gall and gumption

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

By Morons, For Morons

Thersites at Whiskey Fire notes this story of some guys who tried pitching the idea of making an action movie out of Paradise Lost.

Legendary’s chairman and chief executive, Thomas Tull, said his first response to the idea was, “Well, that’s going to make a lot of older folks relive bad college experiences.” Later he realized that “if you get past the Milton of it all, and think about the greatest war that’s ever been fought, the story itself is pretty compelling,” he said.

As with any Hollywood development project, things are changing along the way. The original script hewed a bit too closely to Milton for the producer’s taste, for instance. Mr. Newman, by his own account, told the writers he wanted “less Adam and Eve and more about what’s happening with the archangels,” the battle in Heaven between God’s and Satan’s armies.

“In Eden there’s the nudity problem,” he pointed out, “which would be a big problem for a big studio movie.”

Mr. Newman also knows that some might see this project as a fool’s errand. “It’s a 400-some-odd-page poem written in Old English,” he said, laughing. “How do you find the movie in that?” But he speaks of the project with unflagging enthusiasm, though it may seem his passion is more for the idea of the poem than for the poem itself. (It’s in blank verse, not Old English.)

“This could be like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ or bigger,” he said. Daniel Craig and Heath Ledger are two of his top choices for Lucifer.

I wish I could say something funny about this. But all I can do is bow to the mightier power of Silly. Even the Times writer can't keep it straight. I love this distinction between "blank verse" and "Old English."

This reminds me of once when I was in LA visiting some cousins. These cousins were all about my age, and they were part of a little network of Uptown Jamaicans who sort of ran together there. A couple of the people in this network I had even known in Jamaica. It is a very small world, that, as you can imagine. But somehow since I left Jamaica I had taken a very different turn through life. I didn't stay tightly inside my little ethnic community. My aunt and uncle in Northern California were at the very center of it, had established the Jamaica Association of Northern California and did all the slog of building an organization that held events, made contacts between Bay Area governments and city governments in Jamaica, arranged charity drives. And they had the best private Jamaican New Year's Eve party at their house for years. Good people who liked to enjoy life. But after I went up to visit for Thanksgiving or whatever I went back to California for a life of my own that was much more penetrated into American life than theirs ever was. Years and years of parties and you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of Americans who came to them. And the ones who did always just began to seem like other Jamaicans after a while: Jamaicans are wonderful at assimilating foreigners.

My cousins in LA lived an even more remote existence from their surroundings. One of the two sisters was basically counting the days until she finished her schooling so she could go right back to Jamaica. It was as if she wasn't here in the States and had no plans for ever considering herself as being here. She was absent. And the Jamaican friends who hung out with them were all in this state to one degree or another. Even if they weren't going back they weren't here.

So one night I was there in LA and we all decided to go out, about half a dozen of us, to see a movie. And I suggested, I think, Raging Bull. And one of the guys (among these people the guys got their way in matters like these as a matter of course, a woman could only have a stupid opinion about it.) He looked at me said, in tones reserved for talking to idiots, "It's in black and white."

You must understand that a guy like this considered himself the finest product of a Jamaican upbringing and that life couldn't possibly get more interesting than the life of a middle-class Jamaican totally devoid of intellectual curiosity. When I left Jamaica I was a little bit like this. But I spent my first year away from Jamaica basically alone. I was at boarding school, and living with my mother on vacations. And my mother and stepfather dragged me around to look at things: plays, art exhibits, country houses, historic sites. And of course I read.

From then on it became increasingly difficult to maintain the belief that I could be a complete ignoramus and simultaneously as literate about culture as anybody needed to be. I tried, but then I ran into Alan Stephens and he shamed me out of it so thoroughly that I still keep the note he wrote on my first paper for him, which was about -- of all things -- Paradise Lost. I was about 19 when he wrote it. I keep it like a talisman, and every once in a while I take it out and read it and am grateful.

To think of this studio twit and this New York Times writer between them talking down to Milton for his 400-page poem and his "Old English," Jesus. It makes me want to believe in ghosts. It makes me want Milton, scrawny, blind, crankiest old bastard in a an era that was simply prodigious in its production of cranky bastards (a lot of them ended up over here, remember), and fermenting and perfecting that crankiness over 350 years, just to show up and scare the bejabers out of them.

The story is funny, but still, what a bunch of goobers. Do I think everybody should read and enjoy Paradise Lost? No, but it's like these people are doing such a crap job of what their part of this deal is, that is, imagining a movie. It's the fathomless self-assurance that riles me, and the total lack of curiosity.

What is the benefit, exactly, of being such a lump?


At 11:08 PM, Anonymous tom said...

Goobers whose distance from any clue is disturbingly reminiscent of other goobers tackling more unprepossessing projects with greater hamhandedness.

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous kmcleod said...

The benefit is the absence of uncertainty in one's life--a dismissive deafness to new or contrary ideas, a narrow field of thought where all limited expectations are fulfilled. Paradise Lost is my favorite epic poem, and I hope Hollywood never makes it. They don't make films, they make movies.

At 6:01 AM, Blogger Kia said...

You know, I can almost here the other goobers, too. "This could be as big as Lord of the Rings!"

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Kia said...

S.J. Perelman used to write funny pieces about Hollywood's industry bureaucrats. He got most of his money from writing screenplays (his wife worked with him sometimes) and he loathed Hollywood and wrote the best parodies of its mores. His wife, by the way, was the sister of Nathanael West. I take a certain amount of crap as given and it can even be fun. But these guys' notion of what produces entertainment in Hollywood seems as bad as their grasp of Milton. Perelman would have recognized them right away.


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