Look to the Source
December 5, 2007
Even though I felt quite ill, I decided to spend my day doing something good for society (even though society is always the villain), and watched Fast Food Nation, one of the more unlikely movies to reach that big silver screen in quite some time. In fact, it was so unlikely that no-one went to see it. As anyone who has ever read the book can tell you, Fast Food Nation, the classic piece of yellow journalism about the acherontic (“Of or belonging to Acheron [a river of hell], infernal; hence, dark, gloomy”) processed food industry, is unfilmable. There is nothing resembling a plot, nor is there even an anti-plot. Its unclear whence some producer derived the idea of turning this expose into a movie, but it probably goes something like this: Supersize Me=no-name director+social consciousness+McDonalds=Big Hit, e.g. Fast Food Nation=indie-cred director+almost star cast+speeches+Avril Lavigne=Really Big Hit.
Though it often veers from the course of the book, the movie does stay close to the source material in one very important aspect: it also has no story. Rather, like Traffic, Syriana, and any other “hyperlink” film it has multiple disconnected storylines. Unfortunately for Fast Food Nation, these never connect in any meaningful (nay, transparent!) way. It doesn’t help that the movie’s most dramatic, tension-filled scene is a conversation between Bruce Willis and Greg Kinnear at a Burger Joint, where Bruce Willis plays the villain and offers a speech about the tyranny of poorly operated grills and the pansyfication of the American consumers. While Dash is all for peaceful resolution (Vote Biden!), really, what is the point of having Bruce Willis in your movie if he isn’t going to blow something up, or at least punch someone to death? Would a Fast Food Nation starring Bruce Willis as an animal-rights activist forced to take measures into his own hands really have been that much worse?
While Fast Food Nation didn’t succeed, Hollywood still has love for strange source material, viz: one day we may see Leonardo DiCaprio as a man who makes incredible snap-decisions in Blink, an adaptation of the Malcolm Gladwell penned bestseller about people who make excellent snap-decisions. Besides, who can forget Adaptation? But with all these wonderful, unfilmable, non-fiction properties running around, how is a studio executive to choose? A few suggestions, close to Yesterday’s Salad’s heart.
1 ) Archive Fever: Updating the late Jacques Derrida’s late classic about archives, Freud, and Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi’s Freud’s Moses, is almost too easy. Bonus: the movie would prove exceedingly marketable; as I mentioned last week, Archive Fever sort of allows for the existence of Ghosts. As I see it, Archive Fever: The Movie would be the story of a young archivist at the Freud museum in London who, whilst researching Dr. Freud’s Jewishness, begins to see Freud’s ghost. Bewildered, he seeks out help from Professor Yerushalmi, who has long been searching for a way to communicate with Freud. Professor Yerushalmi is the only one who believes our young archivist and endeavors to help him (think Martin Landau in Rounders). Meanwhile, our young archivist begins seeing an older analyst (Mimi Rogers?) only to develop romantic feelings (bordering on an oedipal complex) for her. But in the end, only the specter of Dr. Freud can help. Think Ghost meets Analyze This.
2) Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E.: There are a number of options for adapting this classic piece of history (it was given 4 Slaves by the Ciceronian’s Daily Declaimer), and the problem is mostly an issue of setting. Should the movie be set amidst the backdrops of Hasmonean triumphs, or the Islamic conquest? Surely the latter would leave more room for thematizing and making parallels to contemporary life. One could even make a movie about Schwartz’s most controversial section: his treatment of the Christianization of the Roman Empire and its subsequent re-judification. But for my money, the most marketable time period is the life of Jesus. Still, Jesus movies have the problem of being too predictable; we all know how the movie is going to end, and even quasi-trick endings like those in Last Temptation don’t really work. I suggest a Romantic comedy told against the backdrop of a young Nazerene’s arrival in Jerusalem. One of Jesus’ disciples falls in love with a beautiful woman (either a daughter of a corrupt priest, or a Roman, depending on the Studio’s risk tolerance) and is torn between the two worlds. Confused, he seeks advice from Jesus (think Martin Landau in Rounders, only younger) who reminds him that the most important thing is Love. As rebellion swells in the capitol, our two lovers meet and embrace for the first time. Think Last Temptation of Christ with more nudity and less controversy.
3) From Max Weber: Since everyone knows that Society is the villain, why not make a movie where society really is the villain? Set against the backdrop of the pre-Napoleon France, a number of young revolutionaries are dismayed at the lack of progress in their country. No matter who takes power, nothing changes as the bureaucracy controls everything. The film follows the struggles of one man as he rages against this evil machine. Lost, he receives some powerful advice from an older veteran of the French and Indian War (think Martin Landau in Rounders) and falls in love with a beautiful gypsy (think Chocolat), e.g. the representation of living outside of society. Ultimately, he finds himself still further torn as an upstart general threatens to remake society in his own image. Think the “love conquers all” version of Brazil meets Everybody Says I Love You.
Just a few suggestions for now. I trust other saladeers will chime in with their own suggestions.