During my sophomore year of college, I discovered Cormac McCarthy.
Assigned to read All The Pretty Horses in a class on “The Western”, it was a revelation, like reading sentences for the first time. McCarthy was one of the only modern authors--Jonathan Franzen and John Updike, off the top of my head--that I could place alongside Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Steinbeck. He turns grammar and language upside down and inside out, like a readable, more violent, less Southern Faulkner.
I jumped on the McCarthy band wagon just in time. Within a few years, the Coen Brothers would turn No Country For Old Men into a Best Picture winner, The Road would win the Pulitzer prize, and Oprah picked McCarthy for her book club. In the mean time, I spent my time reading almost all of McCarthy’s oeuvre.
Eventually, I found his masterpiece, Blood Meridian. Cormac’s magnum opus, it is a violent, ugly book that Harold Bloom ranks as one of the best books of the last fifty years. I’d agree that it is one of the most important. (It isn’t my favorite McCarthy novel. I feel that All The Pretty Horses is equal if not better. I haven’t read Sutree, but I’ve been told by trusted sources--Roger Ebert, McCarthy’s brother--that it belongs in the same company.)
Like All The Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country For Old Men, Blood Meridian is on its way to a theater near you. (Eventually. I guess the project has stalled.) This news shouldn’t be surprising: Blood Meridian may be too violent, too Western, too expensive, and too rated-R to get produced.
And I’m not that upset about this. The problem with film adaptions, as I’ve written before, is that great books don’t make great movies. Too much is lost in translation across mediums. For example, a great novel is usually filled with deep character insights, inner-monologues and motivation. Think anything by Henry James, Salinger or Updike. Blood Meridian wouldn’t have this problem, because McCarthy doesn’t spend too much time in his main character’s heads.
But another problem with great-novel-to-film translations is that great novels describe the world, using language and metaphor to create a vision in the reader’s mind. A film shows you something, no mental creation needed. Whereas a book can spend a page describing a chair, a movie just scans past it. Blood Meridian would have this problem. One of the joys in reading a book by McCarthy is the joy in reading the prose of McCarthy.
Finally, many classics are too large or unwieldy to mold into a two hour film. Blood Meridian definitely has this problem.
But I have an idea to solve these problems: use the template given to us by Francis Ford Coppola. He successfully adapted one of the great books, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, into the equally classic Apocalypse Now. How? Because Coppola took a handful of plot, character and theme, discarded the rest, and adapted it to the modern era.
This is what should be done with Blood Meridian. Adapt it to the Iraq war--or the war in Afghanistan, which could work better--turn the Glanton gang into military contractors, focus on the Judge, and keep the plot of a gang run amok. That’s gold, Jerry, gold!
Now will this movie get made? Probably not. It would be less expensive, less violent, and less western, but now it would be about the modern war. Hopefully soon, war films start making money, because this is the film I would want to make.