2014 marks the year two of my favorite novels will finally reach the silver screen: the oddly still kept under wraps adaptation of Ron Rash’s Serena (from Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier and staring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper), and Saul Dibb’s Oscar-baiting adaptation of Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise (well- cast with Michelle Williams and Kristen Scott Thomas). Which made me think…what other recent or favorite reads are ripe for cinematic plucking?
Heart of a Tiger by Herschel Cobb –
A young boy in the 1950’s struggles to find hope and happiness under the harsh shadows of his rage-fueled father and alcoholic mother. In his loving grandfather he finds refuge and meaning in life.
Sounds like a trite, sachrine, run-of-the-mill, triumph over child abuse tale…except for one thing. That loving grandfather was none other than Tyrus R. Cobb – statistically speaking the greatest baseball player of all time; American myth; and generally regarded as a world-class mean-spirited son-of-a-bitch who drove his baseball spikes into opponents, beat up fans in the stands, and was a racist, alcoholic hell-raiser. Part of his scandal are the tall-tales that have been taken as fact, and most people seem to forget that his savvy business mind (he was a great investor in the early days of Coca-Cola) allowed him to, in old age, be a great benefactor to many good causes – from giving no-strings-attached monetary gifts to down-and-out former teammates to a scholarship fund for impoverished Georgian kids that to this day continues to fund higher education for thousands of children. He also apparently took a shining to the children of his loose-cannon son after the son died of a heart-attack.
Herschel’s Cobb memoir is colored through the lens of a kid who loved his grandfather, so yeah, there’s a bias, but a clever screenwriter could intertwine the uplift of the book with the more colorful moments from Cobb’s legendary playing days, maybe even glimpses into Ty’s own childhood – layers upon layers, flashbacks upon flashbacks – that could weave an epic character arc of a multi-faceted man who saw the darkness in himself, recognized the cruelty of others, and attempted to rescue his grandchildren from it all and stop the cycle of abuse. Baseball, nostalgia, dysfunctional families, tortured childhoods and redemption – it’s the stuff of great drama. Take an up-and-coming director like Jeff Nichols who is no stranger to the themes, put some make-up and a Southern accent on Michael Shannon so he can take the lead role, and voila…you could have a gritty, sentimental barn-burner on your hands.
I mean, c’mon, wouldn’t you love to see Michael Shannon utter this famous Cobb quote to his grandson?
“I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me… but I beat them and left them in the ditch.”
The Art of Power by Jon Meacham –
Meacham’s meticulously culled biography of Thomas Jefferson could be adapted in one of two ways:
1. Go the straight route as an epic 10-part miniseries on HBO ala John Adams. Hell, do it quickly enough and you could even ask some of the same actors to reprise their parts. Or….
2. Go the experimental route and treat it as a stream-of-conscious cinematic mediation on history, politics, founding a nation of ideas, and Jeffersonian romance and enlightenment. I mused on this in an earlier post…
I swear to god by the end of this magnificent tome where Meacham describes Jefferson’s granddaughter in a dreamlike state wandering the vast empty rooms of Monticello following her grandfather’s death, I too was swept up in an all-encompassing reverie where Terrence Malick was directing the story of Jefferson’s life and the images from Jefferson’s earliest memory of being lifted upon a pillow to a slave on horseback to his final moments with yet another slave dedicated at his bedside – all of his life – flashed before me in a cacophonous stream-of-consciousness scored by Micheal Nyman.
Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy –
Atwood’s ping-ponging dystopian epic told in three parts is both blisteringly unfilmable and positively cinematic all at once. How could the Crakers be depicted faithfully on-screen (or Scales and Tales for that matter) without it becoming some kind of CGI pop-pornography? Yet the heart of the story – which is ultimately one of survival – is rooted in the classics. Atwood’s vision is especially unnerving and poignant as its descriptions of technology, genetics and society gone horribly awry seem all too possible; her horrors are mere evolutions of our current world order. A successful film adaptation could be the adult counter-balance to all those young-adult fantasy series movie adaptations. Isn’t that what David Fincher set out to do when he remade The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? While he struck out there, I’d love to see him take a swing at this.
Light in August by William Faulkner –
I rank this epic ode to the South as one of the greatest novels of all time…and it’s also, of course, in grand Faulknerian style, unfilmable. Or is it? Where’s the American answer to Lars von Trier? Where’s someone with the balls to tackle this? It seems custom-made for an eight-hour director’s cut. There were images and feelings here rendered so vivid by Faulkner’s dirt-smudged and molasses-coated poetry, it seems a crime that no one would try to paint a picture of the unspeakable…the unknowable…the soul of the South. Maybe this could be turned into an anthology series like True Detective…simply titled True Faulkner. I dunno…a guy can dream can’t he?
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor –
Flannery O’Connor always struck me as the schoolmarm sister to William Faulkner. Her prose was more straight-forward, but she tackled similar themes of cruelty, irony, searching for grace, and human frailty in the American South. A Good Man is Hard to Find, her controversial tale of a family road trip that goes to hell, is a creepy masterpiece. A sparse, terse, mean and lean, under 90 minute film adaptation done in the right tone could cause quite a stir. My dream cinematic vision of this work would include True Detective helmer Cary Fukunaga treating the story as a suspense-riddled 85 minute one-take tracking shot that would make Hitchcock squirm.
Written by David H. Schleicher
What are some of your favorite books or stories that you always thought could make a good film? Share your suggestions and leave your own Spin!
I have mixed feelings about the MaddAddam books. I loved the dystopian world she created–or, more precisely, that she extrapolated from the world around her. It was all chillingly plausible.
But the post-plague stuff bored me to tears. Much of it was disappointing, treading well worn post-apocolyptic ground. The only fresh angle was the Crakers, but the more I read about them, the less enthused I was about them. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing a film adaptation without the Crakers.
And while the Thomas Jefferson biography sounds great, I would prefer to see Gore Vidal’s Burr make it on to the big screen. I haven’t read the biography you mention, but if it isn’t as merciless as Vidal was toward not just Jefferson but other Founders like George Washington it wouldn’t be terribly interesting.
Books I want to see as movies:
J.G. Farrell’s Emprire Trilogy (Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur, and Singapore Grip)
Hilary Matel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure
Chester Himes’ If He Hollers Let Him Go
Russell Banks’ Cloudsplitter
And I wouldn’t mind seeing better tries at:
Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities
David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas
Jose Saramago’s Blindness (I didn’t mind the movie, but still felt like it could have been better)
Jason – your talk of Burr brought to mind that magnificent bastard Alexander Hamilton. While I’ve yet to read a definitive biography on him, his complicated life and dramatic death/murder (at the hands of Burr) are ripe for cinematic picking. One would think the Wall Street catastrophe of recent memory would’ve spurred someone out there to turn to the father of the American banking system for poignant entertainment…but, nay.
All the more reason to make Burr! There’s plenty of Hamilton in there.
Aha – perhaps an Alien v Predator type showdown – Burr v Hamilton! Just kidding….or not!
Recently I saw Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s novel turned movie (1979, directed by John Huston), under The Criterion label. At times, it feels like a Terrance Malick work like Badlands. I’m not sure how a modern adaptation of ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ will work. But, good that you’ve thought of it. Maybe something like Drive.
As for Suite Française, unlike popular sentiments, I find the book piecemeal and disjointed, and of course, it was an unfinished work. But I think the film could well have selected a story and expanded on it. Anyway, since I’m not too satisfied with the book, I kind of look forward to the film, esp. with KST in it. MW is a good choice too. Interesting to see how they work together. Recently I read an interview on KST who indicated she had come to the end of her film career, focusing instead on stage from now on. Let’s hope she’ll change her mind.
I was picturing ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ the film as a period piece.
Although made in Italian a long while back and Turkish (more recently), I somehow never wanted to watch those and would love to see a more authentic French or English adaptation of Albert Camus The Stranger.
Also, a modern day, closer-in-spirit take of Somerset Maugham’s classic based on the life of Paul Gauguin: The Moon and Sixpence. A 1942 version exists but is way outdated and I hope someone picks this one up. Maybe John Curran who did wonders with Maugham’s The Painted Veil.
Maugham, like my favorite writer Graham Greene, has many works that seem ripe for continuous cinematic adaptations.