Friday, August 17, 2007

Stop Time, Change Directors?

By Mike Gillis

I'm not sure when I first stumbled upon Nicholson Baker's "The Fermata", a pulp-novel premise dressed up as literature, but I do recall enjoying it quite a bit. It's a sordid little tale about a thirty-something temp worker who can stop time at will and often satisfies an urge to undress women in stasis. This guilty pleasure of a book is a bit more complicated and the protagonist avoids using his temporal control for evil gain.

No summary of a Nicholson novel -- or essay -- does the work justice. Baker's prose is the real joy. It's simply among the best contemporary examples of the craft. Baker also has a gift of exploring the human psyche in very frank, simple and revelatory ways, often spending pages of exquisite exposition on otherwise banal matters.

Baker has long been one of my favorite modern writers but I've wondered how well any of his works would translate to film.

It seems we may soon find out.

Author and screenwriter Neil Gaiman, who penned a script for the "The Fermata" some years back, was recently quoted as saying advances in special effects, particularly those used in Robert Zemeckis's upcoming "Beowulf," may convince the director the time is right to set up a lens for Baker's book.

Although "The Fermata" is arguably the most "filmable" of Baker's ouevre, I'm skeptical Zemeckis. I just can't picture Tom Hanks in the lead, undressing still-life women and having his way. It's no secret I'm not a fan of the actor, who in the past wins too much praise for "daring" roles that are actually no risk to his career at all. ("Philadelphia" anyone?)

Perhaps I'm one of a handful of people who despise that Zemeckis and Hanks abomination, "Forrest Gump". So be it. But there's no way that formula -- and formulaic approach -- will help serve "The Fermata".

I'm not sure how Zemeckis ended up with the project, but it likely had something to do with the book's time on the bestseller list and the rave reviews that excused its cheap sci-fi set-up. Perhaps the director saw that reaction as a way to make a quasi sci-fi picture with some built-in critic proofing. Who knows.

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

In the mean time, I'll be waiting anxiously for Baker's next book.


See a 1994 interview with Baker on the Charlie Rose Show here: