In 1992 I asked my grandmother to rent Steven Soderbergh’s film Kafka from Blockbuster so I could watch it. We watched it together. I was intrigued; she found it dull. I saw it again in college and then again a few years ago. It’s nothing special.
In my freshman year of college I lived right next to a big video rental place that rented most old films for a dollar. This is where I discovered Where the Buffalo Roam, a 1980 semi-biopic starring Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson with music from Neil Young. My metaphorical lid flipped. I returned to my apartment to screen this strange find. Disappointment.
Seeing and immediately being disappointed by Where the Buffalo Roam fits neatly into another memory: In 1991 a record store clerk dissuaded me from buying an expensive bootleg recording of Jimi Hendrix featuring Jim Morrison. The clerk went to great lengths to do this (short of opening the CD, of course), insisting that the record was awful, that it should never have been released. A few weeks later a friend loaned me a tape of the recording he’d somehow acquired. Total garbage. I didn’t even bother to dub it.
(Sometimes when I see that some new scrap and tittle of a dead author’s work is going to be posthumously published, I think of that Hendrix/Morrison recording).
In 1998 I saw Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Sloppy, cartoonish, vivid, and occasionally incoherent, Fear and Loathing is successful mostly because it isn’t a film about Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a film about the end of the illusion of the 1960s.
I don’t remember when I first saw Barfly. Sometime in college. Undoubtedly I tried to keep pace with old Hank on-screen. Hence the poor memory.
Factotum: I fell asleep at the end. But it wasn’t bad, I guess. A good attempt at interpreting Bukowski’s autobiographical novel.
(But obviously the documentaries that feature Bukowski himself are so much more alive than any interpretation).
Some interpretations of writers’ lives benefit from the distance—the distortion—of time: Quills, The Libertine, Marat/Sade, any riff on Shakespeare (although I can’t think of one that isn’t crap, actually, right this minute), etc.
In particular, Jane Campion’s film Bright Staris excellent, but it’s not really about John Keats: The film is really about Fanny Brawne. Again though, I think time’s distortion helps.
(And oh lord I would love to see Val Kilmer’s one-man Mark Twain show, but that’s a whole other thing, not a film thing, not even a writer thing, more of a Kilmer thing).
The Faulkner/Hemingway amalgamation in Barton Fink is something else.
I turned off Capote.
I turned off The Motorcycle Diaries.
A few weeks ago I turned off Walter Salles’s adaptation of On the Road.
The Guardian and other sources report that Jason Segel will play David Foster Wallace in a film adaptation of David Lipsky’s Rolling Stone interview-turned-full-length-book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace.Jesse Eisenberg will reportedly take awkwardly stammer through Lipsky’s role.
Jason Segel, of the hit CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother, will play the late David Foster Wallace, who wrote “Good Old Neon.”
Jason Segel, a Judd Apatow stable staple, will play the late David Foster Wallace, who wrote an essay about misanthropy and a cruise ship.
Jason Segel, whose goofy charm and lovable good-nature belie a sensitive temperament, will play the late David Foster Wallace, who often wore a bandanna on his head.
Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself covers Wallace touring on his Infinite Jest book tour; his fame explodes and he’s not entirely sure what any of it means yet—whether to enjoy it, how to enjoy it, is it even possible to enjoy it, etc. Lipsky inserts a heavy editorial hand—lots of bracketed thoughts in this one, as our interlocutor repeatedly registers, or attempts to register, his own verbal dexterity, his own writerliness. And who can blame him? What writer-critic can resist showing a little plumage to the writer under discussion (to steal James Wood’s phrase)?
Lipsky’s book features one of the most intriguing characters in late twentieth-century literature: David Foster Wallace performing David Foster Wallace attempting to not-perform David Foster Wallace by acknowledging that David Foster Wallace is self-consciously aware of performing himself.
I can easily envision the shape, the tone, the contours, the set-pieces of this proposed film adaptation. A road trip film, a buddy film, but a film about antagonists, bullshitters, waxing hard, some high laughs, some intense moments (gaining so much easy shallow depth from Wallace’s suicide), maybe a few reading scenes. Etc.
And that’s what most bothers me about this film adaptation: How easily I can imagine what it will likely look and sound and feel like. How comfortable it all is.
There’s just not enough of that magical temporal distortion I referenced in point nine. The film is likely to piss off real fans of Wallace’s work and give anyone else interested a facile notion of who the writer was and what he thought and how he thought and how he represented and shared what he thought. How is such a film not a crass cash grab? Even if the film were artistically successful (leave aside what that nebulous term could mean for a moment, please)—again, how is such a film not a crass cash grab?
I could be wrong though. I’m fine with being wrong.