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September 04, 2009

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bill

I'm becoming worried about this film, because of my concern that the studio didn't like what Hillcoat gave them, and took what they considered appropriate steps. One thing Tom McCarthy says is that the two most disturbing scenes from the novel are not in the film. Without getting into detail, I'm pretty sure I know which two scenes he's referring to, and losing them strikes me as evidence that someone somewhere doesn't get Cormac McCarthy's work. The most disturbing stuff is absolutely vital.

Now, it's true, the most notorious scene in the book is totally unfilmable, in a practical, realities-of-studio-filmmaking kind of way. But with that in mind, who are these people who think they can make BLOOD MERIDIAN into a film under the guidance and with the dollars of a major studio? And did Hillcoat ever try to film the scene I'm trying not to talk about? Was it in the cut you saw, Glenn?

Steven Santos

I was perplexed early in McCarthy's review when he says that "The Road" reads more cinematically than "No Country for Old Men". The book for "No Country" practically reads like a script. Even the Coen Brothers joked that their adaptation consisted of one holding the book open while the other typed.

"The Road" was not a book that lent itself to an easy narrative and could have easily been ruined by imposing more genre action and a less episodic storyline. Also, McCarthy states the film doesn't capture the book, but everything he describes (except for obviously the score) was in the book.

As a big fan of "The Proposition", I thought Hillcoat was the right director and Viggo Mortensen was the right actor for that role. Still very much looking forward to seeing it.

Cinesthete

If the trailer is any indication of the direction that the studio went with for its final version of the film, I think the version you saw is long gone.

JF

@ Cinesthete: Apparently all that news/disaster footage at the beginning of the trailer isn't in the movie at all and was added by the Weinsteins, who as we should all be aware don't exactly have a high level of respect for the intelligence of the moviegoing public.

I don't think The Road is any more adaptable than the far denser Blood Meridian. On the surface it might seem cinematic, but the language is so precise and poetic, and the rhythms of the narrative are so repetitive and uncinematic that it's more like a prose poem. And the prose grounds the sometimes almost painfully earnest dialogue between father and son, which from what I've heard doesn't quite play as well onscreen as it does on the page.

bill

JF, all that stuff can be adapted to suit a different medium (film, in this case). You don't have to be %100 faithful when bringing a novel to the screen, and sometimes you shouldn't be, for the reasons you cite. Some aspects of literature just don't work on screen, and vice versa, but they can find an equivelant.

That's why, when it comes to McCarthy, I tend to focus on the extreme violence (which isn't in every single one of his books, but tends to be an aspect of all the books that people want to adapt). If someone could take a completely independent route, in the manner of current-day David Lynch and Francis Ford Coppola, and could still properly finance it, BLOOD MERIDIAN could be made into a film. But no studio is going to allow someone to include the tree of babies or the babies smashed on rocks scenes from that book in a film that they're paying for. The same goes -- or so I believe -- with certain scenes from THE ROAD, but the problem is that removing those scenes really does hurt the adaptation. I don't know what equivalent a filmmaker could substitute for those images that would still get the point across. Dead babies is actually a pretty important and constant motif in McCarthy's books.

Dan

"The Proposition" has nothing on its mind? Seriously? Wow. That's an...interesting evaluation.

Yeah, the cut being released is almost certainly not Hillcoat's. The Weinsteins don't trust filmmakers, and their ass is on the line. I'm not privy to inside information, but recuts wouldn't surprise me.

Pete Segall

"But no studio is going to allow someone to include the tree of babies or the babies smashed on rocks scenes from that book in a film that they're paying for."

Why go straight to the money shots? The closing images of the book (from the bear's fate and on) would probably cause any studio exec to remove his own eyes when he saw the rushes.

Taking a different tack, the biggest problem in adapting McCarthy to the screen is a matter of difficult-to-impossible to translate tone, both in voice and feel. The Coens were more or less successful, although they did introduce some of their own authorial gestures. Hillcoat I have my doubts about, but we'll see. The narrative tone of Blood Meridian simply seems unreproduceable.

According to the IMDb, for what it's worth, there is an adaptation in the pipes, with Todd Field directing. Scott Rudin still holds the rights. Once upon a time I recall reading that Tommy Lee Jones was supposed to direct. I think Tommy Lee Wallace would be a better choice than Field, but since the film will almost certainly never be made I'll save my spleen for another Friday.

JF

@ bill: I wasn't denying that those aspects of it are adaptable. I was more saying that The Road is a tougher adaptational nut to crack than all the talk about it being "cinematic," some of it if I'm not mistaken coming from the people behind the adaptation, suggests.

Todd Field's a weird choice for Blood Meridian. I mean, I know he gets paid to play keyboard at masked aristocratic orgies, but I didn't know he was into the really freaky shit.

Joel

I think that Suttree is the most adaptable. The characters are more defined than in the post-Blood-Meridian novels--a great potential showcase for ornery male character actors--and the humor is more accessible (albeit in a dark icky kind of way). Sure, the story isn't so easy to condense into a script, but surely it's easier than Blood Meridian. Oh, the cinematic possibilities of melon sex!

michaelgsmith

"The Proposition has nothing on its mind? Seriously? Wow. That's an...interesting evaluation."

Yeah, that's an eyebrow-raising observation. If anything, I thought it was almost philosophically overloaded. I mean, after all we're talking about a film that begins with a man saying, "By God, I'll civilize this country!" and ends with a Christmas day bloodbath.

As both a Proposition and McCarthy fan, I really hope The Road hasn't been futzed with.

Zach

I haven't read the Road, but having just finished Blood Meridian for a second time I'm all but convinced that a film version would either be: a) a resounding masterpiece, four hours long at a minimum, and would give a whole new meaning to the word "difficult" as applied to films, or
b) A lame, pulpy horror-western.

McCarthy has often skirted the border between profound and pretentious, between mythic and derivative, and I'd say that a large portion of his success comes from his rhetorical abilities. So much of BM works because of how it reads; it is a book that is as much about language as it is about violence - the way those two notions are bound up in each other, for one gloss. Part of the spell of that book is being caught up in the sermon-ish nature of the text, and that's one enormous area that would be mostly absent from the film adaptation.

There is, of course, truly awesome imagery and some great, funny-and-chilling dialogue. One area where the text would be somewhat borne out would be the Judge's monologues - but this raises the question of Who could ever play Judge Holden?

As far as directors who have the skills/temperament/chutzpah - Kubrick, sadly, cannot direct from beyond the grave. If I were a studio boss I'd give it to Andrew Dominik (who is, apparently, taking a stab at Cities of the Plain.)

Jason M.

@ Joel - w.r.t. cinematic melon sex, I'm pretty sure that Tsai Ming-liang pretty much cornered that market with The Wayward Cloud. Not sure anyone can or should try to top that.

Anyway, Suttree is a really great novel, and certainly better suited to adaptation than Blood Meridian, which I take to be the best English language novel of at least the past 30 years, and which I think will almost inevitably be a disaster if adapted into film. Or at the very least, it would be difficult to find a filmmaker that has a visionary enough sense of the poetic to do the novel even remote justice. Malick may have the chops, and some of the sensibility, but such a different worldview that I'm pretty sure he'd be the wrong guy for the job. For some reason, I keep coming Brakhage would have been able to do it justice, but it probably wouldn't be recognizable as Blood Meridian.

I'm excited to see what Dominik does with Cities of the Plain, especially if he keeps the book's wonderful coda. All that said, the most adaptable of McCarthy's novels is without a doubt No Country for Old Men, which, of course has already been made into a very fine film.

And the Weinsteins had better not have screwed up Hillcoat's cut of The Road. Based on the Proposition, he seemed like a near perfect fit for the material.

/end Cormac McCarthy film adaptation ramble. definitely time for bed.

Dr. Mystery

@Steven Santos: Yeah, I agree that it is a weird thing to say that The Road reads more cinematically than No Country for Old Men. And you're more correct than you know when you say No Country reads like a script. Cormac McCarthy's recent donation of his archives to Texas State in San Marcos revealed that he began writing No Country for Old Men in the early 1980s as a screenplay, but abandoned it for several years before reconfiguring it as a novel. I was lucky enough to see chunks of the screenplay in a Southwest literature course, and the scenes I got to read were very similar to what ended up in the novel.

c.t.h.

Even if the scissors get applied to the theatrical release, perhaps we can get the Hillcoat cut (the one you described, Glenn) by the DVD? Far better than nothing.

Outer Dark any one? It has some real cinematic potential, murdered infant and incest notwithstanding.

Dan

Telluride feedback is starting to come in, and it looks like McCarthy might simply be a sourpuss. Not the first time this has happened...

James Keepnews

Put me in the "The Proposition has one king hell of alot going on in its mind, soul and impaled body" camp -- off the top of my head, these would include the nature of blood relations, "civilization" as noted above by Mr. Smith and the violent, compromised, masculine essence of the civilizers (cf. John Hurt expounding on Darwin and his subsequent monkey-like cackle), i.e. "colonialism," a subject handled with equally memorable elan. Plus, Mr. Cave's brilliant screenplay and score, uniformly excellent performances by some of my favorites (Guy, Emily, Sir John, the should'a-been-knighted-after-Scum Ray Winstone, &c.) and Hillcoat's vertiginous, fever-dreamt direction. Perhaps this is evidence of your classic case of projection, as it sounds to me more like Glenn's colleague has not-so-much in his/her mind at the time of this demonstrably thoughtless comment?

Whatevs. The Road sounded like a great end-of-the-world flick I hope has not been thoroughly defanged by studio interference. Here's hoping for a director's cut, eventually -- meantime, guess I'd better finally get around to reading the book to see the two scenes I may miss...

Andrew, Esq.

Glenn,

A late thought on The Road. I've been discussing it with a few friends, and comparisons to No Country have been drawn. One commenter in our stream mentioned that No Country is devoid of hope, whereas The Road has a thread of hope running throughout. I agreed with the latter sentiment, but not with the former, arguing that no Country's hope is a retrospective, nostalgic one. Anyway, my question/thought for you is what to make of the connection between the two stories viz. "the fire". Obviously "the fire" played a pivotal role in The Road - it is the hope buried deep inside the Father and the Boy. But I hadn't - until now - linked it with the fire in Ed Tom Bell's dream of his father. Ed Tom says that "he was carryin' fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. ... And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there." Again, that nostalgic hope. I won't go so far as to say it was intentional by McCarthy, but I sure like to speculate on the connection with "the fire".

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