[percy-l] Production of _A Confederacy of Dunces_ falls apart

Wade Riddick wriddick at usa.net
Thu Oct 28 19:38:27 EDT 2004


In the Grip of the South, Where the Film Tales Are

Published: October 27, 2004

The director David Gordon Green went to New Orleans last year looking for a
movie, which eluded him. But he found a home.

As luck would have it, Mr. Green's much-anticipated film version of John
Kennedy Toole's cult novel, "A Confederacy of Dunces," collapsed in a mire
of legal, financial and personal entanglements that appear to have doomed a
project written by Steven Soderbergh and Scott Kramer, for a cast that was
to include Will Farrell, Drew Barrymore, Mos Def, Olympia Dukakis and Lily

"I think it's shelved until either somebody dies or everybody gets paid
off," said Mr. Green, a 29-year-old whose 2000 debut film, "George
Washington," was a dreamlike portrait of childhood in the South that made
the tour of the world's film festivals and has since received the ultimate
accolade: a deluxe DVD edition from the Criterion Collection.

While scouting locations in New Orleans, where "A Confederacy of Dunces" is
set and was to be filmed, however, Mr. Green bought what he calls a "1919
shotgun doublewide" house that, once fixed up, will become his first adult
address. An Arkansas native, he has been living out of suitcases and
sleeping on couches since "George Washington" lifted him out of North
Carolina, where he attended the North Carolina School of the Arts in

Besides sinking roots in New Orleans, Mr. Green also managed to edit
"Undertow" - his third feature, after "All the Real Girls" last year- which
was shot in the summer of 2003 and was released last week by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's United Artists unit on a handful of screens after its
well-received New York Film Festival premiere.

The picture continues Mr. Green's exploration of the South, but introduces
some new elements to his languid, lyrical style. Filmed in and around
Savannah, Ga., the film follows a teenager (played by the young British
actor Jamie Bell, from "Billy Elliott'') and his fragile younger brother
(Devon Alan) as they flee the evil uncle (Josh Lucas) who has slit the
throat of their father (Dermot Mulroney) in a dispute over a cache of gold

"I wanted to go a little heavier in this one and show a little bit more,"
Mr. Green said, comparing "Undertow" with "George Washington" and "All the
Real Girls." "With the first two movies I was very much going for something
slow and poetic. And here, I wanted to take some of that same execution but
bloody it up a bit."

It is also the first time that Mr. Green worked from a script he did not
originate. "Undertow" came out of a program conducted by the legendary
filmmaker Terrence Malick ("Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line") at the
University of Texas in Austin. Mr. Malick and his partner, the veteran
producer Ed Pressman, formed a company called Sunflower Productions to
develop screenplays outside the Hollywood mainstream.

"We had a coterie of young writers out of the university, and we paid them
a little bit of money to try screenplays," Mr. Pressman remembered. "
'Undertow' was something Terry had the idea for based on true life events,
and he gave it to Joe Conway" - a high school English teacher who also
played on Mr. Malick's amateur basketball team. "We had seen 'George
Washington' before it was released, and so Terry showed David the draft. We
talked about it for a long time, and then David did his own draft, and the
film evolved from that."

"It was a script that worked within certain formulas and genre
conventions," Mr. Green recalled. "What we were going for was to make
something like an off-kilter 'Huckleberry Finn' or 'Treasure Island,' or
like the Hardy Boys books. I remember having a box full of old books when I
was 12, the kind that have a cover illustration of kids with a lantern
looking down a cave - these awesome, odd mysteries and adventures. That's
what I really wanted this to feel like, and so when I read the script with
its true-crime horror I wondered how we could bring out the fanciful,
hyperreal boy's adventure in it, almost to bring out elements of fairy
tales, like 'Hansel and Gretel.' So a lot of it was to take something based
on actual incidents and bring a fanciful frame to it."

By living and filming in the South, Mr. Green celebrates the world he grew
up in. "I'm inspired less by specific movies and books than I am by sitting
on a porch listening to somebody,'' he said.

"Given the choice for an evening's entertainment,'' Mr. Green said, "I want
to go and listen to some old man I don't know, who comes from a place I've
never heard of and has a story to tell that I don't believe. I can pay my
10 bucks and see a movie anytime, but how often do you get that
face-to-face encounter, with those accents and exaggerations that only a
great liar can conjure? And I think this movie was my reaction to the
stories of good liars."

But how easy is it to find those eccentric, individual voices in an America
increasingly standardized by Wal-Marts and cable television?

"It's easy in my neighborhood," Mr. Green said, returning to his New
Orleans raptures.

"In fact, it's hard to get away from them. It really is!"

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