For nearly two years, EQMM has been producing monthly podcasts of stories from the magazine’s archives. Most often, they are readings by the authors; sometimes full or partial dramatizations are featured. A couple of authors have composed and performed music for the series, and there are some author interviews in the mix. The podcasts can be found here.
Life During War Time (2009) by Todd Solondz is the story of broken characters in search of forgiveness. It is the sequel, a mere eleven years later, to Happiness (1998) which was the story of these same characters (played by an entirely different set of actors) in search of happiness —elusive happiness often tied to or destroyed by their pursuit of perverse sexual orgasms.
In Happiness we meet the character Bill who is a pederast. After being exposed, Bill and his son Billy have one of the most uncomfortable conversations I’ve ever witnessed. He asks his dad exactly what it was that he did to the other boys, Billy’s friends, and Billy wants to know if Bill will ever rape him, too. When Bill says “no, I jerk off instead,” and Billy burst into tears, I’m not really sure if he’s crying because he’s disappointed or if he’s upset that his dad jerks off while thinking about him. There are a lot of uncomfortably tense moments in Happiness (not quite so much in Life During War Time). No books make an appearance in Happiness. BUT, in Life During War Time there is a book. Of all things, Naked Lunch by William Burroughs.
The book is on Billy’s childhood bedside. He has gone away to college and his father is recently released from prison. Bill breaks into his ex-wife’s home and wanders around through the rooms. Billy’s room has a lot of marijuana leaf posters and there on the night table is Naked Lunch. I wonder about that choice. For it to be so visible in the shot seems to suggest something important about the character of Billy. We know he has drug interest from the room decor. But it would seem that he would be revolted by a novel that discusses acts of pedophilia. Unless— Am I to think Billy is a fan of Burroughs because of the drugs? Or is he somehow a fan of someone in support of NAMBLA? This is the only book of Billy’s we’re made aware of so it’s hard to know what it says about his character. But I think the director is definitely saying something there. If it were just a drug interest, it could have been Fear and Loathing by Hunter S. Thompson or Go Now by Richard Hell or maybe Genet or some other beat writers…but Burroughs seems a loaded gun in the context of this story. It is interesting to consider how the book and film relate when reading this quote from 120 Banned Books by Nicholas J. Karolides on Naked Lunch: ”Burroughs juxtaposes seemingly realistic scenes with brutal nightmarish acts that exhibit the degradation of his characters through the violent, bestial acts of others and of themselves.” (p.471). Though this makes me think more of Happiness than it does Life During War Time.
Naked Lunch was first published in 1959 in France then later in America. In America it was a ”banned book” and was part of obscenity trials at the time. It depicts orgies, drugs, decapitations, pedophilia, forced sexual encounters, and child murder. It was made into a movie by David Cronenberg in 1991. For years other filmmakers hoped to adapt the book into film but it’s disjointed narrative structure and vague plot made it difficult. Cronenberg went for a “metatextual” adaptation, basing the film on several Burroughs text as well as autobiographical information.
Numerous bands have made albums and songs which allude to Naked Lunch. Bomb the Bass’s song “Bug Powder Dust” heavily references the novel.
Check out this list of books currently being made into movies….hope some of them reference another book in them so we can bounce….
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was first published in 1847. It has been adapted to film and television numerous times, the most famous being the 1939 version. However, I prefer the 2009 Tom Hardy version ….A new adaptation is slated for release in 2011.
I guess we’ll always have to wonder if we’re really rooting for an incestuous romance when we lament Heathcliff and Catherine not being together…I mean, WAS Heathecliff the bastard love child of Earnshaw, or really just some poor kid on the side of the road? Hummm…to explore that angle, see the 1970 version staring Timothy Dalton. Regardless, Heathcliff is by far my favorite of the Byronic heroes and Tom Hardy played him best so far! What I love most about the story of Wuthering Heights is Heathcliff’s exacting revenge, reminiscent of Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (which was inspired by the “true” story compiled in a collection by a French policeman named Jacques Peuchet).
The BBC television series version with Tom Hardy as Heathcliff has a scene where Catherine gives a copy of Ivanhoe (published in 1819) to Heathcliff….Sir Walter Scott was the first to “portray peasant characters sympathetically and realistically, and was equally just to merchants, soldiers, and even king” …..With Ivanhoe he is said to have been the first writer to have “turned men’s minds in the direction of the middle ages,” (according to John Henry Newman). It would seem that absolutely nothing important happened in literature until Sir Walter Scott….hummmm….
Robin Hood and his “merry men” (why is this often put in quotes? ….were they not really “merry” or not really “men”?) make appearances in the novel Ivanhoe. Did you see that horrible movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights? ugh.
Has there ever been a really good version of Robin Hood? I’ve only seen crappy ones….I digress…
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, was published in 1847. It became a bestseller in its day and has been made into numerous film and television adaptations, musicals, a radio show, and a graphic novel. For a full list of all editions, check out the wiki article by clicking here. Did you know that in 1943 there was a film called I walked with a Zombie, loosely based on the novel? And I thought Pride and Prejudice and zombies was a “new” thing….
Recently watched the BBC Masterpiece Theater (2006) version of Jane Eyre, starring Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester (because isn’t that how we really classify it?…it’s not who plays Jane but who plays Rochester that matters most). In this version, there is a scene where a character visiting Thornfield is looking for a book she was reading called The Beast Within (not to be confused with the 1982 horror movie). She seems to search for this book in several scenes, even once discussing its plot as being about a man who commits a crime (or crimes) in some mad state at night and then goes about his day as if normal. Another character comments that she can’t understand why someone would read such horrible things…this is of course commenting our watching/reading such things as Jane Eyre…postmodern touches are nice.
The only book I can imagine she is referring to is by Emile Zola (La Bete Humaine) …but that wasn’t published until around 1890. Jane Eyre was published in 1847. Taking a little liberty with time I suppose….This BBC production seems to make a point of referencing this book, obviously alluding to the as of yet unrevealed mystery in Jane Eyre.
From a description of the book on Powells.com:
“The Beast Within is at once a tale of murder, passion, and possession and a compassionate study of individuals derailed by the burden of inherited evil. In it, Zola expresses the hope that human nature evolves through education but warns that the beast within continues to lurk beneath the veneer of technological progress.”
The Beast Within was adapted to film several times:
- Die Bestie im Menschen, a 1920 German silent film, directed by Ludwig Wolff
- La Bête humaine, a 1938 movie directed by Jean Renoir
- Human Desire, 1954 movie (AVAILABLE now on netflix streaming) based on the novel, and directed by Fritz Lang, starring Glenn Ford
- La Bestia humana, a 1954 Argentine movie, directed by Daniel Tinayre
- Cruel Train, a 1995 British TV movie, directed by Malcolm McKay
***Of the two or three other Jane Eyre film/television adaptations I’ve seen, I can’t recall any of them referencing the book The Beast Within.
The novel Jane Eyre makes numerous literary allusions such as from the Bible, fairy tales, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Paradise Lost, and the novels and poetry of Sir Walter Scott (bounce over to Wuthering Heights post for another Scott reference) are also much in evidence. John Reed is compared to Caligula. Jane is compared to Guy Fawkes. Both Biblical figures like Samson and mythological figures like Apollo are referred to at various times.
There’s a movie version of Caligula. I don’t recall any books in the film but lots of nudity and fisting…well…at least one.
The 1989 movie Road House, staring Patrick Swazye, is often hailed as “the best B movie ever made” (though I don’t think my stepdad gets that; he takes it quite seriously as an action flick).
It’s the story of a man named Dalton, hired to clean up an out of control road house in a one horse town called Jasper. Jasper makes the violence in Watts in the 80s look like a dance party by comparison. But one man can fix it…no, not the law….the law stays on the belt line far away from Jasper….it’s Dalton..the “best cooler in the business.” And before you start thinking Dalton is just a tough guy with no heart, he’s also a philosopher from NYU with a focus in ”man’s search for faith, that sort of shit.”
Since Dalton is such a brain, in addition to brawn, during his down time this tough “cooler” takes time to read the novella Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison.
Legends of the Fall was made into a movie in 1994 staring Brad Pitt. The book from which Colonel Ludlow is reading the night the boys announce they’re going to war is the short story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” byRudyard Kipling in “The Jungle Book,” volume two.