31 July 2010
A Perfect Day for Bananafish: The Pitch
This one slipped through the cracks a little bit but, while reading the latest underwhelming piece of best 20 under 40 writing in the New Yorker (Tea Obrecht's "Blue Water Djinn") I was reminded of another beach story: Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." The only difference is that the latter might be the best thing the magazine ever published (the only story that Nabakov gave an "A+" besides his own pieces) and the former is...not.
Earlier this year, in Lillian Ross' Postscript for Salinger, there is one item that left me breathless:
"Brigitte Bardot once wanted to buy the rights to 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish,' and he said that is was uplifting news. 'I mean it,' he told me. 'She's a cute, talented, lost enfante, and I'm tempted to accommodate her, pour le sport.'"
This is a film the world needs, even 45 years after the fact. I can smell the nail lacquer on BB's fingertips right now.
The principal cast and crew puts itself together in my mind instantly. Bardot is Muriel, Jean-Paul Belmondo is Seymour Glass, Godard directs, Coutard shoots. The year is 1965 and Godard goes right from Pierrot le fou to Bananafish, capping the greatest six-year stretch in the history of the cinema.
We could start in homage to the shot that ends Contempt--tracking back left after "Silencio," a long shot across the beach creeping up to a modern hotel in the south of France...
(Long aside on casting: In 1965, if BB, Belmondo and Godard all died in a dune buggy accident on the way to the set, you could back them up with Deneuve, Delon and Demy. If that group all got lost in a sandstorm, you would still have Moreau, Marc Michel and Malle. Keep that in mind when you try to cheer yourself up on the state of the art in 2010. I guess you could roll with Ludivine Sagnier, Melvil Popoud and Francois Ozon (the only advantage here is you could use Moreau's fabulously ravaged voice as the mother). To play in deeper hypotheticals, if we were making the film in, say, 2000, WTT demigods Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric and Arnaud Desplechin could have knocked it out of the park, though the actors now might be a bit too old.)
Okay, the reason this film will be great is Salinger's evergreen voice. Pick up Nine Stories. That cadenced dialogue is crisp a clean sheet in the summer breeze--we need to bring back telling people, "don't be fresh." My favorite sentence is about the young girl, Sybil, as seen by Seymour: "She ran a few steps ahead of him, caught up her left foot in her left hand, and hopped two or three times." Just imagine the mid-60's French equivalent of a Fanning sister doing that. Adorable.
The thing is that "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is only 23 narrow pages long. And we don't want to turn into a pure invention like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But I think there are enough hints at backstory dropped in Muriel's conversation with her mother to provide some enticing flashbacks: the funny business with the trees; the incident with the window; those horrible things he said to Granny about her plans for passing away; what he did to all those lovely pictures from Bermuda. You only see the couple together in flashback, until the last moments on the twin beds. Godard will figure everything out, using "Seymour: An Introduction" as necessary.
And if it has to be a short film, let it rub shoulders with La Jetée or An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. I'm telling you, sit a minute and picture Seymour and Sybil out finding bananafish. It's grand.