William Monahan's Blood Meridian screenplay

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  • 21 Apr 2015 at 9:54 am #6955

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    Michael: thanks for posting that. Sorry you didn’t come out and join us in Sydney last summer – I think you would have had a great time and we would very much have enjoyed meeting you. Along with Petra Mundik from UWA you’re the second confirmed sighting of a Cormackian from Perth, at any rate.

    Screenwriters – well, the Hollywood sort of screenwriter, anyway – often exhibit a dreadful hubris towards the original dialogue or plotting of a masterpiece about to be pitched into the baloney-grinder of pre-production. These hacks seem to think, not so much that they can adapt complex stories or dialogue to the inevitable alterations of a visual medium, but that they can do better. When you throw in the studio bean counters and the pressure of cramming in a minimum of four or five screenings per day and night, with the resultant horrifying edits, you get hash. There are, of course, some exceptions – the film of American Psycho was arguably much better than the novel, for example. But again, such are major exceptions.

    I think Blood Meridian can be done, and done well, but it cannot be done well if it is excessively truncated or hurried, and it cannot be done well if the judge isn’t damned near perfectly cast (and augmented with special effects as needed) and given as long a leash as he needs to warm to his themes.

    I think there are marginal scenes that can go – the Mangas Colorado barrel of whiskey scene is amusing but not crucial – but some scenes are absolutely necessary, and they’re the ones that will make the beancounters blanch: Reverend Green, the Comanche massacre of the freebooters, the dead baby tree, Gypsy tarot reading, the “mercury mule” encounter, the gunpowder scene, the encounter with Owens in his cafe, the Lincoln’s Ferry scene – and you must have a dancing bear (Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, will probably be available after the Republican primaries). I think a certain amount of voiceover narration is crucial as well: I don’t think you can do this film right if you remove too much of the verbal texture of the novel, either.

    And you need to make a three hour plus film. Period. I’m going to repeat for emphasis: you can’t cut this or you’ll fuck it up no matter how good what you have left over might be.

    About the only alternatives I can think of is animated Disney version with animal characters. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted often, Kurosawa is gone so what would have been an unforgettable samurai version will probably never happen either. Ah well.


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    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by  Rick Wallach.
    21 Apr 2015 at 10:12 pm #6957

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    I couldn’t possibly disagree more with my old friend Rick about the absolutes of adapting BLOOD MERIDIAN, or about the hackness of “bettering” a masterpiece in the effort to make it work onscreen.

    Speaking as a practicing filmmaker who is also a lover of McCarthy’s work, I hope that whoever ultimately adapts BLOOD MERIDIAN tosses Rick’s warnings into the middle of next week!


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    21 Apr 2015 at 10:43 pm #6958

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    Why? Is there some reason that you want the film to suck?


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    21 Apr 2015 at 10:54 pm #6959

    cantona
    Member

    Last night, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a cable showing of Bill Douglas’ very fine “Comrades:” a historical movie about the Tolpuddle Martyrs; so named because they were sentenced to penal transportation to Australia for the crime of forming a trade union. Douglas gets around the problem of cinematic epical contraction ( the Tolpuddle story was huge at the time: it covered two continents and aroused a lot of intense feeling among different social classes. A difficult story, then, to show on film) by interspersing the action with lantern slides. For example, rather than act out the “epic” sea journey that the prisoners made to Australia, a series of lantern slides silently narrate the route taken. I found this break from telling the story through action both clever and arresting. But, needless to say, “Comrades” was a failure at the box office.

    My point being: silent images – photographs, illustrations, animation, etc. – could be used in place of some of the more problematic episodes in Blood Meridian. This could even be done in combination with Rick’s voice-over suggestion. One reason why I would like to see this is my puppy-like sqeamishness when it comes to cinematic violence. Hieronymous Bosch and Goya are fine with me because their paintings don’t move ( unless, that is, LSD has been taken). Not sure I would want to see a full-screen, very close to the novel, rendition of the Commanche massacre passage anyway. A subtle screenplay and direction are needed for this very complicated story


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    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by  cantona.
    22 Apr 2015 at 4:42 pm #6962

    Driftwood70
    Member

    It’s clear to me now: Pixar.


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    23 Apr 2015 at 5:57 am #6963

    Driftwood70
    Member

    Alright, I threw that out there as a joke, but upon further reflection, imagine how much potential for faithfulness to the source material you could be granted by a deeply considered and expertly executed animation. One would also likely be able to effectively grapple with the double-edged sword of the graphic violence “problem”:

    On the one hand, there’s the oft-mentioned issue of the relentless and graphic violence being off-putting. I don’t see that being an issue in quite the same way in this case. On the other hand, there’s the risk of the graphic violence and horrific manifestations having LESS of an impact in a realistic dramatization. The vast number of war movies, among the general legion of super-violent movies of every genre has to a degree numbed us to its impact. Alternately, there’s a danger that what is attempted to be rendered as seriously primal, strange and horrifying (ie, baby tree) risks coming across as maudlin, kitschy or even comedic. I’m thinking of the way that The Exorcist can be viewed as either a horror classic, or as a ridiculous comedy. I’ve experienced theaters responding to it both ways. I’m also thinking of how inverting or really pushing the parameters of the suspension of disbelief can actually make material more powerful – because we are more graciously invited to participate in a belief in the circumstances, and they consequently become more powerful and empathic. This is something I’ve commented on here in reference to the Tobin gunpowder sequences of Chapter 10, but in this case I’m also thinking of animated examples like Watership Down and Waltz with Bashir. Even the original Hobbit. In Watership Down, because of the success of the animated world, we pretty much buy every personified scenario that’s thrown at us hook, line, and sinker. Imagine the beautiful, surreal, and other-worldly potential of one of my favorite scenes: the burning tree in which the kid is joined by all manner of desert fauna in a Hieronymus Bosch-style communion.

    I’m also thinking of what certain types of animation can do for the ineffable “literary quality,” or the language and sentence structure-specific qualities of the Blood Meridian world. Which, as literature, goes without saying – but I’m thinking of Richard Linklater’s rotoscoping effect (which used real actors and locations and then a post-production animated overlay) in order to bring another almost transcendent aesthetic layer that in my opinion (certainly not universally shared) was successful in brining a metaphysical harmony and other-worldly dream quality, crucial to the content, to Waking Life; and in A Scanner Darkly, the same effect brought the paranoid, shape-shifting, and qualitative truth of the Philip K. Dick literary world that would not have been there otherwise (on top of great performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson!)

    On another note, in parallel, but a separate issue – as I was being kept awake by this animation consideration – I was thinking that there shouldn’t be a “screenplay” at all – it’s just such a different animal. Instead, the entire book, as it is written, should be taken and broken into paragraph and scene sections, in the order that they are, with varying attention and duration given to every moment in terms of what can be sacrificed or not. Not everything could possibly be included, I know, unless we were lucky enough to get the 10-part miniseries. But even that would have to have it’s mini-arc re-interpretations that make for “story.” I’d like to see an effort made where that is simply not a consideration at all and the hallucinatory, elliptical structure, which is essential to the geologic nature of the material, is regarded as primary.

    Anyway, late night phantasms, I know.
    But maybe food for thought.
    Cheers from Europa.


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    24 Apr 2015 at 1:09 pm #6971

    Will
    Member

    Don’t forget Japanese animation. I would watch a Blood Meridian adaptation if it was styled like The Origin of O-Ren sequence from Kill Bill.


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    15 May 2015 at 4:05 am #7094

    Weasel84
    Member

    Rick Wallach, thanks so much for the kind welcome. It really is a pleasure to be here. You’ve made some fine points – and I agree with pretty much everything you say.

    The only thing I fear is that by literalising the scene with the dead babies, it could become unintentionally amusing or verge too far into fantasy (ie. so demonically preposterous that they’s come off looking like dead gollums, which would ruin the effect). But I’d still write it in…..have no fear šŸ˜‰

    Peter Josyph, enjoying the banter between yourself and Rick – that’s what great friendship’s all about. By the way, I just realised who you are!I’m reading ‘Tragic Ecstasy: A Conversation [between yourself] With Harold Bloom about Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’. Terrific article!

    I think what Rick is saying is not so much one needs to be slavishly faithful to the novel (however monumental those above-mentioned scenes are to him), but that there are screenwriters (like William Monahan, for example), who change the story around far too much and merely for the sake of doing so (without adding anything to it), or just so they can brand their own creative stamp on the piece.

    This might interest you – I emailed Harold Bloom a couple of days ago, telling him I was writing a screenplay and would he like to see it, because he’s such a fountain of knowledge on the piece. The first half of his reply was:

    “My former student Tommy Lee Jones took an option on Blood Meridian and used several screen writers with a view that he would play Judge Holden”….(WHAT!?)….I knew Tommy wanted to do it, but I’m glad he didn’t because, aside from the ludicrous notion of him playing Holden, James Franco has commented that he was only going to film the first third of the novel. What’s the point?

    I also believe one of the reasons the studios turned him down was because they thought the scene of the black Jackson slicing off the white Jackson’s head was racially inflammatory (ROLLS EYES).

    Mr Bloom goes on:

    “He gave it up and I agree with him and not with Cormac” (ie. that it can be filmed).

    The last part of his email made me chuckle for the rest of the day:

    “I suspect that you ought to turn your energies elsewhere”.

    Well, fair enough, he has his point of view. And I’ve no doubt the majority of the book’s fans would agree with him.

    Having seen ‘There Will Be Blood’, I’d love to see Paul Thomas Anderson give it a crack. I also think the actor Mark Strong just might be able to play him – unless one is fixed on the point of view that the Judge has to be a seven foot tall albino.

    However, I’ll pretend I never saw ‘Inherent Vice’.


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    15 May 2015 at 9:23 am #7095

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    Michael:

    “I thought Iā€™d give Blood Meridian a try ā€“ even if just for the practice.”

    A few quick points:

    If your “even just” carries even a hint that somehow perhaps your screenplay could be filmed, it can’t be, because you haven’t secured permission for the adaptation, and it’s my understanding that the rights are locked up tight.

    It’s also the case that whatever anybody might say or feel about a screenplay, no one can say whether it “works” or whether it doesn’t until it is filmed, and with shooting even the best screenplay in the world – or the seeming best – there are so many variables that only the finished product has the answer, and “finished” itself has many variables, as can be seen from what happened to the “finishing” of Billy Bob’s ALL THE PRETTY HORSES. Some would say that the “finishing” of Billy Bob’s film was more a finishing off of a film that we have yet to see.

    And so, as with all the comments about the several other attempts and near-attempts at adapting BLOOD MERIDIAN OR THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST, a screenplay that appears to be filmable and satisfies the Blood Meridian Police by not denying them their favorites in the novel, will bear no necessary relation to what succeeds and what doesn’t on screen.

    There are many good answers to Harold Bloom’s question about “Why bother” to film the novel if you are only attempting a portion of it, but I won’t give it here. Suffice it to say that Kazan’s EAST OF EDEN is only a portion of the novel and the film contains remarkable sequences. The much beloved NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN practically obliterates Bell’s monologues to a degree that someone who hasn’t read the novel might well be surprised at finding them, and in such proliferation, but the near-universally positive reception of the film even amongst McCarthy enthusiasts is, in itself, an answer to “Why bother.”

    If you plan to ask for opinions about your attempt, you might want to be careful about doing it over the net. That puts it into the world and that might not be legal. Adapting anything that’s not in the public domain without permission can generate trouble if it wanders beyond your own private quarters. This is how it should be, and it’s another reason I am responding to your “even if,” as it does in fact carry the hint that perhaps you could do something with it professionally. You can’t, not without an option. Even if you had George Clooney in your livingroom wanting to try his hand at playing Glanton, his first question, rightly, would be: “Of course you have the rights, right?” Saying “Well, George, I was hoping you could get them for us” won’t cut it because George won’t BE in your livingroom unless you have the rights to begin with.

    When Chaplin told Churchill he wanted to play Jesus, Churchill asked him whether he had secured the rights.

    Lastly, referring to the novel as BLOOD MERIDIAN is already an adaptation of sorts, as that is not the title of the book. Interesting how the Blood Meridian Police, commanded by Captain Wallach, are so authoritarian about what can and cannot be excluded, and yet, as the name of their squad suggests, they freely lop off 7/9 of the title. It’s one of many reasons I have had to initiate a Special Victims Unit for BLOOD MERIDIAN OR THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST. Frankly, the Blood Meridian Police are a pack of bumbling assholes who make the cops in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT look professional, but I can’t say that on the Forum so I won’t.


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    15 May 2015 at 10:42 am #7096

    Weasel84
    Member


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    • This reply was modified 2 years, 5 months ago by  Weasel84.
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