See if this sounds familiar: You're reading a book, you're loving it, and you think, Man, this would make the most fantastic movie. The actual printed words get fuzzy as you start to daydream about this imaginary film... the actors you'd cast, the locations you'd scout, the big-name director you'd call in.
And then, out of nowhere, somebody makes it.
This Fall, two ambitious literary movies hit the big screen. They're unlikely projects, the kinds of films that studios usually talk about for three decades and then give up on. And if you're a fan of either book, you will might very well freak out.
Movie #1: On the Road.
If you (a) ever spent a summer reading and re-reading Jack Kerouac's hyper-manic masterpiece, or (b) it inspired an ill-advised road-trip that was both ridiculous and one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, or (c) that monologue about "fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” inspired an enormous volume of bad poetry, then you are probably excited as all get-out for a movie of On the Road. Kind of like the James Franco Howl, Walter Salles' On the Road will probably be beautifully shot, impeccably acted, and almost obscenely loyal to the original book.
Granted, a 2012 movie probably won't live up to the original 1957 semi-autobiographical novel, even with Francis Ford Coppola directing. The book basically invented Beatnik culture, and riding cross-country with a bunch of friends would never have been the same without On the Road to ignite the engine.
If you've never read On the Road, the "plot" is about Sal Paradise, a pensive guy who just wants to drive around and write books. He meets Dean Moriarty, an anarchic young man with a passion for life. They go everywhere together, make some really bad decisions, and listen to lots of jazz. Sal is basically just a pseudonym for Kerouac, and most of this stuff basically happened, but it was easier for Sal/Koerouac to write about the events as "fiction." When Kerouac wrote his book, he typed it onto conjoined pages, so it formed a gigantic scroll. He wrote the original manuscript in three exhausting weeks.
Really, you just have to read it. The book isn't long, and you have until at least September.
Movie #2: Cosmopolis, by Don DeLillo.
It's okay if you've never heard of Cosmopolis. Here's the lowdown: Don DeLillo is an author who writes books about cerebral adults living in an off-kilter version of reality. His characters are usually calm, brilliant, and eloquent, and everything amuses and confuses them. Cosmopolis is about a billionaire who floats around New York in his stretched limousine. He sorta hopes to lose all his money in a stock market debacle, and he's fascinated by a crazy person who wants to murder him. Also, a guy sets himself on fire. And a "pie assassin" smacks people in the face with pastries. Needless to say, people tend to describe the story as "postmodern."
Nobody ever expected Hollywood to turn this tragicomic novella into a feature-length movie, nor anticipated David "History of Violence" Cronenberg to direct. But the most insane twist was casting Robert Pattinson as the billionaire in question. Who would have guessed that the world's most beloved teenaged vampire would play a suicidal mogul in an avant-garde morality tale about the new millennium? Pattinson wasn't even yet 19 when the book was published, in 2003. Far from the chaste, family-friendly adolescence of Twilight, Cosmopolis is steamy... in a creepy, uncomfortable, back-of-a-limo way.
Will these movies draw audiences? Will they even be any good? Hard to say. But it's nice to see Hollywood reading again.