Past Masters

The Master, a film that takes impetus from L. Ron Hubbard’s creation of Scientology, is due in theaters September 14. See the trailer here.

The Master was secretly screened in Santa Monica on August 3. A member of the audience posted some quick thoughts on Hollywood Elsewhere:

I’m still digesting everything I saw, but it was pretty amazing. It was like a strange fever dream. [But] not audience friendly AT ALL. An ambiguous ending and not one likable character. And without any ‘milkshake’ lines, it probably won’t have the breakthrough that There Will Be Blood had… There are three or four scenes between Phoenix and Hoffman that are barn burners. It also contains the best work Amy Adams has ever done…

In The Master Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a World War II vet haunted by his experiences who forms his own religion. Joaquin Phoenix plays a drifter who becomes The Master’s right-hand man.

While many Golden Age and New Wave sf writers have been the subjects of documentaries, they have rarely inspired big screen dramatics. Besides The Master, I can only think of Empire of the Sun (1984), about J.G. Ballard’s childhood years in a Shanghai internment camp, Shadowlands (1993), based loosely on C.S.Lewis’ relationship with Joy Davidman Gresham, and Martian Child (2007), taken from David Gerrold’s story about adopting a son. Have I missed any?

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

17 thoughts on “Past Masters

  1. Frank M. Robinson plays himself as a character in the film Milk, which deals with another part of his life than SF. And unfortunately, he didn’t get any speaking lines.

  2. Tom cruise reportadly had seen a rough print of the film and disliked it.

    A number of writers don’t seem to lead dramatic lives.

    John W. Campbell spent most of his life in New Jersey.

    H.P.Lovecraft wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Sometimes he visited. And he wrote and wrote…

    I’m not too sure about Edgar Allen Poe…there have been recent films, but have any been good?

  3. “H.P.Lovecraft wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Sometimes he visited. And he wrote and wrote…”

    HPL did a fair amount of traveling. As far north as Quebec and as far south as Florida.

    Of Washington, DC he wrote: “But charm and personality it certainly does have; and these attributes grow on one powerfully during every minute of his sojourn, till he is finally won over as an ardent devotee. One hates to leave the restful spot when one has not a New-England to return to.”

    I suspect a film of the life of HPL would be rather boring to most of the world.

    The film of Robert E. Howard, mentioned above, is really good and well worth watching. Inexpensive DVDs are easily found.

  4. Good additions — Sounds like I need to watch the Howard film. And I saw The Raven — it definitely belongs on this list however tangential most of it is from Poe’s real life, because its starting point is the author’s history.

  5. Vincent D’Onofrio is a very good actor. I haven’t seen his role in WHOLE WIDE WORLD, but have noticed him in other films. The reviews on Amazon run a whole range, but the majority are positive.

  6. I can’t find it on a quick search in IMDB or Wikipedia, but I have vague recollections of reading about (but not seeing) a Victorian costume drama in which H.G. Wells was a character. This was a serious, history-based drama: I’m not thinking of Time After Time (which might be too fancifully tangential to be included) or the several TV shows which have featured Wells as a character. Or was the work I’m thinking of a novel, rather than a movie?

  7. And add me to those endorsing The Whole Wide World, which I thought a fine movie, and one which definitely should be seen by anyone interested in REH as a writer. (HPL is referenced, as I recall, though he does not appear.)

  8. I think it might be possible to film the life of H.P. Lovecraft and make something interesting out of it — but I think it would have to be done in a sort of “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” way, with the imaginative ideas in Lovecrafts mind taking life in front of the viewer’s eyes– see New England the way *he* did, with creepy, tentacled immigrants slithering down the street, for instance. You’d have to intertwine Lovecraft’s life with other writers that he corresponded with, especially R.E. Howard. You could dramatize their letter exchanges, showing them as they imagined themselves — swashbuclking heros, cutting down hoards of barbarians, pirates, etc. — while trying to keep the white-supremacy bits within the bounds of good taste, of course. The movie might draw to a close with Lovecraft beginning to realize how foolish the fantasies of his youth were — according the De Camp, that seems to have been the case. The viewer might think of Lovecraft as rather a geek through the first part of the movie, but gain respect for his increased dignity toward the end, especially in contrast to REH … who remained a geek. In the end, it would be a rather tragic story.

    You know what the real tragedy is? If I had an uncle or brother-in-law in the business, and lived in Hollywood, I could probably call that a treatment and be paid $50,000 for it. But I’ll never see a dime and that’s a tragedy!

  9. I wonder if Robert Bloch or his equivalent will appear in the in-production Anthony Hopkins film about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho (cleverly entitled “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.”)

  10. Howard Waldrop thinks highly of “The Whole Wide World.”

    And to think, if not for Robert E. Howard … would Arnold Schwarzenegger been governor of California?

  11. There are folks who are nit picking on Amazon about THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, because there are three film print versions: one at 111 minutes, one at 106, and one at 96.

    According to an account I heard Robert Bloch give, he really didn’t met Hitchcock for a period. His novel was sold to Hitchcock through a broker, so he got a flat fee, rather than a percentage or a large paycheck. Hollywood was a destination shortly after the film went big for Bloch, he worked for AH until Hitchcock got annoyed with Bloch doing screen plays for William Castle.

    The author who kept that word PSYCHO on most of his subsequent releases after that had a reason.

  12. I feel odd correcting Tom about Frank Robinson, but nonetheless wrong Frank did have lines in Milk, as per Frank’s own account.

    I haven’t seen the excellent film since it was released, though, and can’t swear as to whether Frank’s lines were all cut or not, but I tentatively think I remember one or two being in. I certainly could be wrong.

  13. That “wrong” shouldn’t be there; it was accidentally left as part of insufficiently proofing before I hit “post.”

    (Someday I will buy you a very very large WordPress comment preview plug-in, Mike, since there are over 200 that can be installed in under a minute. Except they’re free.)

    My bad, of course. Sorry about that.

  14. Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story aired on cable TV (if that’s the right verb) last year. It wasn’t particularly interesting.

    As I wrote elsewhere: “There are not very many biopics of fantasy or SF writers, are there? I know about Shadowlands, and there was a TV movie about L. Frank Baum, The Dreamer of Oz, and I suppose most film versions of Cyrano de Bergerac would count (but not the Steve Martin one). Gothic, about Mary Shelley and her friends.”

    Tim Walters suggested that Topsy Turvy counts because some of W.S. Gilbert’s works were fantasies.

  15. Something getting its first run in a theater is what I have in mind. Good call on Mary Shelley.

  16. Bloch says in his memoirs (and in an earlier interview I’ve read) that he had nothing to do with the making of the movie Psycho. He did visit the set one day during filming, but didn’t talk to anybody, and Hitchcock invited him to a pre-release screening of the finished product.

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