Enough of the reboots, these are the books that deserve original film or television series

There are in truth only a handful of magazines, newspapers and websites that are actually worth one’s time on a consistent basis. Naturally I consider The London Economic to be one of them (Flattery will get you everywhere – Ed.) for its over-all consistency of writing, broad range of subjects and a willingness to state a fact-based opinion and stick to it. For much the same reasons I enjoy The New Yorker, The Guardian, and The Times even though I come from nowhere near the same political view as the last.

My longest-running favourite though is the venerable New Statesman. I literally start and finish my day with it, beginning with Stephen Bush’s email newsletter Morning Call, then nodding off to Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz’s culture podcast SRSLY. When I say nodding off, that is not an insult. I play podcasts through the night as I sleep for, as we all do, I wake up for five to ten minute stretches and one hears the most interesting things that seed some rather interesting dreams.

One of the most-read stories on the New Statesman website last year was titled The Movie that doesn’t exist and the Redditors who think it does, written by Amelia Tait. So I don’t hold you in suspense (although I do suggest clicking on the link for full appreciation) the core of the article is that there are literally thousands of people who are sure, swear, are willing to testify under oath that they have watched and enjoyed a movie called Shazaam starring Sinbad as an affable genie. Just one wee problem there. Ain’t no such movie, seriously; or should I say SRSLY? Whether the cause is mass hypnosis, the existence of parallel universes, or this is the flashback everyone warned us about when we were swallowing little bits of paper decorated with LSD back in our … um … research days, who’s to say? The first point of the matter and purpose of this essay is that many of us (you too?) remember a movie that never was.

Instead of recalling in detail non-existent films, why don’t we remember as well that fabulous black-and-white version of The Catcher in the Rye starring a very young Daniel Day-Lewis as Holden Caulf … oh right. That one doesn’t exist either. In fact, there has never been a film version of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel and that is the true purpose behind what you are reading now. If Hollywood can re-boot bloody Spiderman every three years, why in heck can’t it make at least one version of The Catcher in the Rye?

Well, there actually is a reason behind that, although it may not be a good reason. Salinger himself would never sign off on a film adaptation because he could not envision how a movie script could make his first-person narration work. Clearly J.D. didn’t watch nearly enough movies. Had he really no awareness of Double Indemity for starters? One can only hope that his estate succumbs to greed (now there’s a phrase you don’t come across every day) and green-lights the project, either for the cinema or for Netflix.

There are two other books that I would absolutely love – and so would you – if they were adapted to either large or small screens. One is Solar Dance by Modris Eksteins. When I reviewed it back in 2012, here was my lede:

I can certainly tell you one thing. Someone’s going to make one hell of a good movie about a guy named Otto Wacker. The movie could be anything: absurdist comedy, dark drama, documentary; Wacker was also a dancer besides being a dealer in fake Van Goghs, so the movie of his life could even be a musical. He certainly had the personality for it. Undoubtedly a con man, he was one of those interesting aesthetes who always remind one of Joel Grey in Cabaret. In fact, if Der Host and that club had been real and not fictional, Wacker would have been both a regular customer and a big tipper too.

Shows you how much I know. Yet, this true story of a dealer in fake Van Gogh paintings has so much going for it. Setting: the end of the divinely decadent Weimar Republic and the rise of the perversely puritanical Nazis. Main character: Otto Wacker, a dance-obsessed (likely) homosexual who ripped off the elite yet was equally protected by them. Social commentary: even if an elite is stolen from it doesn’t like to admit it as then the elite might be laughed at. For that matter, is a forgery of style really a forgery if the subject matter is original? Why can’t the signature ‘Van Gogh’ just be considered another few strokes of the paint brush? Wes Anderson needs to make this film.

The other book I beg someone to film is Anthony Trollope’s comic masterpiece Barchester Towers. Just the other day David Mamet wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal proclaiming that Trollope was much the greater novelist than Charles Dickens. To which I can only say, David Mamet is a fucking idiot. However, I dearly love Trollope. He was the precursor to P.G. Wodehouse and J.B. Priestley … in some ways Kingsley and Martin Amis too, as writers of withering satire of English mores wrapped carefully in the softest cashmere of well-chosen words. The BBC made a series called The Barchester Chronicles back in 1982, however the material surely deserves a fresh update. If done correctly, this examination of a modest vicarage within the class system could and should be a new Father Ted or Vicar of Dibley.

There are of course other novels that should have been filmed years ago, yet failed to pass the ‘what’s new, what’s hot, what’s sexy’ test of Hollywood or the BBC. (By the way, I’ve just used the terms hot, sexy and BBC in the same sentence. I call Bingo!) There is Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, which David Lean was keen on, until he died. That rather got in the way. Or, there is 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Much like The Catcher in the Rye, Marquez stood obstinately against a film adaptation. Yet one would be richly deserved and appreciated if placed in skilled hands.

How about you? What book would you like to see interpreted as a film or prestige television series? Or would you rather see Peter Parker get bit in the ass by a radioactive arachnid for the five thousand two hundred and eighty-eight time? We look forward to your comments.

Be seeing you.

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3 Responses

  1. David

    There was a TV version of Nostromo about twenty years ago (and about 5 years after Lean died).

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115296/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

    It has the same problem as the script of Lean’s film (co-written with Robert Bolt). Nostromo has all the elements of a cracking adventure story – buried treasure, revolutions, midnight gallops to save the virtous, a working-class hero – but Conrad deliberately deconstructs them to make a very difficult modernist novel – it’s been said that it’s impossible to read Nostromo unless you’ve read it before. So Lean and Bolt (and the BBC) turned it into a more conventional adventure story, but what’s the point? Why do the R L Stevenson version of a novel which is all about deconstructing R L Stevenson? But an authentic version of the Conrad would never find a popular audience.

    http://scriptshadow.net/screenplay-review-nostromo/

  2. David

    There was a TV version of Nostromo about twenty years ago (about five years after Lean died).

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115296/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

    It has the same problem as Lean and Robert Bolt’s script. Nostromo has all the ingredients for a cracking adventure story – revolutions, midnight gallops to save the good guys, buried treasure, a working class hero – deconstructed into a very difficult modernist novel. It’s been said that it’s impossible to read Nostromo unless you’ve read it before. So the filmakers either have to un-deconstuct it back into an R L Stevenson adventure story – in which case what’s the point? – or spend a lot of money to make a difficult art film honest to Conrad’s intentions – in which case where’s the audience coming from?

  3. Couldn’t agree more about Solar Dance, and for that reason, I obtained the motion picture rights to Eksteins’ fine book and have been developing it. It will be a most memorable film. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of your readers.

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