Posted on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 by Russ Fischer
Thomas Pynchon is among our most reclusive major creative figures. He hasn’t been publicly photographed since his teens and never makes public appearances. His infrequently published novels are often sprawling works that define the term ‘unfilmable’. And yet there’s always someone willing to try.
I haven’t yet bought, Pynchon’s new Inherent Vice (I’ve been re-reading the unrelated Vineland in preparation) so I’ve been avoiding most of the reviews and commentary. But The Playlist noticed an interesting line in the Wall Street Journal‘s piece about the novel: “The Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles is handling film rights.” Could we see a novel based on this drug-addled detective story that is already drawing comparisons to The Big Lebowski?
Here’s the Amazon description of Inherent Vice:
Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon— private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog
It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that “love” is another of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists.
Now, I don’t doubt that an agency has handled film rights for some of Pynchon’s other books (Vineland and The Crying of Lot 49 aren’t as unfilmable as V or Gravity’s Rainbow) but because the author has this time turned overtly to a mainstream genre, in this case detective fiction, the notion of a film based on the new novel isn’t way out in space. It’s just floating in the atmosphere. Not that I want to see it happen. Thomas Pynchon’s charm is in his ambitious sentence construction and use of language, and the way he effortlessly slipstreams ‘present’ events and character memories into one fluid narrative timeline. His imagination is prodigious and his sense of humor often broad and bizarre (and frequently inspired by popular music and movies) but I just don’t see it working on the screen.
Pynchon has infiltrated movies before, but often only through the appearance of a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow. (See: Good Will Hunting, Storytelling, etc.) Sometimes writers and directors are more avowed fans of his work. That’s how the the ‘evil’ company in Buckaroo Banzai came to be called Yoyodyne, after the company in several of Pynchon’s books, and John Lithgow’s Lord John Whorfin (whose name may be a Pynchon reference) spouts a line of dialogue that references his first novel, V. Because Pynchon has a sense of humor he nodded back at the movie, throwing a band named Eddie Enrico and his Hong Kong Hotshots into the novel Vineland, which obviously references Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers.
(There is a German film which attempts to adapt part of Gravity’s Rainbow, but I have not seen it, and don’t know anyone who has.)
And then there was Pyncon’s famous cameo on The Simpsons, which constitutes his most open public appearance in many decades, if not ever. Let’s enjoy that and read the books and leave it at that.