Jay Meehan: Adaptations
January 6, 2015
Give me a sultry story from a murky original screenplay I can barely follow with a ’50s Jazz score and subtitles translated from whatever mother tongue is at hand and flashed on the screen only slightly slower than a strobe light and I’m truly in my cinematic element.
Or, give me a taut screenplay adapted from written material with which I’m not only familiar, but also totally smitten. And not just the ones you walk out of the theater muttering about how much better the book was but also those that at least didn’t lower the bar aesthetically from original works that had stood the test of time.
There are four films currently out there hunkered down in the shadows waiting to be released, all featuring adapted screenplays and for which I’m currently salivating. Three of them will be premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival later this month while the fourth is just icing on the cake.
It seems that each year there is a highly enticing film released just prior to the festival that slips me into the correct frame of reference for what 10 days of sitting in the dark will bring. For whatever reason, these have mostly been adapted from books into which I became immersed during earlier times works from John le Carré and a total retrofit of a Tolstoy yarn come to mind.
This year’s winning entry from the "get Jay up and running for FilmFest" competition is "Inherent Vice," a ’60s South Bay L.A. update of Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled Detective Phillip Marlow adapted from the hilariously delicious 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon.
Suffice to say I am quite enamored with L.A. and South Bay and Pynchon and Chandler and Marlowe and, I must admit, the filmmakers will be under somewhat heavy scrutiny from these parts! I would imagine, however, that I am part of their target demographic, so they got that going for them.
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Pynchon’s novel, with a plot every bit as convoluted as Chandler’s "The Big Sleep," was a comfortable read — all three times. I felt that redundancy was necessary due to the fact that the author had played me like a fiddle in a few of his previous works and, since I fashioned myself an authority on the mean streets of the City of Angels, I didn’t want him to out-nuance me. Yeah, right!
The first of the three films screening at Sundance 2015 in the Premieres category that caught my immediate attention carries a plotline featuring the late author David Foster Wallace and a Rolling Stone reporter, David Lipsky, attempting an interview in the wake of the 1996 publishing of the footnote-rich 1,079-page "Infinite Jest."
Although the fruits of the five-day-long intellectual sparring match never saw print and the two never met again, the reporter’s acclaimed memoir of those heady times, "The End of the Tour," has now been adapted to the screen with Jason Segal as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky.
The second film is "A Walk in the Woods," adapted to the screen from Bill Bryson’s wonderfully engaging 1998 memoir of hiking the Appalachian Trail with a long-estranged high school pal as a way of decompressing from a 20-year hiatus in England.
Although it’s been a spell since I read it, my memory is of humor and knowledge and even more than a smattering of wisdom being exchanged between the protagonists and the often off-center characters they encounter along their way. And I’m pretty sure having Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in the starring roles won’t detract much from the overall effect.
Finally, of the three films, the storyline surrounding ex-New York Times writer Michael Finkel, his firing for fabrications, and his meet-up with Christian Longo, an individual charged with murder and identity theft, is murky, indeed.
I do recall the investigative reporting surrounding the incidents but not Finkel’s memoir, "True Story," from which the screenplay of the same name has been adapted. Possibly, it’s the "star factor" of the film, what with Jonah Hill as Finkel and James Franco as Longo, that initially turned my crank. Or, maybe, it’s the "truth is stranger than fiction" aspect of the story.
All four made my "short list" as far as ticket acquisition, so we’ll see where that goes. I feel like I can improvise upon a theme, that I’m adaptable as far as relating to and feeling the art involved with the screenplays in question. Somebody turn out the lights.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.