September 30, 2002

Nicholson Baker's The Fermata is a novel about Arno Strine, a guy who has figured out how to stop time. He is aware that he could use this gift for philanthropic purposes, yet all he can really think to do is undress women and ogle them. And write smut. He writes a lot of smut.

I read this book a decade ago and while it was a good book, I thought it would be a superb film. It is quite overtly cinematic. Consider the sequence where he spies a pretty girl, freezes time, takes keys from her purse, lifts a courier off his bike, cycles through the silent traffic and the paused rain of a Boston day, and eventually enters into her apartment to find the woman's cat in mid-leap off a counter top. It is but one of many highly visual scenes that could turn up in a narrative driven by Arno's voice over as he tries to write out the story of his life. These stories would be woven into the present tense, while he obsesses over the woman he came closest to sharing his secret life with, yet didn't. And the aloneness of the character, the silence of the world he lives in, the secrets he lives with, the perversion he has come to know only too well, all of these things could add up to make this one of the bravest films ever produced by a mainstream Hollywood filmmaker. Not because it dares to deal with the horrors of War, or the resoluteness of Erin Brokovich, but because it focuses keenly on the depraved inner landscape of the modern-day male.

Maybe this is what concerns me: It's being adapted for the screen by this guy, so that it can be directed by Robert Zemeckis. Tough to explain my feelings about Zemeckis. Certainly Back to the Future was great, and so was Jewel of the Nile. The sequels to Back to the Future were, however, unremarkable, as was, frankly, Roger Rabbit. Death Becomes Her was too long, Contact had its moments but it was also too long, Forrest Gump was a rank pile of manure, and What Lies Beneath, otherwise known as 'that film where Harrison Ford played a bad guy', completed the director's descent from the best PG filmmaker of his time to the most tired hack on the block. So that it became clear to me what I thought about this Zemeckis chap: he was good at making Tom Hanks look like he was expert at ping pong, or making Bob Hoskins appear as though he were actually conversing with a cartoon, that sort of thing, you know. He made good kids' movies, or at least, if you were a kid you thought so. And that was about it.

But I'm not about to condemn him for trying his hand with adult contemporary fiction. Truth is - and it's embarrassing to say this - but I didn't think Cast Away, his last film, was half bad. There was a kind of bravery in allowing a film to be that silent, and I think that sensibility has to win out if the film version of The Fermata is to have any power.

My only real regret is that it is being made now, during a time when movie going audiences are still not able to deal with a sex scene that does anything beyond some cursory nipple kissing and a pan to the ceiling. Too bad too, cause I think a scene that focused soberly upon the Van Dilden Heavydick with movable balls and suction-cup base, or the Swiss-made TorqueMaja Desnuda with its twelve special 'power-frig' torque settings, or the four foot long double headed Royal Welsh Fusilier with dual slidable foreskins, would most likely be a good thing.

Posted by at September 30, 2002 07:03 PM

50 Cups nails the casting.

Posted by: on May 2, 2003 12:17 PM .

I call for John Ritter. Nicholas Cage can play the Dildungsroman.

Posted by: TheDiscourse on May 2, 2003 04:58 PM .

John Ritter in The Fermata, that's... easily the creepiest thing I've ever heard.

Posted by: on May 2, 2003 05:05 PM .

D'yer hear Patrick Stewart and Joan Rivers are going to do "Vox" at the Fringe festival this summer?

Posted by: TheDiscourse on May 2, 2003 10:55 PM .

Okay, that might top the John Ritter thing. But you're kidding though, right?

Posted by: on May 3, 2003 12:28 PM .

That was a flagrant lie. Still though, after I read that book I kept thinking of great people to do the audiobook version. Actually James Woods would be quite good for Arno OR him out of Vox. Also,

Morrissey v. Leeza Gibbons
Jon Spencer v. Paula Poundstone
Bobcat Goldthwaite v. Archie Bunker's wife
Rich Little doing Johnny Carson v. Prince

Posted by: TheDiscourse on May 3, 2003 08:05 PM .

These are all bitchin' suggestions, Discourse. I seem to think Arno was in his early-mid thirties tho, and while there's little doubt James Woods and James Spader would have been perfect at some point, I think they're both a little old by now. Philip Seymour Hoffman is probably too obvious. Bobcat would be an interesting choice.

Re: Patrick Stewart & Joan Rivers - You know, something happened, and I can never tell when anyone is kidding anymore.

Posted by: on May 6, 2003 01:27 PM .


Posted by: soma on April 23, 2005 09:59 PM .
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