Jeez, it’s almost as if Hollywood isn’t eagerly taking to heart everything I write.
In the past two years I’ve penned three features suggesting no less than 11 books that are just begging to be brought to the big screen — guaranteed hits, all. Alas, they remain un-adapted, and cinemas the world over are a lesser place for that.
However, I am as undeterred as those books are un-filmed.
In today’s mixed-bag world of big screen stock — prequels, sequels, shared universes and reboots/remakes/reimaginings galore — some say Hollywood is out of original ideas. But recent game changers in even so overplayed a genre as the superhero flick show what can be done with the right treatment of the right source material. Thus, it seems to me that what we need now is the best of both: an innovative story with proven appeal.
There are so many great books deserving of cinematic adaptations that have gone overlooked, some for far too long. Here are a few more I’d like to see up in lights, great reads all and well worth your time — whether Hollywood comes calling or not.
1‘Celebration’ by Harry Crews
A tragically under-recognized literary talent, Crews deserves to be better known if for no other reason than he’s the real deal: a gritty, authentic voice speaking from hard-earned experience about life on the fringe of America.
He’s a seedier Larry Brown, the trailer park’s answer to Cormac McCarthy, and though several of his works would make fine films, I’ve chosen “Celebration” for it’s simplicity, the knife-sharp focus on the vibrant characters that inhabit the Florida rest home in which it’s set.
The people in Forever and Forever are waiting to die, and that’s just the kind of predictable tranquility owner and manager Stump — who’s own accidentally lost hand paid for the place, his own little morbid slice of paradise — likes it. That is, until the arrival of a gorgeous young blonde wanderer.
The aptly named Too Much quickly moves in and shakes things up, infecting the formerly passive and resigned residents with her own strain of vivacious, (nearly pathological) optimism and militant belief in the concept of self-actualization. In no time she’s less a colorful character round the park than she is a cult leader, reshaping the place in her own image.
A war of wills is inevitable, but does Stump’s infatuation with his new-found paramour trump peace and quiet? And what unimaginable festivities does Too Much have planned for the titular looming “holiday?”
2‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory’ by Caitlin Doughty
It’s cool enough that Doughty, as an aimless 20-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre, took a job at a crematory, thus turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. But then she went and wrote about her experiences. And that, dear reader, is too good to be true.
While caring for dead bodies of every color, shape and affliction, the author soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.
I couldn’t put this one down. Part coming-of-age story, part autobiography, part socio-economic examination of the industry of death in America, it’s 100 percent hilarious and highly recommended.
Fans of Mary Roach, David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley and Bill Bryson should pick this up ASAP.
3‘Soon I Will Be Invincible’ by Austin Grossman
The story of Doctor Impossible — evil genius, diabolical scientist, repeat (unsuccessful) attempted world dominator — is comic gold.
After all, if he’s really the smartest man alive, why does he keep getting bested by overgrown Boy Scouts in tights?
Yeah, it bothers him, too.
In fact, it’s all he can think about as he languishes in a supermax prison at the start of this hilarious (and surprisingly touching) novel, meticulously planning his escape and, of course, revenge!
Published in 2007 — a full year before Marvel released “Iron Man,” birthed the MCU and changed the pop culture landscape for the foreseeable future — Grossman was much ahead of his time with this realistic look at a world full of super-powered heroes and villains.
I actually see it working best as an animated movie, maybe somewhat like the aesthetic of “The Incredibles” but with more mature content.
And for the voice of the Doc himself? I suggest John Hodgman.
4‘Masters of Atlantis’ by Charles Portis
This 1985 novel by the author of “True Grit” is a hilarious/terrifying descent into cults and conspiracies.
So not timely at all.
Lamar Jimmerson is gifted a supposedly sacred text, the holy book of an underground religion, by a beggar in France in 1917 containing the secrets of Atlantis.
He becomes obsessed and later travels to Malta in search of the leader of an arcane brotherhood responsible for deciphering the tome and mastering its powers. Instead, he meets Sydney Hen, who becomes likewise fixated on the old book and its rumored secrets, and the two go on to found their own — ultimately rival — Gnomon religious branches in America and Europe.
Scandalous schisms, bids to be governor of Indiana, and the first international gathering of Gnomons ensue — along with much deadpan hilarity.
It’s a brilliant book, like everything Portis did, and in the right hands could be one of the funniest films ever. I see it as a comedic version of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” if it was directed by the Cohen Brothers at their quirkiest.
5‘The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick’ by Mallory O’Meara
The newest book on this list is also the most timely, exploring as it does sexism and misogyny in the entertainment industry of yesteryear, and this year.
Indie film producer and avowed fan of all things creepy, O’Meara uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick — one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters: The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Looking to learn more about her inspirational icon, the author learns how, after Patrick’s contributions had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, and her career cut short, she soon disappeared from film history.
No one even knew if she was still alive.
The story O’Meara uncovers is of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time and ripe for adaptation. I see it as a beautifully spooky blending of Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” and “Big Eyes.” I’d say let him direct it, but probably not because, you know, “Dumbo.”
And “Dark Shadows.”
And “Alice in Wonderland.”
And “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
So, maybe not actually him. This story deserves better.