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October 05, 2014


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The last TWO Pynchon books both had amazingly wonderful epigraphs.


I don't generally go out of my way to read a book before the movie comes out, but a few weeks ago I devoured both GONE GIRL and INHERENT VICE, and I've been looking forward to seeing how they've been adapted. GONE GIRL has its challenges, but I assume Fincher was more than up to them (haven't seen it yet). But INHERENT VICE struck me as being next to impossible to adapt, so I've been most curious to see if Anderson has pulled it off. The trailer suggests to me that he has, and your review supports that hope. But I'm still a little wary -- the book's plot is so convoluted and so much of it is conveyed through dialogue that I can't imagine a single 2 1/2-hour film containing it all and remaining coherent. I think I read that Anderson began the task by transposing the entire novel into script format, then paring it down from there. I suppose that exercise made it clearer to him what could be cut without much harm to the story and tone. All I know is I don't envy him that task. I can see how the book would be catnip to an Altman fan possibly looking to make his own LONG GOODBYE.


"But INHERENT VICE struck me as being next to impossible to adapt..."

Huh. One of my first thoughts after finishing it a few days after it was released, (besides, 'wow, that was so uncommonly tasty that I've got to read it again right away'), was that it was the first Pynchon book that seemed easily adaptable to cinema.

It's so goddamn RELATABLE for a Pynchon.

Tony Dayoub

It is pretty great isn't it? And its incoherence had a lot of the critics sitting around me this short of collectively exploding their head SCANNERS-style because they just couldn't figure out why they liked it so much if they didn't entirely get it.

I believe most folks who really get excited about Anderson's work allow for the notion that one grows to understand his movies more and more over subsequent viewings. In other words, one of the most rewarding qualities of his films is that there's enough density there to take you through a number of viewings, whereas other movies rarely have anything new to say after a single viewing.


Petey: It was my first and thus far only Pynchon, so I can't speak to the adaptability of his other work, but maybe I should clarify. While I could see every scene in the book as a scene in a movie, it seemed like it would be a very talky and confusing one. There's a lot of info, clues, revelations, that only come out in dialogue, especially as the story is wrapping up, so I felt that a truly faithful adaptation, besides being very long, would likely be of limited or intermittent cinematic interest, especially if you hold to the old "show, don't tell" maxim (and no, I don't consider that to be a rule that can't be broken). If the job had fallen in my lap, I'd probably have pushed for a mini-series or one of those ten-episode "TV events" such as FARGO or GRACEPOINT.


A further clarification: Of course I realize that scenes of people talking can be re-conceived visually, via flashbacks or other narrative means. But in this instance, it seemed like a daunting task to me. Kudos to Anderson for even attempting it.


"If the job had fallen in my lap, I'd probably have pushed for a mini-series or one of those ten-episode "TV events"

Well, that's one of the several reasons why I so deeply loved Todd Haynes' Mildred Pierce mini-series. Dude really did 'faithfully' adapt the book.

As to the larger point, pretty much ALL books don't 'fit' into feature-film length. (With quite a bunch of exceptions along the lines of The Maltese Falcon.)

But when you adapt pretty much ANY book into a feature-film, you are forced to adapt one of various kinds of slash and burn techniques to cram far too much material into the allotted time. In short, I don't think this is an issue specific in any real way to Inherent Vice.


"especially if you hold to the old "show, don't tell" maxim"

I've been mainly avoiding reading about the film, as is my wont for films I know I'm definitely going to go see, (only read the first and last paragraph of Glenn's post here), but I seem to have elsewhere caught a spoiler that's it's V.O. driven. So, assuming that's true, (and I don't want to know if it is or isn't), it's not holding to that maxim.


"It was my first and thus far only Pynchon"

If you enjoyed the book to any significant degree, I recommend Bleeding Edge. It's not QUITE as goddamn relatable as Inherent Vice, but it's still really good stuff. Dude's getting consumer-friendly in his old age...


Oh I know very few books "fit" into feature film length, but as a screenwriter I'm always curious as to what I'd include, what I'd leave out, what I'd change if I were doing the gig. Some books are easier to get a bead on than others in that regard. My imagination failed me with INHERENT VICE, except as a longer-form work.

I agree about MILDRED PIERCE. I recently found an old notebook of mine from many years before Haynes' version that included "MILDRED PIERCE mini-series" on a list of "dream projects." I had read the book and thought it would make a great long-form project. The Joan Crawford film is excellent, but really quite different from the book in tone.


I was going to point out an interesting piece on Gawker I just read to Glenn, but upon finishing the piece and reading the endnote, I decided not to.

(Also, I just finished The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, guided by Jeet Heer's feature-length twitter on Tony Scott's disappearance of adulthood thinkpiece, and woah! Why did no one ever tell me this was an essential book? But, anyhoo, for the moment at least, I think the Postman book Explains Everything, including both Glenn's Gawker piece, as well as his "Cool Girl" post. In short, I highly recommend the Postman book. It get's a bit dated in the very final section, but otherwise, it's still incredibly relevant.)


VERY tangentially speaking of drug-infused motion pictures:

One of my favorite plot elements of The Knick is the introduction of cocaine as a topical sex aid.

Back in my younger days, I was a big aficionado of the technique. I stopped snorting cocaine within a couple of years after first trying it, for all the obvious reasons. But for a LONG time after quitting, I maintained a small stash of the drug purely for topical sex purposes. A bit of powder, dissolve in olive oil or the like, apply directly, and bliss.

Given the technique's garden of earthly delights, I've always been astounded to see its almost complete exclusion from motion pictures, as well as from popular culture in general.

Previous to The Knick, the only time I've ever seen it depicted in motion pictures was in the sleazy Zandalee (1991).

So, big props to Soderbergh for performing a highly beneficial public information campaign, all in the guise of a teevee series.

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