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Filming Blood Meridian, pt. 3: the results

May 6, 2012

[Part 1 of the series here. Part 2 of the series here.]

I suggested previously that a film version of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian could avoid some of the problems involved in making the Judge visible by making him animated, by which I meant, making him flat. If a filmmaker were to try to do so, how would it play out?

Mixed live-action/2D-animation films tend to be fairly comic. I imagine that the whole movie, not just the Judge, would probably have to be flattened, rendered abstract. The opacity of drawing takes over the role the opacity of language plays in the book. Perhaps it could be rotoscoped. Real actors could be used, but the images would be filtered to make them look hand-drawn. This gives a solution, too, for the type of abstraction used for the violence; it wouldn’t just be stylized in a Quentin Tarantino fashion, but actually abstract, as in, not literal portrayals of actual violence.

I could see this working in either of two ways. The first would be something like the second-to-last segment of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a sequence of light and color and shape entirely devoid of content meant to produce an aesthetic response. That wouldn’t be awful; but if it were too formal, it would fail to communicate the content, which the book does, after all, tell us, even if it doesn’t show us. Better might be something alone the lines of the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Disney’s Fantasia, or Ivan Ivanov-Vano and Yuriy Norshteyn’s The Battle of Kerzhenets. Both are, in my view, extremely serious and extremely effective animated portrayals of mythic material.

This approach carries with it certain dangers. If a live-action Blood Meridian risks making the violence pornographic, an animated Blood Meridian risks making the violence irrelevant. This would not be completely out of place, given the Gnostic tendencies of the book as a whole, but it would be unfortunate–particularly given my reading of the book, in which the Gnosticism does not mean that the violence is not evil, or does not matter. Obviously the film must make clear the exact nature of the violence which McCarthy so carefully spells out. It must spell out that limbs were severed, heads scalped, bodies sodomized, babies strung up on trees. It would have to be horrific without being gruesome. But could it do this without feeling trivial, even silly?

This question I cannot answer. It will certainly never be tested empirically; whatever Blood Meridian they do make, if they do make it, it won’t be this one. And so, I suppose, I’ll continue to hope that the film never gets made.

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