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posted by awelborn
Consider this: the Da Vinci Code, despite its calumny against the church, was not deemed to be too controversial to turn into a film.  There is another book that has attracted the attention of screenwriters, and by most estimates, would be a natural to turn into a screenplay: John Kennedy Toole’s "The Confederacy of Dunces". What’s interesting is that despite the interest, a film adaptation continues to languish  – the latest casualty was a version starring Will Farrell that was scheduled to be released in 2005, but was stopped mid-filming.
My guess as for why The Confederacy of Dunces will never be filmed is that the book is chock full of characters who, at first glance, appear to be stereotypical. To appease the hypersensitivity of American culture to ethnic stereotypes,  these would have to be eliminated entirely. This would inevitably dull the humor of the adaptation or even change the essence of the book altogether. Either way, it’s not a recipe for success.
So, my point is this: It appears that, as far as Hollywood is concerned, sinister stereotyping and slander against the Church is OK. Having characters that are based in ethnic stereotypes is not OK, even if the stereotypes are ultimately transcended.


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Ivan

posted August 5, 2005 at 5:48 am


The Confederacy of Dunces is just too rich a book to be filmed. Much of the humour is in OReilly’s journals and the letters to his girlfriend. How is that to be captured in film ? A TV series treatment along the lines of ‘Allo ‘Allo might just do it justice.
I’ve often wondered why such a staggeringly talented man like JKToole had to commit suicide and leave his mother all alone, simply on account of having his manuscript rejected. Couldn’t he see that he had written quite the funniest book in the entire English language ?
Anyway I pray that his soul rests in peace with God.



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stephen

posted August 5, 2005 at 6:05 am


The saga of filming Confederacy is likely more caught up in interpretation. The link below tells some of the story, but you can determine from the list of comic actors set up to play the roles over time (Belushi, Pryor, and now Ferrell, Tomlin and, um, Mos Def?) that it’s meant to be a funny film.
http://www.thebookstandard.com/bookstandard/news/hollywood/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000865382#
I can’t imagine, given the importance of the stereotypes to the fabric of the story, that this has been a stumbling block to getting it made. It’s more likely a question of, “What is this about?” I think it might be a matter of playing Ignatius deadpan while the comic episodes go on around him.
I wonder if a more apt comparison for DVC might be Chocolat, where the villain of the film was changed to the mayor to reduce the chance of a stereotypically stern priest giving offense, even in a somewhat overwrought comic villain role.
As I understand it, the changes proposed to DVC between book and cinema are tackling the more outlandish stereotypes and slurs; presumably these changes have been made to avoid offense.



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Simon

posted August 5, 2005 at 7:25 am


I agree with Ivan. Since so much of the humor in Confederacy of Dunces involves getting inside the mind of the characters, it is almost impossible to translate to film.
I suspect a Confederacy of Dunces film would turn out much like “Bonfire of the Vanities,” another brilliant inside-the-mind book that generated a terrible movie.



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bruce

posted August 5, 2005 at 7:46 am


I finally read Dunces a few years ago, and was bowled over at how good it was, and how quality is not always rewarded. Movie versions of good novels are almost always bad (consider, for instance The Last Hurrah and that travesty flick The Natural). People CANNOT leave well enough alone. That why I’m glad that The Moviegoer never got past negoitiations. Can you imagine what they would have done with that????



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Mark Windsor

posted August 5, 2005 at 8:09 am


Dignity for the Moorish!!!
Anybody remember how Demi Moore rewrote The Scarlet Letter? Anything literary that’s remotely complex gets dumbed-down to the least common denomenator in Hellywood. The more you have to dumb it down, the more the interpretation suffers. The more that suffers, the more the story fizzles. There are exceptions, but they are truly exceptional.



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Nguoi Dang Chay

posted August 5, 2005 at 8:49 am


That’s so funny, I was just thinking about “Confederacy of Dunces”. Worst piece of offal I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.
I *DO* hope they make a movie and show the masturbation scene.
Any other choice bits people would love to see on the big screen?



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James Kabala

posted August 5, 2005 at 8:52 am


The people who have been considered for the lead do seem to indicate that potential directors regard it as a comedy. Supposedly John Belushi, John Candy, and even Chris Farley (yuck) were all considered for the lead at various points. (I hope that doesn’t bode ill for Will Ferrell’s life expectancy.)



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hieronymus

posted August 5, 2005 at 8:55 am


Anybody remember how Demi Moore rewrote The Scarlet Letter?
I think director Roland Joffe bears the blame there. The same Joffe who directed the fawned-over-by-Catholics-but-nonetheless-very-bad movie “The Mission”.
Y’know, the word “dunce” is an anti-Catholic (or at least anti-scholastic) insult, or was at one time. From “Duns disciple”.



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Ronny

posted August 5, 2005 at 9:21 am


hieronymous,
I’ve never heard that “dunce” was an anti-Catholic insult, but rather an anti-Scotist (as in Duns Scotist) insult. If this is true, a Thomist might have been quite comfortable using the word in reference to a fellow Catholic scholar in the Scotist tradition.



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Ronny

posted August 5, 2005 at 9:24 am


Er, that should read “Duns Scotus,” not “Duns Scotist.” Sheesh, someone should revoke my philosophy degree for that one.



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Der Tommissar

posted August 5, 2005 at 11:12 am


Er, that should read “Duns Scotus,” not “Duns Scotist.” Sheesh, someone should revoke my philosophy degree for that one.
Done.



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Ronny

posted August 5, 2005 at 11:26 am


NOOOOOOOOO!!!!
I’m forgetting who Plato was already. I think he had something to do with children’s arts and crafts…



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Mark Shea

posted August 5, 2005 at 11:36 am


As GKC says, you can tell what is sacred to a culture by what it regards as blasphemy. If you don’t believe it, try blaspheming Odin.
Our cultural elites worship Equality (and its twin, Grieved Feelings). That’s because our culture is manufactured by a small cadre of very rich people who are acutely aware of Status. So they frets over the nano-sensitivities of various Approved Victim Groups. For the same reason, they hold a Transcendant God in contempt. Transcendance? How unfair is *that*? Why don’t *I* get to be transcendant? I feel Aggrieved Feelings coming on at this shocking assault on my sense of I’m Just as Good as You!



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Sandra Miesel

posted August 5, 2005 at 11:53 am


Duns Scotus wrote Latin with a Scottish accent. This left him at a disadvantage with respect to Aquinas. I speak as a product of the only Catholic college to teach Scotistic metaphysics instead of the Thomistic standard.
My cousin took English class from Toole. He was an excelent teachers all the girls loved him. This doesn’t, unfortunately, mean he couldn’t get lethally depressed.



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Crocodylus Pontifex

posted August 5, 2005 at 12:00 pm


I just saw “National Treasure” last night with my visiting sister’s family. What a moronic film and concept, not the least of which was the Knights Templar seizing treasures of the ancient world, including irreplaceable books from the Library of Alexandria — which our “peaceful” friends the Muslims destroyed — and turning into Masons to guard the treasures (not to mention theft of the Declaration of Independence). All the more tragic is that my sister’s family thought it was a great movie (i.e. plausible and truthful) and kept asking me if I thought so too. Sigh.



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john c

posted August 5, 2005 at 1:11 pm


“National Treasure”? A masterpiece; my sides ached for two days!



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Nguoi Dang Chay

posted August 5, 2005 at 1:24 pm


John is right, National Treasure was enjoyably predictable. It cheerfully ignores all pretense of realism.



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Nguoi Dang Chay

posted August 5, 2005 at 1:36 pm


Reading “Confederacy of Dunces”, on the other hand, darn near made me lethally depressed. I thought about ending it all but then realized I could just close the book (and have my memory erased). Always been one for logic.
Had to give an oral book report on “CofDs” — after I described the plot and could give no explanation of why it won the Pulitzer, my teacher accused me in front of the class of not having read the book. Of course, then she went to read it and had to semi-apologize, since my plot description was accurate and she also found no redeeming value.



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Zippy

posted August 5, 2005 at 2:29 pm


Undercover Brother
That’s all I have to say.



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Catherine L

posted August 5, 2005 at 2:37 pm


I’m going to venture into these waters without a life vest–it’s been many, many years since I read CofD. I cannot imagine it being made into a movie because so much of the humor requires an understanding of what life in New Orleans is really like. The stereotypes are funny because there really are people there like that, but if you didn’t live there (and I mean really live there) you would never know that. I just can’t see a way to put all those intricacies up on the screen, but maybe I lack the imagination.
Of course, many of the stereotypes in the book are of white male Christian southerners, so that may be perfectly acceptable to the Hollywood establishment. Also, there’s no way an actor could nail the accent unless he spent years in speech training. I’m still shuddering over Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy.



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Sandra Miesel

posted August 5, 2005 at 3:08 pm


Doing a New Orleans accent would be hard enough, but to master the Algiers version which my relatives speak–Gak!



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Ed the Roman

posted August 5, 2005 at 4:30 pm


I want Undercover Brother as an epic in rhymed couplets.



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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 5, 2005 at 5:35 pm


“This doesn’t, unfortunately, mean he couldn’t get lethally depressed.”
A steady diet of Duns Scotus would be enough to make anyone lethally depressed. Saint Thomas Aquinas is a laugh riot compared to the Subtle Doctor.



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Sandra Miesel

posted August 5, 2005 at 7:16 pm


I doubt that John Kennedy Toole was ever exposed to the Subtle Doctor and his disjunctives and his haecity. I don’t think I suffered any harm from them, instilled by the best teacher I ever had in my whole educational experience.



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Noah Nehm

posted August 5, 2005 at 7:48 pm


As GKC says, you can tell what is sacred to a culture by what it regards as blasphemy.
Boy, is that the truth. I remember when I was in graduate school a friend of mine played a reggae version of “Stairway to Heaven” by Dread Zeppelin (you know, the reggae band whose lead singer, Tort-Elvis, was an Elvis Impersonator). Absolutely high-larious.
Having been throughly amused by this, I proceded to play this song to a baby-boomer friend of mine. Funny thing was that she reacted with outrage, as if something sacred had been blasphemed. At first, I was mystified by the reaction, but then realized, that for her, anything associated with the counter-culture movement of the 60s was sacred.
Good thing I never regaled her with my impression of Bob Dylan encountering a swarm of mosquitoes. Who knows what she would have done.



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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 5, 2005 at 7:56 pm


“Walker Percy’s Foreword to A Confederacy of Dunces
Perhaps the best way to introduce this novel — which on my third reading of it astounds me even more than the first — is to tell of my first encounter with it. While I was teaching at Loyola in 1976 I began to get telephone calls from a lady unknown from me. What she proposed was preposterous. It was not that she had written a couple of chapters of a novel and wanted to get into my class. It was that her son, who was dead, had written an entire novel during the early sixties, a big novel, and she wanted me to read it. Why would I want to do that? I asked her. Because it is a great novel, she said.
Over the years I have become very good at getting out of things I don’t want to do. And if ever there was something I didn’t want to do, this was surely it: to deal with the mother of a dead novelist and, worst of all, to have to read a manuscript that she said was great, and that, as it turned out, was a badly smeared, scarcely readable carbon.
But the lady was persistent, and it somehow came to pass that she stood in my office handing me the hefty manuscript. There was no getting out of it; only one hope remained — that I could read a few pages and that they would be bad enough for me, in good conscience, to read no farther. Usually I can do just that. Indeed the first paragraph often suffices. My only fear was that this one might not be bad enough, or might be just good enough, so that I would have to keep reading.
In this case I read on. And on. First with the sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good. I shall resist the temptation to say what first made me gape, grin, laugh out loud, shake my head in wonderment. Better let the reader make the discovery on his own.
Here at any rate is Ignatius Reilly, without progenitor in any literature I know of — slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one — who is in violent revolt against the entire modern age, lying in his flannel nightshirt, in a back bedroom on Constantinople Street in New Orleans, who between gigantic seizures of flatulence and eructations is filling dozens of Big Chief tablets with invective.
His mother thinks he needs to go to work. He does, in a succession of jobs. Each job rapidly escalates into a lunatic adventure, a full-blown disaster; yet each has, like Don Quixote’s, its own eerie logic.
His girlfriend, Myrna Minkoff of the Bronx, thinks he needs sex. What happens between Myrna and Ignatius is like no other boy-meets-girl story in my experiences.
By no means a lesser virtue of Toole’s novel is his rendering of the particularities of New Orleans, its back streets, its out-of-the-way neighborhoods, its odd speech, its ethnic whites — and one black in whom Toole has achieved the near-impossible, a superb comic character of immense wit and resourcefulness without the least trace of Rastus minstrelsy.
But Toole’s greatest achievement is Ignatius Reilly himself, intellectual, ideologue, deadbeat, goof-off, glutton, who should repel the reader with his gargantuan bloats, his thunderous contempt and one-man war against everybody — Freud, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Protestants, and the assorted excesses of modern times. Imagine an Aquinas gone to pot, transported to New Orleans whence he makes a wild foray through the swamps to LSU at Baton Rouge, where his lumber jacket is stolen in the faculty men’s room where he is seated, overcome by mammoth gastrointestinal problems. His pyloric valve periodically closes in response to the lack of a “proper geometry and theology” in the modern world.
I hesitate to use the word comedy — though comedy it is — because that implies simply a funny book, and this novel is a great deal more than that. A great rumbling farce of Falstaffian dimensions would better describe it; commedia would be closer to it.
It is also sad. One never quite knows where the sadness comes from — from the tragedy at the heart of Ignatius’s great gaseous rages and lunatic adventures or the tragedy attending the book itself.
The tragedy of the book is the tragedy of the author — his suicide in 1969 at the age of thirty-two. Another tragedy is the body of work we have been denied.
It is a great pity that John Kennedy Toole is not alive and well and writing. But he is not, and there is nothing we can do about it but make sure that this gargantuan tumultuous human tragicomedy is at least made available to a world of readers.”



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Catherine L

posted August 5, 2005 at 10:33 pm


Thanks for the reminder about Walker Percy’s forward. It’s funny how these things work–it instantly transported me back to where I first read the book and that forward. This was on the back porch of my grandparents’ house in Covington, LA, mere blocks from Percy’s daughter’s bookstore. I’ll take this as a sign telling me to read it again.



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HA

posted August 6, 2005 at 11:59 am


The only actor around today who might do Ignatius justice would be Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. He’d have to be less snarky, and more earnest, lose the ponytail, and maybe get prostheses for those four-fingered hands, but I think he could pull it off.
Best. Adaptation. Ever.



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Mike

posted September 5, 2005 at 12:46 pm


You are missing an actor that could play Iggy: Ethan Supplee could get the job done, so could John Fabreau.



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mike

posted September 5, 2005 at 11:31 pm


I mean Jon Favreau



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