Wednesday, 20 February 2008


F Scott Fitzgerald's struggling screenwriter, Pat Hobby, is to get his name in lights after all. Variety reports that The Pat Hobby Stories, which were based on Fitzgerald's own experiences in Hollywood, are being adapted for the big screen. In the meantime we can look forward to the delayed release of David Fincher's film of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This is based on Fitzgerald's 1922 short story, which deals with the complicated love-life of a man who ages backwards. Read it in the collection, Tales of the Jazz Age.

Another literary titan who had a hard time in Hollywood is also making something of a comeback. Cinematical has news of a remake of William Faulkner's novel Intruder in the Dust (last filmed in 1949), and an adaptation of a short story called Red Leaves.

This would be an opportune moment to watch the Coen Brothers' excellent Barton Fink again, in which the character W P Mayhew is a composite of the two great writers.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


A recent Guardian article highlights the fact that one person is largely responsible for the slew of major book adaptations currently either on our screens or in the works. That person is producer Scott Rudin.

Here is Anne Thompson on his next collaboration with the Coen Brothers, a film version of Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

Among other projects on Rudin's classy slate are Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates, dir. Sam Mendes), Fantastic Mr Fox (Roald Dahl, dir. Wes Anderson), Saturday (Ian MacEwan), The Reader (Bernhard Schlink, dir. Stephen Daldry), The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen) and Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy).

In a candid interview on BBC Radio 4's 'Front Row' this week, Rudin described how he sees the goal of a good adaptation as being 'the excavation of the literary impulse', while acknowledging that 'everything in a movie gets reduced to narrative... that's all it is.' He also revealed that his most cherished project is a long-mooted version of another Chabon novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Friday, 8 February 2008


(An occasional round-up of book-related happenings.)

Anne Thompson reports on the screening at Berlin of Eroll Morris's Abu Ghraib documentary, Standard Operating Procedure. Though not based on a book, a companion volume, co-authored by Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch, will be published in the UK in April... Over at Cinematical, there's news of '21', the film adaptation of Bringing Down the House, the true story of the Las Vegas blackjack scam perpetrated by six MIT students... Elsewhere on the same blog, there's an entertaining piece about the casting for Cowboys for Christ, described by Variety as: 'the story of a gospel singer and her cowboy friend who set off from Texas to enlighten Scottish heathens about the ways of Christ.' The movie will be based on the novel of the same name by Robin Hardy, director of The Wicker Man. Can't wait...

Monday, 4 February 2008


Themes don't come much more adult than Alzheimer's. Which is why it is all the more remarkable to learn that Away From Her is the feature debut of 28-year-old Sarah Polley.

Much of the coverage of the film has focussed on Julie Christie's Oscar-nominated performance, and deservedly so, but this is a major achievement for the young director. Polley also wrote the screenplay, for which she, too, has been nominated. This is a skilful and sympathetic adaptation of Alice Munro's short story, 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain'. (Like Brokeback Mountain, this film started life in the New Yorker.)

According to the film's production notes: 'While Munro was not involved in the adaptation, she was pleased with the result. Polley found this out in a flattering voicemail message from Munro...'

I hadn't read the Munro story when I watched the film, but was struck by how well the film captured the subtleties of the narrative, and the interplay between the characters' past and present lives. Nothing of the story has been lost, and where it has been fleshed out, it has been done to good effect.

The experience of watching Away From Her made me reflect on the differences between films adapted from short stories as opposed to novels. I realised that many of my favourites are in the former category: Don't Look Now (Daphne du Maurier), The Swimmer (John Cheever) and Brokeback Mountain (Annie Proulx), to take three random examples. Could it be that film works best when it has an opportunity to explore the hints about character and motivation contained in the highly compressed form of the short story, rather than attempting to do justice to the much more complex and detailed world depicted in a novel?

I was very impressed with Munro's writing, and was pleased finally to read an author I had been meaning to investigate. I shall certainly seek out more of her work. The story from which Away From Her was adapted is contained in a collection called Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008


If the documentary about Philippe Petit's extraordinary high-wire walk between the World Trade towers in 1974 is half as compelling as his book, To Reach the Clouds, then it will be well worth seeking out.

Man on Wire premiered at Sundance last week, where Petit and the director, James Marsh, were in attendance:

The film was admired by Nick Fraser, editor of Storyville, the BBC's documentary strand. Let's hope we get to see it in the cinema or on our TV screens before long.

In the meantime, I can highly recommend the book, the story of a meticulously planned and executed act of defiance in the face of death that is all the more powerful and poignant now. As Fraser reports, in the Q & A after the screening of the film: "A New Yorker in the audience is close to tears as she explains how wonderful it is to see images of her city from that time. 'It was so nice to see the towers were going up rather than down,' she says."

Friday, 25 January 2008


... is a terrible title for a Bond movie, even if it is named after an Ian Fleming short story. Daniel Craig admits he wasn't sure about it at first, before going on to explain: "Bond is looking for his quantum of solace and that's what he wants... It's that spark of niceness in a relationship that if you don't have you might as well give up."

I was reminded of a passage in Samuel Beckett's novel, Murphy (one of his early, funny ones), where one of the characters suggests that such a quest is doomed: "
The syndrome known as life is too diffuse to admit of palliation. For every symptom that is eased, another is made worse... [The] quantum of wantum cannot vary." We shall see...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


Louise Welsh gives an excellent account of the tangled historical and literary background to the legend of Sweeney Todd in the Guardian Review.

The book pictured above has just been published, presumably to tie in with the release of the Tim Burton movie, and Welsh says it is likely to become 'the definitive work on the subject'. Sweeney Todd made his first appearance in The String of Pearls, the weekly serial published in 1846-7 by Edward Lloyd, 'the King of the Penny Dreadfuls'. Pick it up, for a snip, here.