Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wednesday's Western: Advice To James Franco on BLOOD MERIDIAN: Book To Movie

The news is, link, that actor/author/director James Franco has been given the job of bringing Cormac McCarthy's classic western, BLOOD MERIDIAN, to film.  A difficult task, seeing as how there is not one interpretation of the novel, but dozens.

Despite his relative inexperience compared with Terrence Malock, Tommy Lee Jones, and others who were considered, we're hopeful that he will take the care needed to do the job right.  On the wiki site, his bio says that he is a reader, always carrying around a copy of Homer or Joyce or some other classic, and that's a very good sign.

Here's hoping that he will retain Cormac McCarthy's friend, Tommy Lee Jones, in some capacity, either as advisor or actor or both.  He should also consider hiring, as a consultant, Rick Wallach, the eminent McCarthy scholar and author who was one of the founders of the Cormac McCarthy Society back in 1993.  Wallach's subtle take on BLOOD MERIDIAN and its humor would prove invaluable.

I'd also like to see James Franco use John Sepich's vision of the novel--that BLOOD MERIDIAN hinges on the compassion the kid shows in the desert.  You can read about it in Sepich's essay in the revised edition of Notes on Blood Meridian (Southwestern Writers Collection), which also cites the many historical sources that Cormac McCarthy used in the novel.

The violence in the movie has to be done just right, no easy thing to do in this era when movies seem to be as violent and noisy as video games, as if they turn up the volume at every explosion.

My advice, to James Franco the reader, is to study the way this was accomplished by Sam Peckinpah.  One of the great things about THE WILD BUNCH were the close-ups on the actors' faces.  The audience could see when Bishop Pike was conflicted in his expression. There was a difference in the expressions of men who were reluctantly shooting, those who were angrily shooting, and those who were gleefully shooting.  Such nuances were carefully accomplished and, in that movie, done right.

James Franco already had a daunting movie to be filmed this year: William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING.  This too will be difficult to do right, as there are by design a dearth of interpretations, all equally valid.

I think that Oprah had the best of intentions when she selected this novel for her bookclub but the humorless way it was presented made it very awkward and  uncomfortable,  both for those trying to understand it and those of us who have long loved AS I LAY DYING for what it is.

I've read all, or nearly all, of the critical literature on AS I LAY DYING, and the one book I'd recommend to James Franco is Austin Wright's Recalcitrance, Faulkner, and the Professors.  Not only are the many interpretations of the novel in here for comparison, but this book offers a new and brilliant clarity of understanding.

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