Taking things too far.

'So, you're returning The Maltese Falcon and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes so that you can read Paradise Alley.'
'I just wanted to make sure that you understand.'

Sometimes my housemates despair of me.

You may recall that I found a new favourite bad film in Sylvester Stallone's Paradise Alley. Not only do I now own it, I've inflicted it upon one of my friends. After she made it through, we scrambled to find the book that started it all. There are plenty of copies of it on Amazon, but we then remembered that our university has a copyright library.

What the hell does that mean? It means that our library has a copy of every book published in the UK for the last Godknowshowmany years. Given, I had to special-order it out of Stacks, and I could only read it in the library, but read it I did. And it was weird.

Mostly, it was awful. Stale dialogue, bland descriptions, and a formulaic plot. Each chapter is a scene from the film, so Sly probably knew he'd be throwing this baby on celluloid. It would be easy to just end it at that, but that would really not be doing justice to what is something of an experience.

One of the more striking aspects of the book is the fact that it has pictures. Not too many and no pop-ups or anything, just these ink jobs by Tom Wright. They're all dark and grainy and slightly off, so of course I loved them. Only example I could find is this.
Tom Wright Paradise Alley

Stallone does some interesting things with punctuation and line breaks. For the most part, the narration is basic and fairly boring, broken up by stylized dialogue whenever characters speak. Occasionally, though, something like this pops up:

Victor counted his meager salary and smiled at the foreman. But,
Victor's eyes no longer,
Chapter Thirty Four, page 143

It's actually like poetry. I refuse to go off on any tangents of literary criticism because I think all of that is bullshit, but the playful structuring is really fun, if nothing else.

Pictures and funny punctuation are not the only things that kept me reading, though. There is a general image of Stallone as a mumbling, muscle-bound moron, which is completely false. The man is a member of MENSA and, quite literally, a genius. Despite Paradise Alley's monotony of drab writing, there are definite moments when I sat up straight to read a sentence again, such as when Annie sees a 'building that looked like it was trying to find a quiet way to crumble' (Chapter Ten, page 64).

Perhaps you're not convinced. That's fine because I'm not trying to convince you. All I'm after is conveying what a strange ride this book is. More often than not, it reads like it's Stallone's journal when he was drafting the screenplay. With sections like,

The phony soldier was Cosmo Carboni and he was Victor's older brother, and was no masterpiece of kindness.
He had a medium skeleton.
Well, maybe not medium.
But odd.
No, odd is the wrong word.
Cosmo Carboni was an angular piece of hustling machinery bent into the form of a man...
Chapter Two, page 16

I'm not entirely convinced that it's not.
Either way, I think I really enjoyed it.


To make this slightly cooler, I combined my obsession with this beast and my new addiction to Polyvore. What would I wear to be an extra in this classic? Something equal parts gaudy and sentimental.

Play me out, Tom.


  1. I've never read (or seen) Paradise Alley, but this post almost makes me want to! But since I probably won't, I'll just admire it through your blog entry. :)

  2. Ahahaha...I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I highly recommend it. If nothing else, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :]