Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
What covers do you dream of hearing? Which filmmaker should adapt what book or short story? What are your ideal artistic collaborations that don't yet exist?
My dream collaborations that inspired this question are: Robert Rodriguez adapting Haroun And The Sea Of Stories by Salman Rushdie, and Britney Spears covering Spoon. I guess in both cases I see some similar aesthetics that would be, as the tagline goes, “two tastes that taste great together.” So what do you want to put out into the ether to see if it can be accomplished? —Cecily
I’d like to see Guillermo del Toro take on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, possibly as a Harry Potter-like series of related films. Maybe if del Toro’s adaptation of Death: The High Cost Of Living works out, we’ll at least get to see the edges of what those films would look like. (Failing that, Alfonso Cuarón might work as well.) I’d also like to see The Incredibles director Brad Bird helm an animated adaptation of Judd Winick’s Barry Ween comics. (They’re probably too foul-mouthed for Bird, but at least he could give them the right energy and that mix of spasticness and pathos that makes them work.) And I want to see Uwe Boll adapt some older videogames for a change. I’d really love to know exactly how he’d sex up Pac-Man or Centipede and make it incoherent and by-the-numbers.
Seeing as how I like Cat Powers’ covers way more than most of her original songs, I’d love to hear her put her mumbly, mopey touch on a Misfits song—maybe one of the band’s slower, more grinding tracks, like “London Dungeon” or “Hollywood Babylon.” Speaking of the Misfits, I know for a fact that Hutch Harris of The Thermals is a big fan, and I’d be stoked to hear them bash out a cover of one of the Misfits’ poppier anthems; something off of Walk Among Us, like “Night Of The Living Dead” or “Astro Zombies,” would do nicely. And seeing as how Dirty Projectors did such a mindblowing job deconstructing Black Flag’s Rise Above a couple years back, I think it would be rad if Dave Longstreth and crew tackled another ’80s hardcore classic. Like, um, the Misfits’ Earth A.D., maybe?
I’ve usually been very reluctant to do any kind of dream-casting of novels that I enjoy; great fiction rarely makes for great film, and when it does, it’s usually unexpected, like the Coen brothers adapting a minor Cormac McCarthy novel. But oddly, even though—or maybe because—so few adaptations of great graphic novels have made for decent movies, a few of my comic-geek friends and I have made a virtual cottage industry in thinking up appropriate casts and directors for big-screen versions of some of our favorite comics. A few of them, sadly, will no longer be possible (I always thought Stanley Kubrick could make a hell of a New Gods movie, and that Robert Altman would be a natural to bring a revisionist interpretation of Archie Andrews and his pals to the big screen), but there’s still a few I’d love to see. Dan Clowes’ Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron was made to be adapted by David Lynch (despite Clowes’ own trepidations about such a movie); Terry Gilliam, I think, could make a pretty enjoyable version of Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan; and I have in my secret heart of hearts a geeky little dream that Warner Brothers will someday do a straightforward adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and they’ll get Martin Scorsese to helm. That’s the kind of nerd I am, folks, in a nutshell.
A long while back, I remember reading an article about Pearl Jam that mentioned how much Eddie Vedder liked the American Music Club song “Blue And Grey Shirt.” Ever since then, I’ve thought that an album of Pearl Jam covering AMC songs would be something I’d like to hear. Vedder’s got a voice as powerful and rangy as Mark Eitzel’s, and one of my biggest ongoing problems with Pearl Jam is that their songwriting is weak. Hearing Pearl Jam take on “Wish The World Away” and “Western Sky” and “Outside This Bar” and “Heaven Of Your Hands”… man, that would be great. Movie-wise, I wouldn’t mind seeing Tim Burton tackle Stephen Sondheim again; he’d be the perfect director for Into The Woods, though I’d rather he cast singers rather than actors in the leads this time. And TV-wise, could we get Shawn Ryan to helm a set of miniseries drawn from Michael Connelly novels, ideally to air on HBO? Thanks, showbiz. I eagerly await your reply.
I could probably think of 10,000 music-related answers to this question, so I don’t think I even want to start, but here’s something better: I would love to see David Simon (creator of The Wire) tackle James Ellroy’s “Underworld, U.S.A.” trilogy for HBO—and I would love to see him do it with enough time and money that he could adapt the three books (American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and the upcoming Blood’s A Rover) without losing any of their depth. It’d probably require at least 13 hours of solid Simon TV to do each book justice, which is perfect for HBO. The books have plenty of potential to be crossover hits, too: They’ve got political intrigue, lots of violence, and plenty of sex. (And not just made-up-character sex, either: Ellroy places his fictional characters in the real world, so if JFK is fucking Marilyn Monroe, his seedy players know all about it.) Nobody has yet made a fully successful, fully faithful version of any of Ellroy’s books (L.A. Confidential is amazing, yes, but the film takes some serious liberties with the plot, including the fact that there’s no mention of a character named Rollo Tomasi in the book.) Give Simon a boatload of cash, and he could deliver something great. (Oh, and apparently Tom Hanks’ company already owns the rights and plans on doing something with it… So hint hint, Mr. Hanks.)
I’d love to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on JR, by William Gaddis. The novel is about an 11-year-old kid who uses a payphone and some crap he ordered out of the back of a comic book to amass a massive financial empire; it’s a vicious satire of capitalism and the way the system favors irresponsible people who do clever, selfish things. The book is made up almost entirely of unattributed dialogue, and while that takes some getting used to (the plot is tricky enough that it’s nearly impossible to follow completely the first time around), the experience is unforgettable, like getting to eavesdrop on a hundred different tragedies. Anderson has already shown his ability to handle large casts, and since the novel is too big to do a straightforward adaptation, he’d have to filter its basic narrative threads through his own sensibilities, which is probably the only way to get him interested in the first place. JR is mordantly funny, but there’s a deep, rage-filled melancholy to it as well, the railing of a soul that’s just furious enough to know that nothing will ever really change. I can’t imagine Anderson having much of a problem with that, and I’d love to see what he would make of something so striking and dark.
I’ve always thought Jarvis Cocker should do me a personal solid and record an album of Scott Walker covers from his Jacques Brel period, i.e. Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3, and Scott 4. There’s probably no other modern singer I can think of—save Rufus Wainwright, maybe, but he’s probably a bit too fey to really sell a song like “Mathilde”—better suited to capture the melodrama of those tunes, and ride that orchestral bombast without totally drowning in it. I was stoked when I heard that Walker was producing with Pulp’s We Love Life, and while that album has slightly grown on me since I got over the initial disappointment that it didn’t sound like the dream-team cross between Scott and This Is Hardcore I had in my head, it’s still not exactly what I want, so I would like Cocker to go make that for me now. He can get back to singing about being 40 and still wanting to fuck twentysomethings later. On the movie-adaptation front, I was all excited back in 2006 to see how David Cronenberg would tackle Martin Amis’ London Fields, only to see that project abandoned—which is a real shame, because every movie ever made from Amis’ work is completely wrong, from the dreadful Mood Swingers (which I refuse to call Dead Babies) to the totally prettified, way-too-cutesy The Rachel Papers, and I’d love to see a director who shares his morbid sense of humor finally do him some justice. Maybe if Danny Boyle would stop playing with little kids, he could make something out of Money, for example. Hi, I’m Sean, and I like British things.
Most of my dream collaborations are projects that never quite got off the ground or are stuck in a seemingly permanent state of stasis. I’d love to have seen, for example, Robert Altman’s proposed mid-’70s adaptation of Breakfast Of Champions with Peter Falk in the lead and Sterling Hayden as cantankerous science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout. If anyone could have nailed Vonnegut’s tricky balance of postmodernism, acidic black comedy, free-floating misanthropy, and tragedy, it’d be Altman in his prime. Instead, Altman protégé Alan Rudolph ended up delivering just about the worst possible adaptation in 1999. I’d also love to hear the MF Doom/Ghostface Killah collaboration that has been in the works forever, yet doesn’t seem terribly close to completion.
How about Neil Young and Sonic Youth? Both are rock elder statesmen (or, in the case of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, stateswomen) who are still capable of putting out interesting, even transcendent, albums. Traditionally, when Young wants to plug in with a rambunctious backing band, he turns to Crazy Horse to extend simple four-minute songs into extended jams thick with guitar feedback. Sonic Youth wouldn’t be that big of an adjustment, considering its own propensity for noise epics, but its noise tends to be a little more sculpted than Crazy Horse’s, and it could give Young’s song a new kind of dynamism. At this point, a lot of progressive legislation needs to pass for Young to back away from politically freighted albums like the recent Living With War and Fork In The Road, but when he’s ready to jam again, Sonic Youth should be there to bring new textures and rough melodicism to the Crazy Horse sound without Young needing to abandon its spirit. Make it happen, old-timers.
I’m not exactly holding my breath, but I would love it if someone would cover a Rufus Wainwright tune on American Idol. I’m a big Rufus fan, so just hearing his music on the show would excite me, but it would also be interesting to hear someone’s take on one of his songs, since his voice and style are so signature. Would they play up his operatic music-theater aspects, or would a stripped-down Rufus cover be effective? What would the judges say about the choice of a Rufus tune? Smart or stupid? Plus, I so associate Rufus with his sexuality that it would be sorta thrilling to see a gay icon get some love on Idol, where the producers get nervous about anything more sexually explicit than a man expressing vague love for his wife.
I think the problem with these exercises is that they inevitably end up teaming artists in two fields who have done work that seems in some way similar. Why not mix it up? I think I’ve got the perfect combination that takes a maverick director with a solid track record, a beloved, bombastic rock band with no theater experience, and an iconic character that appears everywhere from movies to children’s underwear. Are you ready? Here’s what I want: A big Broadway musical about Spider-man with music by U2 to be directed by Julie Taymor. Wait, that’s a terrible idea. No one should ever do that.