Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Getting Ready for Academy Awards: Cone and McCarthy Up Front

"Old Men" Versus "Oil for Blood"

by Eric Green

The big face off this weekend will not be Obama and Clinton, it will be The Cone Brothers facing Paul Thomas Anderson.

In the one corner will be the brilliant Cone Brothers with their equally named film adaption of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men." In the other corner will be Paul Anderson and his adaptation of Upton Sinclair's "Oil" now called, "There Will Be Blood."

The Sinclair book was significantly changed for the big screen by Anderson, removing any hint of a socialist solution to the greed and avarice of oil lust. On the PBS Charley Rose show, rebroadcast last night, Anderson when asked about the radical change in the Sinclair book, at first seemed to answer, but then just went silent. Daniel Day-Lewis the great actor did not reply either. Clearly, given Day-Lewis's artistic and political direction, he would have enjoyed playing the central figure in the original Sinclair book.

That Anderson chose to even allude to the Sinclair book was in part opportunistic, but on the positive side, maybe some film viewers will find and read the great book. "Oil" is on the same level as the nationally recognized Sinclair book, "The Jungle." But, the enormous resources of the oil barons far outstrips the meat industry. That probably explains the lesser role that "Oil" has in the annuls of literature. Too bad Anderson didn't see fit to resurrect it properly. The anti-oil industry feelings in the US and around the world, today, would have rewarded him greatly.

The Cone Brother on the other hand were faithful to the McCarthy book. The brilliant film depiction of the book should be rewarded on Sunday night. We will see.

Academy Award Viewers and Cone Brother supporters should take the advice of Joel and Ethan and delve more into the works of McCarthy.

A good next step would be to read the "Border Trilogy." These books written by McCarthy in the 1990s trace the border areas between Mexico and New Mexico/Arizona in the pre Wold World II era through the 1950s. Juarez, Mexico, El Paso and rural New Mexico. The first one "All the Pretty Horses" received the National Book Award. The subsequent book, "The Crossing" continues the story of the horse driven world of families dealing with Post War II. Finally, Bill Parnham's life is continued in "Cities of the Plain." In the Epilogue of this last book of the trilogy, Billy is in his '70s in the 1990s.

McCarthy is not the easiest writer to read, but the reading, once you hooked, is very rewarding.

The face of Tommy Lee Jones, in "No Country for Old Men," is the face of McCarthy in these books. Not sure if the Cone Brothers and McCarthy would agree, but, on reflection, Jones just might. If fact Jones" nomination for "In the Valley of Elah" shows that for this year The Academy of Motion Pictures nominators do a great job. That film had a lot of the reality that McCarthy shoots for.

The McCarthy novels are not the Old West that Hollywood would like to us believe existed, no, McCarthy shows the greatness of the West with its warts and difficulties. The Cone Brothers make it possible for all of us do the same.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with Eric, although "Cone and McCarthy" is a wonderful example of Hollywood adverstising(I was expecting references to you know who).

There is a lot in Sinclair that should be reread, and in other novelists and writers of the Communist and Socialist movement, including our own editorial board member, Phil Bonosky, whose works, especially The Burning Valley and the Magic, not only deserve to be reread but would make good movies(it would be difficult though, to really butcher the politics of the second novel, particularly.
Norman Markowitz