Wednesday, September 12, 2007


This week's movie:

I’ve decided that I don’t read enough books.

This week’s movie, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, is the big screen adaptation of the highly acclaimed bestselling novel by Patrick Suskind. It has been translated from the original German into English and various other languages. It was long thought unfilmable as a movie because it’s about the sense of smell - which is difficult to convey in a visual medium like film. But I guess they were wrong!

This isn’t the first time they were wrong about this. Other “unfilmable” movies include Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Naked Lunch, A Scanner Darkly, The Lord of the Rings, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, and American Psycho. You’d think that by now, they’d stop saying things like that. (……….personally, I think they may have been partially right about the first two, but then again, I didn’t read the books - as I said, I don’t read enough books.)

Personally, I don’t know what they were thinking about. What makes a film unfilmable. In this case, they thought that film, since it’s a visual medium, would be inadequate to portray a story about the olfactory sense. What I say is, how is the book, also a visual medium, intrinsically better at it. Maybe it just is, I wouldn’t know. Maybe I’ll get a better idea of these things once I get around to reading more books.

The story takes place in Paris, about 300 years ago (don’t worry, it’s in English, not French - sheeeeesh!). Our hero (”hero” in the same sense that Dracula was the hero of his own movie), Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, was born unceremoniously, in the middle of the fish market and discarded along with the fish guts and heads. Fortunately (or unfortunately for some) he survives. Why am I being so harsh on him? It is, as the title implies, the story of a murderer. Grenouille, it seems, has perhaps the most highly developed sense of smell ever. Though he was born in the smelliest spot on earth, he hasn’t learned (yet) the difference between “good” smells and “bad” smells. But he does learn quick.

Once he has discovered good smells (he has met a woman), he seeks a way to preserve the smell - and so he goes to work for a perfumer, comically played by Dustin Hoffman (his Italian accent is so outrageous, you can’t keep from laughing).

Grenouille, we shall say, was not brought up in a wholesome environment, and the result is someone who is entirely without social graces - or morals. He’s not evil or wicked. Goodness or wickedness never even enters the picture. He does what he does and without regard to the consequences. It’s a classical case of anti-social behavior. He is totally obsessed with smells and anything he does to create new scents is A-OK with him (I’m not giving anything away here - look at the title for goodness sake!).

He’s been compared to the character, Tom Ripley, in The Talented Mr. Ripley, but I don’t think so. Ripley was calculating, he knew what he was doing. Grenouille doesn’t, he just does stuff without regard - he’s more like the Owen Wilson character in The Minus Man, except that he’s not as pleasant. Although he’s an unlikable character, we still root for him. This is not unusual. It’s the same reason we rooted for Hannibal Lecter to escape at the end of Silence of the Lambs, and we rooted for the Minus Man, and for The Joker in Batman, and for Mrs. Tingle. We respect interesting characters and want them to come back for the sequel.

The film is twisted and macabre, it’s funny and frightening, it’s dark balanced with just the right amount of comic relief, and it’s always fascinating. It’s narrated by John Hurt (fast becoming my favorite narrator), who, by the way, reads lots of books. It takes chances and is NOT politically correct. The film has wanted to be made, apparently, for some time. Several high priced directors, who it seems, also read books, have been trying, without success, to get the movie right from the author. These include Ridley Scott, Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, Milos Forman, and Stanley Kubrick (I would’ve loved to see the Kubrick version). Actual director, Tom Tykwer, is no slouch. He made one of my past recommendations Run, Lola, Run.

So, I’ll be reading more now. I think I should start with books that were made into some of my favorite films. I’ve listed my proposed reading list below.

  1. Animal Farm - Reader’s Digest abridged version.
  2. War and Peace - Cliff Notes
  3. Sin City - The graphic novel
  4. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - liner notes for the audiobook.
  5. Spider-man - any one issue, not the whole series of course!
  6. The Lord of the Rings - inside dust jacket.
  7. MulHolland Dr. - collection of film reviews.
  8. Catch 22 - condensed minutes of the Boston Book Club discussions.
  9. Amelie - the English subtitles.
  10. Tristram Shandy - In keeping with the spirit of the film, I’ll start reading it and then never finish.

C’Mon. If I actually “read” all those books, when would I had enough time to watch more movies??

It smells good - it is good.

view trailer


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