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Filming Blood Meridian, pt. 2: the solution

May 1, 2012

[Part 1 of the series here.]

When I think about the possibility of filming Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian I’m reminded of what Tolkien says in “On Faerie-Stories” about drama (a different medium than film, but one suffering from some of the same difficulties):

In human art Fantasy is a thing best left to words, to true literature. In painting, for instance, the visible presentation of the fantastic image is technically too easy; the hand tends to outrun the mind, even to overthrow it. Silliness or morbidity are frequent results. It is a misfortune that Drama, an art fundamentally distinct from Literature, should so commonly be considered together with it, or as a branch of it. […] Drama is naturally hostile to Fantasy. Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama, when that is presented as it should be, visibly and audibly acted. Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited. Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy. This is, I think, well illustrated by the failure of the bastard form, pantomime. The nearer it is to “dramatized fairy-story” the worse it is. It is only tolerable when the plot and its fantasy are reduced to a mere vestigiary framework for farce, and no “belief” of any kind in any part of the performance is required or expected of anybody. This is, of course, partly due to the fact that the producers of drama have to, or try to, work with mechanism to represent either Fantasy or Magic. I once saw a so-called “children’s pantomime,” the straight story of Puss-in-Boots, with even the metamorphosis of the ogre into a mouse. Had this been mechanically successful it would either have terrified the spectators or else have been just a turn of high-class conjuring. As it was, though done with some ingenuity of lighting, disbelief had not so much to be suspended as hanged, drawn, and quartered. [emphasis mine]

The second claim I emphasized deals with what I discussed in my first post. The first, however, raises an intriguing possibility. Tolkien is right, I think, that when fantastic images are portrayed “realistically” in any sort of visual art–painting, photography, drama, film–they fail as fantasy, and end up something more like science fiction. But consider religion icons, or expressionist painting, or certain kinds of abstract art. Wassily Kandinsky’s Improvisation–Deluge offers a much better mythic presentation of the flood than, say, the film 2012.

That would be one way to go: present the violence in an extremely abstract, stylized manner (though understanding what that would mean is its own problem). But how to do that for the Judge as well? After all, he’s present for most of the book, dominating the lives of the nominal protagonist with the unavoidable sight of his bare, hairless flesh. No actor could project that presence point-blank, and it wouldn’t do to just hide him in shadows like Emperor Palpatine or encase him in metal like Darth Vader. Special effects would make him seem like Jabba the Hutt, not like a God of War.

Well, what if he were animated? Not a 3D animation with realistic shading and texturing, but a 2D animation, flat, with visible outlines, something that does not even pretend to be seen the way the real world is seen. Almost like an icon. I’ll talk about this possibility in Part 3.

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