Saturday, June 04, 2005

Welcome Movie News

I discovered in my bookmarks a news bit I'd forgotten from Roger Ebert that's welcome news to fans of the book A Confederacy of Dunces. It's a quirky and decidely non-PC novel written by John Kennedy Toole in the early Sixties about New Orleans and the lumbering behemoth of delusion Ignatius J. Reilly.

To me, an actor like the younger Oliver Platt would have been nearly perfect as Ignatius. But, well... let Ebert, quoting from the film's would-have-been director David Gordon Green, tell you:
Q: I recently found out that David Gordon Green's film "A Confederacy of Dunces," with Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore, has been canceled. Green is one of my favorite directors and I have high hopes for his career. What is the story behind the cancellation and what will this do to his career?

Jonathan Warner, Evanston

A: At 30, David Gordon Green is one of the brightest talents of his generation, and the maker of three wonderful films ("George Washington," "All the Real Girls, "Undertow"). "A Confederacy of Dunces" would have been based on the cult novel by John Kennedy Toole about a quixotic New Orleans character. He responds:

"To the disappointment of many of us, 'Dunces' was put on hold last year. We had assembled the cast of my dreams (Will Ferrell, Lily Tomlin, Mos Def, Drew Barrymore, Olympia Dukakis, etc.) and I adopted New Orleans as my new home, but politics over the property rights -- torn between Miramax, Paramount, and various camps of producers -- put a weight on the project that wasn't creatively healthy to work within.

"The draft of the script by Scott Kramer and Steven Soderbergh did the novel justice, and also provided a healthy cinematic spotlight for these eccentric characters, but it didn't cater to a lot of the cliches or conditioning of contemporary American studio sensibilities. So I suppose the difficulty was even beyond the political baggage and paperwork, and stemmed in many ways from the manner in which I wanted the film to be executed.
Look at that cast. Ferrell as Ignatius? Abomination beyond words. Lily Tomlin as his mother? Gack! Mos Def as Jones? He's too modern-cool to get it right. Freakin' Drew Barrymore as Myrna Minkoff? Complete and total miscast. Myrna is the classic black beret, black turtleneck, black skirt and hose, black hornrimmed glasses, thin as a rail New England bohemian. Drew is nothing like that.

So, I'm glad the stake was put through this one. I can't really think of any young actors today who might get him right, though in devilish moments I think of Ralphie from Last Comic Standing. Plus, the whole tone of the novel is so pre-PC, so offensive to so many politically active identity groups I can't see how it gets through the script process intact. It will have to be watered down to the point of tepidness, to the point that much of what drives the comedy action makes no sense.

Ebert also mentions, again quoting Green, one version that might have been:
The history of the book and various efforts for a filmed version make an epic of their own. (I would have loved to see the Harold Ramis-directed early '80s take with John Belushi, Ruth Gordon and Richard Pryor). My hope is that we get our paws on the flick, and Kramer writes his memoirs of the whole deal.
That one might have worked, though Belushi would have had some difficulty with the fierce intellectualism of Ignatius. Still, it would have been made in the anything-goes atmosphere of Hollywood in the early Seventies and that might've allowed the novel's flavor to survive. I can absolutely see that cast relishing the opportunity to be outrageous.

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