6 Book and Film Director Pairings

This is a guest post from Kristy Pasquariello. Kristy loves Little Women and Doctor Who with equal fervor. A children’s librarian and former (recovering) archivist, Kristy lives in a tiny town outside of Boston, Massachusetts, with two kids, two cats, one husband and a gazillion books. When she’s not singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider to a group of babies (#bestjobever), Kristy writes reviews for children’s books at the Horn Book Guide and School Library Journal. For a list of book prescriptions, check out her blog at librarydose.wordpress.com.


Books have always been a great source for film scripts, and the recent momentum of book to movie adaptations shows no signs of stopping. This is news both exciting and foreboding for book lovers, as adaptations remain consistently inconsistent. Still, as a devotee of both books and movies, I can’t help but daydream about the ultimate book-director pairings I’d like to see. Whenever I am particularly engaged in a novel, I often find myself pausing from the narrative to visualize the scene in my head–casting the various characters, plotting the action, choosing the soundtrack, etc. It’s a fun exercise, but not without its caveats as we’ve all experienced the heartbreaking frustration of a bad adaptation. Here are some of my favorite, albeit imaginary, book and film director pairings.

 

Wes Anderson and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game

Anderson is known for his quirky characters, clever plots and delightful attention to detail. He also has a fondness for vintage style, campy drama and large, ensemble casts–all of which make him the perfect fit for Ellen Raskin’s classic Newbury award-winning novel The Westing Game. Published in 1978, Raskin’s novel tells the story of sixteen people who are invited to the reading of Samuel Westing’s will, where they are invited to compete for his $200 million estate. To win the game, the potential heirs must discover who among them is responsible for the murder of Samuel Westing. The strengths of the book align perfectly to Anderson’s strengths as a director. The story is funny, eccentric and compelling,with a large, diverse cast of characters spanning different ages and backgrounds. Much of the action is centered around an apartment building where all of the heirs live while trying to solve the mystery. I can already visualize Anderson’s miniature of the building, depicting the intricate and complicated lives of each of the sixteen heirs inside.

 

Woody Allen and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye

Yes, yes, I know that people have tried in vain to make a movie of Salinger’s beloved novel  for years and have had no luck due to Salinger’s own disillusionment with the Hollywood machine and well, the world in general. But a girl can dream, no? Once upon a time in high school, a friend and I very carefully cast every character in our Catcher in the Rye dream movie,  from Holden’s kid sister Phoebe (a young Natalie Portman) to Mr. Antolini (1990s-era David Duchovny). While most of these people have aged out of their roles, my vision for the director has always been Woody Allen. The wry sensibility and jittery anxiety underlying Allen’s earlier works like Stardust Memories and Annie Hall would meld so well with the unraveling voice of teenager Holden Caulfield. And we can’t forget that the novel takes place over three days in New York City, a place immortalized on film by Allen. While I recognize that this particular pairing is a lost cause, I still enjoy conjuring it up every now and then as a kind of idealized adaptation.

 

Peter Jackson and Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races

Peter Jackson went above and beyond many people’s expectations with his adaptation of The Lord of the Rings–three films so wonderfully evocative and entertaining, I could watch them on an endless loop. So it makes perfect sense that one of the first things I thought after reading Maggie Stiefvater’s amazing novel The Scorpio Races, was that someone should put this book in Jackson’s hands, like, immediately. Set on the fictional island of Thisby, The Scorpio Races is inspired by the Celtic myth of Water Horses — beautiful, deadly horses that emerge from the sea and lure humans to their death. The Scorpio Races depicts a deadly but wildly popular race in which, every Fall, when the horses emerge from the sea on Thisby’s coast,  riders catch the horses and attempt to race them.. Some die, some finish, but only one will win. Stiefvater’s story is gorgeously written and somehow both understated and completely addictive at the same time. A novel this lush and original deserves a director who can do it justice. Jackson’s nearly perfect LOTR adaptations, particularly his appreciative depiction of stunning horses (Shadowfax!) running in magnificent landscapes make me dream of him bringing this book to film.

*I should mention that this is already an adaptation in progress and Peter Jackson is not the director. I won’t write it off immediately, but I will admit to being a bit disappointed.

 

Spike Lee and Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street

Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street was introduced to me via NPR, where it was effusively praised by a book critic I trust. Picking the book up on a whim, I was immediately sucked into an amazingly well done and impressive debut novel that I had trouble putting down. On a sweltering July night  in Red Hook, Brooklyn, two teenage girls, bored, looking for an adventure, decide to take a raft out into the East River. Something goes awry, and only one of them returns, washing up on the shore semi-conscious. Visitation Street follows the aftermath of this event and the effect it has on the racially-charged tensions in the changing neighborhood, where hip, gourmet grocery stores share space with run-down housing projects. When I think of thought-provoking, simmering stories of racial tension on film, I think of Spike Lee. With films like The 25th Hour (also an adaptation) and Do the Right Thing, Lee has shown that he can evoke racial tension in a way that will make everyone question what they thought they knew.  Visitation Street, however, is not just a story about racial tensions in Brooklyn, it’s also a pretty compelling  mystery as well, and with Lee’s work on Inside Man, I am confident he could do this story justice.

 

The Coen Brothers and David Benioff’s City of Thieves

Oh, the Coen Brothers. Masters of their craft, fearless voyagers into almost every film genre: western, noir, romantic comedy, musical and, of course, traditional drama. The one thing almost every Coen Brother’s film has in common is an underlying grimness and a bleak outlook on human nature portrayed through darkly humorous individuals (Steve Buschemi in Fargo, John Goodman in O Brother, Where Art Thou?). It is this tendency toward black comedy that made me think of the Coen Brothers while reading David Benioff’s terrific novel of World War II, City of Thieves. Set during the Siege of Leningrad, the novel follows two unlikely allies as they traipse the decimated Russian countryside in search of fresh eggs so that a Russian general’s daughter may have a cake on her wedding day. Filled with scene after scene of unforgettable characters and breathtaking suspense, the novel is already quite cinematic. Benioff is, incidentally, the show runner for Game of Thrones and has worked with director Spike Lee, who adapted his novel The 25th Hour into a film. Featuring the tried and true talents of both Benioff and the Coen Brothers, a film adaptation of City of Thieves would be most welcome.

 

Ava DuVernay and Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer

With the recent news that Ava DuVernay was set to direct A Wrinkle in Time, I started thinking about other books I’d like to see her direct. Something that came immediately to mind was Rita Williams-Garcia trilogy of books about the Gaither sisters. In the first book, One Crazy Summer, the three girls are sent to spend the summer with their estranged mother in Oakland, California. It is 1968 and political unrest is rampant in the neighborhood. Their mother is distant and unemotional, sending them away for most days while she works on her poetry. The girls explore the neighborhood, including the local community center run by the Black Panthers, and learn a lot about their country and their racial identity. DuVernay’s work on Selma showed a sensitive portrayal of an impassioned time in African American History. Her success with that film showed that she can make a mainstream movie about black history and politics, a topic that demands more representation on film. The black panthers and the tumultuous politics of 1968 make for a fascinating background in Williams-Garcia’s poignant, challenging story of the three sisters. I would love to see DuVernay use her power and talent to tell this story.

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