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Special Effects: Gone with the Wind and Genre Difficulties

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One problem with modern American romance is that very little can prevent two Americans who love each other from getting married. (So long as they don’t share a combination of sex chromosomes, and it’s fair to say the tide is turning on that one.) This freedom — relatively unheard of in human history — is perhaps why we have more romantic comedies these days than romantic epics. It’s a limitation dictated by the times. Any story where two heterosexual Americans face any serious obstacle on the path to marriage is going to strain credulity or just plain bug people. While I’ve seen neither Valentine’s Day nor New Year’s Eve — and at the risk of being factually incorrect — I simply can’t imagine those kinds of movies trade in a currency of love problems whose snags aren’t pretty easily untangled. Such stories, as a classical matter, deal, rather, in misunderstandings, missed signals, crossed signals, and bunglings of translation from one heart to another. They’re nice and all, but does anyone out there get hit where it really hurts when they see or read a romantic comedy?

There’s something better, obviously, a more heightened version of the old Boy Meets Girl, Loses Girl formula. I’m talking about the previously mentioned romantic epic, and I’m talking about this because I’ve had a running conversation with my dear wife over the last few years about just what makes a romantic epic epic. This conversation hit a high point recently, as we’re finishing Gone with the Wind, a book I’ve been reading to her since last June.

Somewhere out there, you’re thinking, “Oh my God, I’m a Gone with the Wind fanatic!” Look — I don’t want to insult you, but if you’re a harder-core fan of Gone with the Wind than my wife, I’ll wear a red dress and dance the Macarena on the courthouse lawn. They just don’t make Gonezos (©) any bigger than my spouse. You cannot physically restrain her from paroxysms of joy when the damn thing’s on. She quotes from the film’s dialogue the way 2003-04 circa college guys spat lines from Old School. We’ve never been to the “Road to Tara Museum,” but it is strictly a matter of time.

She’s not alone, obviously. Gone with the Wind inspires mad devotion, in part, I think, because it works as both a romantic epic, and a tale of female empowerment. One reason for the story’s universal appeal, in fact, might lie in how neatly it nails a tricky middle ground between the Left and Right on issues of feminism. Scarlett is a thousand percent devoted to women’s rights — except really in any plural or political sense: Scarlett wants freedom for herself; she’s only truly interested in economic freedom; and could frankly give a damn about the rights of other women, or political liberty, voting, etc. She understands — with a clearsightedness that would be cynical if it weren’t so simply observant — that having money means you don’t really need to vote. For instance, late in the novel, she and Rhett entertain Georgia’s Scallywag Republican Governor at their tacky new McMansion, and even though Scarlett bears a real grudge against the Gov and all his Yankee ilk, she butters them up nonetheless, the better to use them for her own purposes.

In this sense, Scarlett is both a proto-feminist hero, and an almost Ayn Rand-y paragon of self-advancement. Not only does she tickle the imaginations of liberals and libertarians, but her canny progress from marriage to marriage takes place entirely within the boundaries of so-called “traditional” womanhood — something I’d bet more than a few Schlafly-types have found validating.

Even Scarlett’s devoted anti-intellectualism works to her advantage. You will not find a character in American fiction more rigorous in her disdain for abstract or philosophical topics (except as they give pasty old Ashley Wilkes something to be amazing at). Scarlett is interested in nice things, food, money, property, and getting what she wants — nothing else. The key feature of her character is therefore a sort of materialistic pragmatism — and since every branch of American politics considers itself “the practical one,” Scarlett occupies prime real estate to be adored by all sides.

All that being said, and just as ludicrously fantastic a character as Scarlett O’Hara is (the highest compliment you can pay a fictional character is Odyssean, and boy oh boy, is Scarlett Odyssean), none of this would register if Scarlett weren’t given an appropriately larger than life backdrop against which her labors could unfold. The Civil War? Check. Gone with the Wind also wouldn’t work, though, unless there were real problems for the story’s centerpiece romance. Something has to impair the parties’ full consummation in order for the love story to qualify as epic. The more grand the obstacle, the more epic the romance.

A quick survey of romantic epics bears this out. War, of course, is about the grandest and most epic obstacle a love affair could ever trip over. (See The English Patient). Class distinctions also place high on the list. (Likewise Atonement). Tragic events (cue flute from “My Heart Will Go On”) are obviously another. In my opinion, the most epic American romance of the past ten years was a little flick called Brokeback Mountain (based on the short story from Annie Proulx’s “Close Range,” whose lingering after-effects are a version of the same gut-gnawing pity induced by the movie). Brokeback Mountain is a romantic epic for the same reason only same-sex couples are really good candidates to have epically problematic love stories, at least in modern America: the problem for that story’s couple is pretty damn intractable, given their time. In fact, Brokeback Mountain has a harder edge than other classic romances, because the characters aren’t simply kept apart by grand circumstance, but by a threat of doom. Some band of redneck vigilantes would definitely have murdered Jack and Ennis if they’d ever tried to live together happily. The fact that death was a strong possible outcome — because of their love, and not incidental to it — puts that story on a high plane, stakes-wise.

Of course, Scarlett and Rhett face nothing like that. In fact, the inductions drawn from this drive-by survey point to a troubling conclusion for Gone with the Wind’s “epic” status. Scarlett and Rhett aren’t really kept apart by the Civil War. Rhett’s such a dastard that he sits most of the conflict out, right there in Atlanta, with Scarlett and the other ladies, speculating in foodstuffs and running off to England every now and then. Scarlett is in mourning, of course (her first husband died almost immediately after the War broke out), so preemptive norms of seemliness might interrupt the pair’s march to happiness — but Scarlett didn’t even like Rhett at that point, and all Rhett was interested in (I don’t think this scandalous wrinkle is mentioned in the movie) is having Scarlett be his mistress, his (goddammit, but it fits) “no strings attached,” “friend with benefits.”

Rhett does eventually run off to fight, in the last days of the Confederacy, and by the time he and Scarlett cross paths again, Scarlett’s desperate for cash to save Tara, and throws herself into Rhett’s arms, an offering of virtue given in sacrifice for the survival of Tara. Rhett sees right through this (with help from Scarlett’s grubby little turnip paws, of course), and flat, dropkick rejects her, sending her right into the arms of old Frank Kennedy. Once Frank dies, Rhett swoops in and proposes marriage, knowing he can’t wait forever to catch Scarlett between husbands. They marry, seem fond of each other, until Rhett figures out Scarlett is never going to get over that God damned Ashley Wilkes, and it’s “Adios amiga.” Microphone drop. I don’t give no damn.

But take a closer look: What does this story lack that other romantic epics have? Are Rhett and Scarlett kept apart by war? Class distinction? Tragedy? Disease? Threat of destruction?

Nope. They get together because they can, and they break up because one gets pissed at the other. A less grand set of circumstances could not be found.

This is not epic — this is mundane.

At this point I’m in deep trouble. If the takeaway from this essay is that Gone with the Wind lacks the status of an epic romance — that it is, in fact, nothing but a love story with two rather bratty protagonists — my wife is not going to be happy with me.

Fortunately, the genuine size of Gone with the Wind, the sheer land area it occupies in the American imagination, offers enough glitz and orchestra to rocket even the flimsiest of romances up to orbital heights. Whether we’re talking about the novel or the movie, this story is celebrated. The film is such a gigantic deal that it’s easy to forget how enormous a deal the novel was: It won the Pulitzer Prize, captivated the nation, is apparently (if you believe Pat Conroy’s introduction to my copy) given a Biblical place of honor on many a Southern coffee table, and had its movie rights sold off for the unheard of at the time sum of $50,000. At any serious gathering of top shelf American cinema, Gone with the Wind would be at the Kane, Casablanca, Godfather table. Even as non-pop-culture-obsessed a writer as Flannery O’Connor has a story (one of her weirder ones (and that’s saying something)) that involves the famous Atlanta premiere of Gone with the Wind: “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” which in classic Flannerian style makes us feel both sorry for and annoyed by a cranky genteel Southern White who thinks too highly of himself, in this case because they gussied him up for the movie premiere in a Confederate military costume, which now that he’s way older thinks is actually his original battle uniform and so insists on wearing to special occasions.

Think about that. Gone with the Wind is such a huge deal, Flannery O’Connor wrote a story that hinged on its status in the texture of Southern life. Flannery O’Connor. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

Which is all to say, something is epic about this story. Can it be an epic because it makes us feel epic? A horror story scares us, a comedy makes us laugh, a tragedy makes us cry — I suppose a romance makes us feel, uh, twitterpated — is that, then, the real mark of genre? Not some academic’s induction based on a leisurely survey of the available material, but the specific kind of blast the story delivers, the special effects it drives into the hearts and guts of readers?

If that’s the case, then I think I’m sitting pretty with my wife. Because Gone with the Wind has got the chops in spite of the fact that the love problem at its center is not only mundane, but teenagerly so. Rhett really does love Scarlett, but has to act like he doesn’t, to protect his feelings, because he knows Scarlett never got over Ashley being the one man she couldn’t have. Drop that love triangle right into a CW plotline and nobody’s going to raise an eyebrow.

In other words, Gone with the Wind surpasses the un-epicness of its romance, and makes us feel romantically epic all the same. This is a serious accomplishment. I wish I could explain how it’s done. Of course, part of it is the historical backdrop, but I think a more important factor is just the expansiveness of the couple, particularly Scarlett (though Rhett’s a pretty insanely intriguing character, too — I’ve heard rumors he was based on Sam Houston — go read about that crazy bastard some time).

But maybe it’s epic because it’s just so successful as a story. I think we need to feel that a story is about everything in order to let it in, let it move us. That’s the mark, I think, of the true masterpiece, and if anything could coherently separate “literature” from “fiction,” that’d be it. It’s a pretty simple standard, actually — all any story has to do is just show us the meaning of life.

Gone with the Wind qualifies. Something in Scarlett’s practicality, something in her determination, something in her hunger (I don’t mean the turnip-eschewing kind, I mean the way Scarlett from the very first scene is driven by this crazy, all-consuming, no-boundaries-recognizing hunger for everything, the way she just wants it all) — there’s something brutal and fine to that. In her strange optimism, too, the way she pushes everything unpleasant from her thoughts, so that faced with the collapse of her third marriage, she is almost transported, idiotic, almost insensate, in her belief that she can fix it all, have it all, that she can get Rhett back — which of course wouldn’t mean that she’d have to give up on Ashley, too — and, most impressively, in her faith that tomorrow holds all the space you’ll ever need to get what you want, and keep it.

This is one of the strange centers of the world, a vein of pure human talent, unearthed and irrefutable, mysterious, friendly, beckoning, and fully beyond us.

Happily Ever After: Husband and Wife discuss “The Bachelor”

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We at The Millions appreciate good criticism for its own sake, whether it be about The Paris Review or soccer commentators, Orhan Pamuk or Beyonce Knowles.  In that spirit, we present this dialogue–inspired in part by Slate’s TV Club–about one of this season’s most fascinating television shows, The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love. Edan Lepucki and Patrick Brown are not only regular contributors to The Millions, they are also married.  They watch the show together, and they started this dialogue via email a few weeks ago.  Neither can wait for tonight’s season finale.

Edan: We started watching The Bachelor on Hulu two episodes after it began (it took us a single night to catch up). Although you originally expressed displeasure at the thought of watching the season, you quickly became invested in Bachelor Jake and the throngs of ladies (most of them blonde–oh how my people embarrass themselves again and again!) who adore him.  It’s strange, because, although the show is fairly boring, with its drawn-out rose ceremonies and its empty-platitude-strewn confessionals, as soon as an episode ends, I begin salivating for the next.  I must be drawn to the show because it’s so inane and heinous.  I suppose I enjoy being incensed by 23-year-old women who feel their lives are empty and meaningless because they haven’t found “Prince Charming.”   Do you think there are people out there who watch this show without judgment?  Is there an audience for whom The Bachelor is neither a farce nor a tragedy?

I know a married couple who watched the show religiously, and even place bets on who would be the last woman standing.  Is The Bachelor a narrative for smug married people (ahem)?  Or is it more for smug single people, who would rather remain unattached than degrade themselves on national television?  What, do you think, is the appeal of this show?

Patrick:  It’s true, I wasn’t too excited by the prospect of watching The Bachelor again after a couple years off.  The last one I remember before “On the Wings of Love” was “An Officer and A Gentlemen.”  The bachelor that year was a captain or a lieutenant or something in the Navy.  He was the most boring person I’ve ever encountered, either in real life or through my television.  All he did was work out.  That was it.  He was like The Situation on a battleship.  I think he married a personal trainer, too, if I remember correctly.  Anyway, that guy turned me away from the show for a while.

But surprisingly, I’m enjoying this season.  Whether it’s the bachelor himself — Jake (Pilot Jake, as I call him) — or the women, this season is genuinely entertaining.  To answer your question, there’s no doubt that there are plenty of people who enjoy the show “unironically” or however you want to put it.  And I think, on some level, I enjoy it this way.  I love the drama of it.  I like to see people put it on the line.  Whether you believe these people can really feel something in just a few weeks or not, I do think they feel a profound disappointment when they’re dumped.  I’ve seen women crying so hard they were hyperventilating.  That’s good TV.

I think the reason the show resonates with so many people is several fold.  Mainly, I think people crave repetition, and The Bachelor is highly repetitive, which Adorno claims reassures us against death.  This is why good pop songs have a tried and true structure (also, incidentally, why a song like “Pink Moon” is unsettling, because it turns itself upside down and doesn’t follow that typical structure).  Everything about The Bachelor — the sensationally stagey rose ceremonies (My favorite part is when the guy stares at the pictures of the remaining girls, thinking longingly about which ones will make it to the next round), the way they all keep saying the same key phrases (“I felt a connection,” “I’m not sure she’s here for the right reasons,” etc.), the way even the characters know the sequence of the show (“Next week is hometowns, and I don’t take that lightly”) — it’s all there to reassure us that we’re still alive and everything is moving along as it should.  I think this is especially powerful in that it deals with marriage, so not only is it “We won’t die,” but rather “We won’t die alone.”  That’s powerful, whether you enjoy it ironically or sincerely or whatever.

I also think that people love to judge one another’s relationships.  How many conversations have you had in your life that were about how wrong two people were for each other?  A lot, right?  Well, this is that on a national scale.  Of course, whenever you’re judging a relationship, I think you’re always insinuating that one part of the couple is wrong or poorly matched to the other.  There’s an implicit (or, sometimes direct) suggestion that one of the people is inferior.  I think we see that with Vienna, who comes off as fake, desperate, cloying, etc.  My question to you is why does she illicit those responses from us?  Is she not successfully playing the role we’ve assigned her?  What is it about Vienna (and others of her ilk who have come before) that makes everyone hate her?  If Jake really thinks she’s the bee’s knees, who are we to judge?

Edan: Well said, Husband!  Regarding this idea of repetition, one of the things that bothers me most about the show, and which I also depend on and anticipate each time a new episode begins, is the use of overly familiar and vague language.  As you’ve pointed out, the contestants from season to season use the same key phrases (if another person refers to the process as “the journey” I’m going to throw up), and Jake repeatedly describes the women he likes in the same bland terms.  For instance, in the last episode we watched, where he and three of the women go to St Lucia, he kept saying, in confessional, “She’s amazing”–and he was referring to a different woman each time!  The women, too, aren’t able to tell us why they actually like Jake, other than to say stuff like, “He’s the kind of guy I’ve always dreamed of,” or, the most meaningless of phrases, “He’s perfect.”  In many ways, the rhetoric of the confessionals is a fiction writing teacher’s nightmare: all telling, cliched language, absent of specificity and individualized, perspective-driven emotion. But I wonder, is that the comfort of the show?  And is that the comfort of the marriage narrative?  I wonder if the scenic action on the show–the scenes we see of Vienna and Jake making out on the deck of a pirate ship, for instance–is meant to suggest the spontaneity of a romantic relationship, while the voice-overs and direct addresses to the viewer, emphasize the comfort, the familiarity, of that same relationship.  A fantasy of marriage, in other words, one perfectly counterbalanced by risk and safety.

It’s funny you should should bring up Vienna, the show’s villain.  She’s been demonized on the tabloids and the other contestants disliked her. You say she’s fake, cloying, and so on–but, you know what?  I love her!  This has been my favorite season of “The Bachelor” because Jake, for all his washboard ab dullness, has made some surprising choices.  Yes, he got rid of your favorite hot girl, Gia (Lord, is that crush getting tiresome), but he kept her for much longer than either of us expected.  And Vienna continues to hang on, and online gossip says she is the ultimate winner.  She’s not the prettiest, she’s got terrible extensions, and her relationship with her father (she’s a self-described “Daddy’s Girl” ) is questionable.  Vienna subverts our expectations.  The villain is not meant to win this kind of show!  Nobody is supposed to want a villainous wife!  What do you make of Jake’s choice to keep her on the show?  And how do you compare her to sweet and wholesome Tenley, the woman of “values” with the I-was-molested-as-a-child porn star voice?

Patrick: Vienna’s father uttered one of the truly remarkable phrases in recent TV history, when he said (and I’m paraphrasing here):  “You want a good wife?  She’ll be a good wife.  You come home, your house will be clean, your kids will be raised right.”  It’s perfectly acceptable to want a marriage where only one spouse has to work (you could point out how unlikely this is on a pilot’s salary, but that might poke some unwanted holes in the narrative), but coming from her father, it seems wrong, somehow.  Like that’s all she has to offer.  Vienna seems to represent a certain kind of person in America.  I think the fact that you (and some of the other women on the show) see her bad dye job and her unsubtle tan, and what they really see is a clue about class, right?  She just seems lower class than some of the other girls (like Ali, who has a plum first-world job tending the cloud at Facebook).  That seems significant to me, since the show is pretty much an aspirational narrative.  We forget that the origins of The Bachelor aren’t that far from the sordid Fox shows like Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?  A previous bachelor was heir to the Firestone tire fortune, and a major part of his narrative was that he had a ton of money and would make some lucky girl into a real life princess.  Another Bachelor was titled nobility somewhere (they filmed that season in a castle, in case the fairy tale element wasn’t obvious enough).  I think that’s what America sees in Vienna.  They have dyed hair and spray tans.  Many of them want the sort of rigidly defined gender roles that Vienna’s dad described.  And if Vienna can win, it means they can be the princess (in a standard middle-class fantasy life in suburban Dallas).

Speaking of Ali, when we were watching the episode in which she had to choose between keeping her job and staying on the show, you remarked that it was the typical “Man or career: you can’t have both,” dilemma that women have been confronted with for years.  In a way, this season’s final four encapsulates the show’s reactionary sexual politics quite nicely.  Of the final four, Ali had to choose between her job and her love life, Gia was too sexy, maybe, to get a husband, leaving the slightly lower-class woman who the man could dominate economically, and Tenley, the juvenile one, who he could dominate psychologically and physically.  Or maybe I’m just a cynic.  Tenley seems like a bland religious type (there’s one in every season, though, like the villain, they don’t often make it to the finals).  Jake’s connection with her is all about “values,” which I think means that they don’t think gay people should get married (though that’s never explicitly addressed).  She’s juvenile, in a creepy sort of way.  My question to you is why does The Bachelor — a show with a largely female audience — continue to enforce these sexist stereotypes of what a women can (and in some cases, should) be?  Why can’t sexy Gia be a wife (or villainous Vienna)?  Why does Ali have to choose between her man and her career?  And if we can agree that the show does reinforce some retrograde ideas about gender, why do so many women enjoy it?  Is it a self-loathing thing?

Edan: You write, “And if Vienna can win, it means they can be the princess (in a standard middle-class fantasy life).” You may have a point, but how do you read the public’s vilification of her, then?  Most people (not me!) don’t want her to win.  They don’t believe she’s worthy of Jake, worthy of the life he would provide for her. So if she doesn’t deserve to be the princess, do they?  Does her vilification mean we don’t believe the classes are as porous as we’ve been taught?  Or perhaps this season of The Bachelor proves that love (or at least sexual attraction) conquers all, and that Jake–Mr. Values, Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Stable, Mr. Right–will choose the former Hooters waitress over the classy Christian woman simply because he likes her better. This seems to return the show to its purported roots: a narrative of two people finding one another and discovering an undeniable connection despite a series of obstacles.  So why the outrage?

Fans of Ali protest that picking Vienna wouldn’t be a wise choice, but that brings me back to the question of marriage, and what it means in our cultural imagination.  How is choosing Vienna unwise?  Cannot one’s wife be a bratty 23-year-old? Perhaps that’s what Jake wants in the end: a fun girl to take care of.  Maybe “dominate economically” is the official term, I don’t know.  When Jake asked Vienna how she imagined marriage, she said she expected it to be like they were kids, just so in love, doing what they pleased, kissing all the time.  This definition of marriage must be devalued in the eyes of the viewers.  I agree that her vision is a little narrow, but, then again, it’s not a totally inaccurate depiction of marriage, or ours, at least.  But is there only one definition of marriage?  I marvel at how many woman on the show have mentioned “the fairy tale” narrative–as if that were the only one, and as if, as if!, this were a plausible reality.  Never do these women point out that the fairy tale ends with the wedding.

It’s funny that you think Jake kicked Gia to the curb because she’s too sexy. That’s definitely your biased interpretation; I’m not so sure Gia is as sexy as you keep exclaiming.  I actually think she was kicked off because she’s from New York City, and still lives there. Jake was intimidated, perhaps turned off by, her cosmopolitan lifestyle. In the narrative in Jake’s mind, one can date a New Yorker, can revel in the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy of it, but that woman isn’t wife material.  On the show, his explicit reason for dumping her was that she “didn’t open up” as much as he needed her to. Every season, we see this conflict; the game requires the women profess their love, but strategically: not too early, and not too late.  Perhaps this is one of the appeals of the show: it mirrors the dating life, if that mirror were in a fun house.  Maybe the fantasy of The Bachelor isn’t that woman will revert to these outdated  gender roles that you speak of, but that there are single men out there who want to get married and have children.  They’re ready for the commitment, and, on top of that, they require a woman to speak her heart.  Usually, it’s women who are asking this of men, not the other way around.  Perhaps, here, this reversal of roles, is what gets the female viewership off.  Maybe they’re turned on by the anti-Old School story that The Bachelor perpetuates.

Patrick: You’re probably correct that I’m inventing the “Gia’s too sexy” narrative, in part because the women on the show aren’t sexualized (at least not in the context of hypersexualized contemporary American culture).  On this show, it’s the man who is sexualized.  It’s Jake who soaps his abs for the camera.  Even the scenes where the women are in bikinis are pretty tame.  It’s clearly a show for women, and I’m not supposed to be thinking about who is the sexiest, only who is the best mate, the most fitting for Jake.  It’s another reason Jake is a bit of a rogue, as far as Bachelors go — he’s probably going to choose Vienna, and a part of the equation has to be her sexuality.  As for the New York angle, there’s certainly some validity to that, though Jake was pretty comfortable with Ali, who lived in San Francisco.  I think it was also that Gia was ethnically a New Yorker — she had an accent, etc. — while Ali was suitably blond and “All American.”

In the end, I think the show succeeds because it holds different appeal for different people.  For those in a committed relationship, they can mock the people proclaiming to have fallen in love after just a few hours together.  Those who are still looking for a partner can feel a bit of envy, and more than a touch of escapism.  My issues with the show remain its cliched portrayal of love as the result of some sort of checklist.  Does your partner:  look good, enjoy the outdoors, drive a truck, proclaim to want kids, have a Golden Retriever and believe in traditional marriage?  Then it must be love!  Maybe this season has been so enjoyable because it has, to some small degree, subverted this idea. Nobody can put their finger on why Jake likes Vienna precisely because she doesn’t conform to that checklist.  (Does your partner have a bad dye job, a strange ex-marriage and a 401K from her days as a Hooters waitress?  Then you’re in love!)  This version of the show, early on at least, had a bit of spontaneity to it, something earlier seasons have lacked.

Of course, if Jake picks Tenley tonight, then everything I just said is moot. He’ll have chosen the same kind of goodie-goodie they always pick.  Most people, I think, would be happy with that, but I think I’m coming around to your opinion, that choosing Vienna is the more interesting way to go.  I wouldn’t want to be married to her, but who can say what’s in Pilot Jake’s heart?

Edan: Amen to that.  Can’t wait to see what happens tonight. When I was a kid, my vision of marriage was eating dinner in front of the television with a handsome and witty man who’d read The Dialectic of Enlightenment.  Dreams do come true.

Books on the Silver Screen

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As Oscar season nears (and, no, it hasn’t started yet… If you think Hollywoodland (IMDb), The Last Kiss (IMDb), or The Black Dahlia (IMDb) are winning anything more than a best art direction award, you’re wrong), it’s time to start thinking about serious literary adaptations. This year is full of them, including Stephen Zaillian’s updated adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (IMDb). This should be a fine film, as Zaillian is a first rate screenwriter. Also of note, James Carville is listed as a producer on the film. In this interview from KCRW’s “The Business” Carville talks about how he got involved in the project. Naturally, it all started on the set of Old School (IMDb).Another adaptation of note in the coming months is Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal (IMDb), starring Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench. It should be no surprise that Scott Rudin is executive producing the film, as he owns nearly every literary novel of the note from the last ten years. Check out his rather staggering IMDb page. Not only does he have the “eagerly anticipated” Kavalier and Clay (IMDb) and The Corrections (IMDb), he’s also grabbed the slightly more obscure “The Smoker” (IMDb) based on a short story from David Schickler’s Kissing in Manhattan. While most of these projects are listed as in development (meaning two people once discussed the idea over lunch), obviously Rudin has the clout to bring them to fruition. The list of films does lend credence to the idea that Rudin isn’t merely a “foul mouthed, phone hurling” scourge of assistants, he’s also a reader.

Surprise Me!