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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

American Whiskey Bar

Michael Turner

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To purchase American Whiskey Bar

Title: American Whiskey Bar
Author: Michael Turner
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 182 pages
Availability: American Whiskey Bar - US
American Whiskey Bar - UK
American Whiskey Bar - Canada
  • American Whiskey Bar was made into a TV movie in 1998, directed by Bruce McDonald

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly clever cinematic novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       American Whiskey Bar is a film within a novel. A film-novel. A film as novel. Something like that. (To add to the confusion: the novel, American Whiskey Bar, was made into a TV movie in 1998, directed by Bruce McDonald -- who appears in the novel.)
        In the novel, American Whiskey Bar is the name of a film whose reputation has taken on "ridiculously mythic proportions". It is a film that many claim to have seen but few actually have. It is a legend, more than a film.
       The novel consists of four parts. The first is a Preface by a Michael Turner, in which he explains how and why he wrote the screenplay for a project originally titled "A Bunch of Americans Talking" (subsequently re-titled "American Whiskey Bar"). The second is an Introduction by Hungarian filmmaker Monika Herendy discussing how the film came to be made (and distancing herself from the actual filming). The final section is an Afterword by film critic Milena Jagoda, explaining how she came to write a review (of sorts) of the film, as well as providing that un-review.
       Prominent in the making and showing of the film is a nasty character known as Klaus 9, for whom Herendy had previously made pornographic films. Things went dramatically wrong with the making of this particular film. Turner notes with acute embarrassment, for example, that, while his script was "intended as an annotated map for Monika and the actors to negotiate a story", it was in fact "MADE EXACTLY AS I HAD WRITTEN IT !" Herendy insists she was in hospital and comatose when the film was shot (and that it was actually shot "by the brilliant Evgeny Churkin, a month before his body was found floating in the Oder"). But there were also positive side-effects: a couple of Hollywood has-beens are the actors -- and they "rocketed back to the top of the thespian money heap" since.
       Few seem to agree what the film actually is. Fitting the pattern of obscuring rather than clarifying, Milena Jagoda isn't allowed to even mention "any details regarding plot, setting, dialogue, characters, or talent" in her review (or elsewhere).
       It sounds like a reasonably fun if familiar game of a mysterious, larger than life artwork affecting all involved with it or who come in contact with it -- but usually such stories leave these artworks conveniently off-screen. Not Turner: at the heart of American Whiskey Bar is American Whiskey Bar, Michael Turner's script, filmed exactly -- so he claims -- as he wrote it.
       It is a fairly daring and challenging idea. Turner is more and less successful with it -- though given the build up (and even the aftermath), he puts a lot of pressure on his screenplay, and it doesn't quite live up to its billing.
       It is an interesting screenplay, simply moving from table to table in a dimly lit bar, following a variety of conversations. Beginning with fairly innocent subjects, things eventually spiral dramatically out of control. Filmmaking is a central subject (everybody has an idea for a film, and there are some filmmakers here). Pornography is also a central subject -- and sex, generally, described (and shown) in graphic detail. The twain -- film and pornography -- also meet, of course.
       The film offers a view of America. An odd one, but a broad one. It is, apart from its place in the actual novel, a fairly good screenplay, too -- and makes a decent read.
       But what to make of Turner's larger design, with the script as centrepiece, but still only a piece ? It works quite well, but it isn't entirely satisfactory. Klaus 9 seems too simple an evil figure (he is simply -- and very scarily -- evil). And the screenplay itself is too artfully conceived and fully realized to really convincingly be the map that Turner suggests he meant it to be. It would be difficult to change many words and scenes in it without the story falling apart.
       Still, overall, American Whiskey Bar (the novel) can be recommended. Turner writes fairly well, and American Whiskey Bar is an enjoyably clever book, down (especially) to all of its details.
       (Note that, as in Turner's later novel, The Pornographer's Poem (see our review), there is a fair amount of sex -- all of which is staggeringly un-erotic (clinically precise, very detailed). But porno-aficionados might get a kick (or whatever it is they get from this kind of stuff) out of this aspect of the book.)

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American Whiskey Bar: Reviews: American Whiskey Bar - the TV film: Michael Turner: Other books by Michael Turner under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Michael Turner is a Canadian author.

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