Any widely admired screenplay that has not been filmed over the period of several years (like, for instance, the various efforts at adapting John Kennedy O’Toole‘s A Confederacy of Dunces or, more to the point, Lem Dobb‘s screenplay of Edward Ford) is either doomed to stay on the sidelines for eternity or it won’t pan out if it finally does get made. And the reason is that oft-referenced rule of creative potency.
Once something has been written (be it a novel or a screenplay), the movie version has to be made within four to six years or the film will feel faintly musty or ossified or precious on some level.
Once the egg is laid, it has to hatch within nature’s timetable. Strike while the iron is hot or the magic will escape. Because once the ship has sailed, the ship has sailed. As Dobbs himself has acknowledged via a quote from Frederic Raphael, to wit: “Screenplays don’t age like wine — they age like fruit.”
So the latest attempt to make a film of Dobbs’ Edward Ford — Tim Burton producing, Terry Zwigoff attached to direct, Michael Shannon in the lead role — probably won’t happen, and if it does…well, let’s not piss on a film that hasn’t even been made yet. But usually films that don’t get financed within four to six years probably shouldn’t be financed, and should be left alone to die like cats in the forest.
Same with Dunces — nobody will ever want to see a movie about a fat, brilliant, super-depressed guy living with his mother in New Orleans, based on a novel authored by a fat brilliant guy who killed himself at age 31.
In an 11.15 piece called “The Great Unproduced American Screenplay,” Slate‘s Matthew Dessem had made the case for Ford. “It almost seems right that Edward Ford should be immortalized in a screenplay that never quite worked out as planned,” he writes. “Or, sometimes, a movie might get made by exactly the right people at exactly the right time.”