blood and thunder

one of my favorite novels, and one that has been perched atop the list of unfilmable books since its release in 1985, is cormac mccarthy's blood meridian, or, the evening redness in the west.

i've been re-reading this book lately and thinking about the notion of anything being unfilmable. i don't believe in the idea. it's cowardly. it reduces all that is potentially great about cinema to a paltry financial equation. if what it contains is so reprehensible as to be unfilmable, why, as a novel, was it also not as equally unwriteable or unreadable? i am simply unconvinced that there is not a group of talented people who are as willing to be as ruthless, cinematically, as mccarthy is with his pen. what these people mean when they say unfilmable is that it isn't good business. it would take an awfully bold patron to bankroll this one. when you cease worrying about a return on your investment, nothing is unfilmable. not one damned thing.

and it's a book full of damned things. damned things, damned people, a damned country. its savagery and brutality are unrelenting. if you make this thing, and you make it correctly, you would be setting a standard for subversive cinema that it would take a lot to eclipse. you could combine salò (1975), irreversible (2002) and antichrist (2009) and still not come close to the fury of what would be depicted in a film version that adhered closely to this source material. todd field is currently attached to the project as director. ridley scott was previously at the helm, but he jumped ship, which i am grateful for. scott would have made it an oversized spectacle, i fear. it seems, of late, that he is unable to do anything else. this is something that will be more frightening the more intimate it is. smaller is better. when the inhumanity is this boundless, your scale doesn't have to be. an example:

"everywhere there were horses down and men scrambling and he saw a man who sat charging his rifle while blood ran from his ears and he saw men with their revolvers disassembled trying to fit the spare loaded cylinders they carried and he saw men kneeling who tilted and clasped their shadows on the ground and he saw men lanced and caught up by the hair and scalped standing and he saw the horses of war trample down the fallen and a little whitefaced pony with one clouded eye leaned out of the murk and snapped at him like a dog and was gone. among the wounded some seemed dumb and without understanding and some were pale through the masks of dust and some had fouled themselves or tottered brokenly into the spears of the savages. now driving in a wild frieze of headlong horses with eyes walled and teeth cropped and naked riders with clusters of arrows clenched in their jaws and their shields winking in the dust and up the far side of the ruined ranks in a piping of boneflutes and dropping down off the sides of their mounts with one heel hung in the withers strap and their short bows flexing beneath the outstretched necks of the ponies until they had circled the company and cut their ranks in two and then rising up again like funhouse figures, some with nightmare faces painted on their breasts, riding down the unhorsed saxons and spearing and clubbing them and leaping from their mounts with knives and running about on the ground with a peculiar bandylegged trot like creatures driven to alien forms of locomotion and stripping the clothes from the dead and seizing them up by the hair and passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals, some of the savages so slathered up with gore they might have rolled in it like dogs and some who fell upon the dying and sodomized them with loud cries to their fellows. and now the horses of the dead came pounding out of the smoke and dust and circled with flapping leather and wild manes and eyes whited with fear like the eyes of the blind and some were feathered with arrows and some lanced through and stumbling and vomiting blood as they wheeled across the killing ground and clattered from sight again. dust stanched the wet and naked heads of the scalped who with the fringe of hair below their wounds and tonsured to the bone now lay like maimed and naked monks in the bloodslaked dust and everywhere the dying groaned and gibbered and horses lay screaming."

good luck with that, todd.

to be fair, he has made a couple of fine films, but nothing i have seen suggests to me that he has this in him. a couple of difficult domestic dramas are not the same as unleashing hell on earth.

casting is the other fly in the ointment. i can think of contemporary counterparts for most of the dreadful band of cutthroats we follow throughout the novel but i can think of no one that could inhabit judge holden. besides me, anyway. it's crucial that they get that right. those of you that have read the book feel free to play "who would you cast?" in the comments section. it's always fun and i'm always curious about other folks' ideas about this sort of thing.

judge holden action figure tie-in possibilities abound!

of course, all of these are moot points as the film remains stuck in development and i am sure no studio would take a chance like this right now. that doesn't make it unfilmable, though. it just means no one has both the money and the guts. it's a shame. someone stands to make film history.


  1. "He says He'll never sleep. He says he'll never die."

    I think Ebert's got the right idea on the casting of The Judge, Tom Noonan.

  2. i like noonan, but he doesn't scare me enough. plus, the man would have to be immense. i know technology would allow for all sorts of cheats but i would rather see a man-mountain play this part. i would think it would have to be someone relatively unknown. where are all the giants with brando-caliber skill who don't care whether a work this traumatizing would kill their career?