Sunday, October 21, 2007

Not Quite to the White Sea ....

In the current issue of Time Magazine, the Cormac McCarthy has a conversation with Joel and Ethan Coen about moves they've made, would like to make, and wish they'd made. James Dickey's "To The White Sea" falls into the latter category.

CORMAC MCCARTHY What would you guys like to do that's just too outrageous, and you don't think you'll ever get to do it?

JOEL COEN Well, I don't know about outrageous, but there was a movie we tried to make that was another adaptation. It was a novel that James Dickey wrote called To the White Sea, and it was about a tail gunner in a B-29 shot down over Tokyo.

C.M. That was the last thing he wrote.

J.C. Last thing he wrote. So this guy's in Tokyo during the firebombing, but the story isn't really about that. He walks from Honshu to Hokkaido, because he grew up in Alaska and he's trying to get to a cold climate, where he figures he can survive, and he speaks no Japanese, so after the first five or 10 minutes of the movie, there's no dialogue at all.

C.M. Yeah. That'd be tough.

J.C. It was interesting. We tried to make that, but no one was interested in financing this expensive movie about the firebombing of Tokyo in which there's no dialogue.

ETHAN COEN And it's a survival story, and the guy dies at the end.

C.M. Everybody dies. It's like Hamlet.

E.C. Brad Pitt wanted to do it, and he has this sort of remorse or regret about it. But he's too old now.

J.C. But you know, there's something about it--there were echoes of it in No Country for Old Men that were quite interesting for us, because it was the idea of the physical work that somebody does that helps reveal who they are and is part of the fiber of the story. Because you only saw this person in this movie making things and doing things in order to survive and to make this journey, and the fact that you were thrown back on that, as opposed to any dialogue, was interesting to us.

There's much left unsaid here. Some $50 million had been raised by producer Richard Roth and others to produce the film and locations already had been scouted that summer of 2001. I ran into Brad Pitt at a party in Italy and talked to him about it. He was indeed enthusiastic (although George Clooney, who was also there, kept asking him why he'd make a movie that had almost no dialogue at all). The problem, as we were told eventually by Roth, is that the Coens wanted a budget that was maybe 50 percent higher, mainly for special effects during the firebombing of Tokyo. And that money just wasn't there. - C.S.

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