Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard’s Novels Make Great Movies


Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in Out of Sight
© MCA/Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.

Elmore Leonard’s Novels Make Great Movies 


Back in 2004, the Atlantic’s Christoper Orr called Elmore Leonard, who died this morning, “perhaps the most cinematic novelist writing in the English language.” Not only did his novels frequently follow the Godard recipe for a movie—all you need is a girl and a gun—but he pared down his style to action and dialogue. As he wrote when describing his 10 rules for writing (which included avoiding lengthy descriptions and leaving out “the part that readers tend to skip”), “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

It’s little surprise, then, that more than almost any recent novelist (save perhaps Stephen King), his novels have also made for many excellent movies. Among the best are Jackie Brown,Get ShortyHombre, and the two versions of 3:10 to Yuma—though there are about 20 more, spanning almost 50 years, not to mention TV adaptations like Justified.

How closely do these movies follow Leonard’s words? It depends, of course. But those who only know Leonard through film might be surprised at exactly how cinematic his books can be—and at how much his books and the movies were already in dialogue with each other.

A prime example: the trunk scene from Out of Sight (perhaps the best Leonard adaptation), with Jack Foley (George Clooney) and Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) trapped together in the back of a getaway car. You might think the couple’s way of flirting with movie references was added by director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank. But it’s all there in the novel. Before they get to Three Days of the Condor, the fugitive and the U.S. Marshal talk aboutNetwork and Bonnie and 
“That part where they got shot? Warren Beatty and … I can’t think of her name.”
“Faye Dunaway. I loved her in Network.”
“Yeah, she was good. I liked the guy saying he wasn’t gonna take any more shit from anybody.”
“Peter Finch,” Karen said.
“Yeah, right. Anyway, that scene where Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway get shot? I remember thinking at the time, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go, if you have to.”

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1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

It’s little surprise, then, that more than almost any recent novelist (save perhaps Stephen King),

--um, what? There have been perhaps (maybe) three genuinely good films out of King fiction, and a few more which qualify as Nice Tries, including the CARRIE trio, about to become a quartet. (Sissy Spacek came damned close to triumph over Brian De Palma.)

While there is almost no end to good and better films and television drawn from Leonard's work.

We all thank him for that, among the more direct gifts he left us.