Sunday, November 10, 2013

#629. Seven filmmakers (alive and dead) who could pull off a Savage Detectives movie

As you may have figured in recent months, I'm slightly obsessed with the late Chilean author Roberto Bolano.  Although his masterpiece 2666 remains my favorite, I recently read The Savage Detectives, which is probably better known outside of obsessives like me.  What would a movie based on this book look like?  Well, there's a number of ways that could go, and to help familiarize you with just what kind of book Savage Detectives is, here's a breakdown of directors past and present who could make it a reality:


  • Robert Altman.  The late director of the original film version of M*A*S*H among other classics, but that's the touchstone I was watching the other night when I realized the connection.  The movie is different from the Alan Alda series in a lot of ways.  Hawkeye Pierce, for instance, is played by Donald Sutherland, who would otherwise probably never have a chance of being confused for Alda, while Trapper John is played by Elliot Gould (a young Tom Skerritt plays a third member of this merry band not represented in the series).  The anarchic appeal of Sutherland and Gould is a good analogy for Savage Detectives main characters Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, who similarly spread chaos at a frenetic pace, the signature style of Altman.  The Altman Savage Detectives would feature Belano and Lima mostly from the opening and closing sequences from the book, where the pair are engaged in the events that most closely unite them, a chaotic sequence of events much like literary warfare (which like the movie's closing football game picks up the action considerably in the end).
  • Orson Welles.  Belano and Lima are obsessed with discovering the fate of their ideological forebear Cesarea Tinajero, very similar to the classic Wellesian archetype featured in such films as Citizen Kane and Mr. Arkadin.  This would be much more of a noir/mystery type of interpretation, and certainly a stark contrast to an Altman rendition.  But that's how you begin to see the breadth of the storytelling in the book.
  • Robert Rodriguez.  Perhaps the most famous maverick filmmaker active today is Rodriguez, who has been actively pursuing certain projects obsessively, including his Spy Kids, Machete, and Mariachi franchises, even while the public never quite connects with him.  That's Belano and Lima in a nutshell, although the Rodriguez version of the story would either spin the same sequence as Altman or heavily feature the middle section of the book, where even more classic Rodriguezian chaos ensues, with the central characters Belano and Lima drifting in and out of the plot.
  • Quentin Tarantino.  The constant and more successful counterpart to Rodriguez is of course Tarantino, whose Savage Detectives would perhaps offer a third version of the Belano/Lima framing narrative, this time from the perspective of Quim Font, the possibly future-deranged father of daughters featured in this sequence who would provide a clear yet intriguing and very, very talky perspective.  If that's not Tarantino I don't know what is.
  • Terry Gilliam.  Savage Detectives has been called a modern Don Quixote, a story Gilliam has famously tried to tell before (hilariously and depressingly related in the documentary Lost in La Mancha), although it can be argued that like Welles, Gilliam has spent his career retelling the same story over and over again anyway, and it's always Quixote.  This version again focuses on Belano and Lima, but is probably the first one that could embrace the whole book.
  • Sofia Coppola.  The female voice exists loud and clear in Savage Detectives, whether in the prostitute Lupe featured in the framing narrative or Maria Font, Quim's daughter who is among the most prominent voices of the middle section and also featured prominently in the Belano/Lima sequence.  Coppola has mastered the art of capturing the quiet desperation of women struggling to cope with situations that seem to spiral out of their control.  Hers would be a unique but still very much identifiable take on the book.
  • Andrew Dominik.  Perhaps the least known name in this list beyond Roberto Bolano himself, Dominik intrigues me as a possibility on the continuing strength of his brilliant masterpiece, the perennially overlooked Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (on that basis Dominik and Bolano have plenty in common).  His version of Savage Detectives would also court the Belano/Lima narrative, but instead focus on the character who's technically the lead in those events, Juan Garcia Madero, who like the lead in Dominik's film, Robert Ford, could easily be described as a creepy groupie whose presence only fouls up events for the more famous people he gravitates toward.  In contrast to an Altman or Tarantino approach, Dominik's would be considerably more contemplative, evocative, poetic.  Which again would be very much in the spirit of Roberto Bolano himself.
And with five out of these seven directors actively capable of making this happen, the theoretical probability of a film version worthy of itself being made of The Savage Detectives remains a distinct possibility.  And there are probably a few other directors worth considering as well, including certainly Darren Aronofsky, the Coens, and even Joe Carnahan.

4 comments:

The Armchair Squid said...

Granted, I don't know the story. But maybe that helps here. I'd pick Tarantino.

Tony Laplume said...

I figured part of the fun of this piece was helping the reader extrapolate the story based on how the director might help make it sound. Tarantino could have some real fun with this. He would probably change it, fashion it into his own adventure, but I don't think this would be a problem.

Pat Dilloway said...

They'd probably just give it to JJ Abrams since apparently now he has to direct everything.

Tony Laplume said...

Just the major franchises. All of them. And to think they didn't let him do Superman when he wanted.

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