Given the recent calculated furore over Faber’s cover for Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, it’s probably a moot point to say that book covers can be deceptive. The near chick-lit (I almost spew at such a vile term) cover for Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, a writer I’m currently interviewing, gives little indication of the subtle, layered brilliance within. Admittedly this seems to have been the intention, given one of Levy’s many remarkable skills as a writer is her ability to construct literary Trojan Horses. She’s working undercover behind enemy lines.
If we regard book covers as unreliable narrators in themselves (there’s an incredible collection of them here incidentally), we might equally view film trailers with the same degree of scepticism. Editors, by their very definition, are liars, through omission and inclusion. So too are writers. There are three films due for release soon based on novels that I happen to love. Given the cliché that mediocre books tend to make for better adaptations and vice versa (the exceptions such as Heart of Darkness, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Roadside Picnic are so notable and prevalent as to suggest that’s not true), I’ve been intrigued but slightly hesitant about seeing them. Watching two of the trailers has had the effect of lowering my expectations to such a abyssal degree that I can only be pleasantly surprised by the end result, even if they were just hours of hideous droning feedback and footage of people weeping and rocking back and forth.
To accuse a Baz Luhrmann film of being gaudy would be to chastise the pope for shitting in the woods and, predictably enough, the trailer for his adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is as understated as a meth-crazed Liberace can-caning in slow motion through an exploding Caesars Palace. It’s all glitter and no knickers and that’s before we start on its bad points. I simply cannot wait to see it.
The second, Michel Gondry’s adaptation of Boris Vian’s masterpiece Froth on the Daydream (retitled Mood Indigo), has at least the benefit of bringing a magnificent and much-overlooked novel to the public’s attention. The trailer appears worryingly saccharine though with that fucking omnipresent and anemic Lumineers song being as welcome as a dog in a game of skittles. We can hope Gondry’s kindergarten-ketamine imagination is allowed to run wild rather than being reined in, as woefully happened in the second half of Be Kind Rewind, that Audrey Tautou is given more than a Medicated Pixie Dream Girl role and the real grief-stricken darkness as well as the gallows humour present in the book is not excised.
The third seems the most promising even if it’s from a much more flawed origin than the others. Jack Kerouac never recovered from the nervous breakdown he depicted in Big Sur (on a side-note, the book I wrote last year on Kerouac is out next year with Reaktion Books and focuses a great deal on this episode). The trailer for Michael Polish’s adaptation is a small masterpiece, helped not inconsiderably by the doo-wop soundtrack (The Flamingos’ ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’) and some incredible soft style cinematography by M. David Mullen. Where Luhrmann and Gondry have gone for glam and charm respectively, Polish has gone for a beautiful desolation, which, call me a drink-sodden lapsed-Catholic mama’s boy, seems to strike as much of a note with me as the book did. Fingers crossed for all three.