Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How Cormac McCarthy Changed My Life

James Franco: How Cormac McCarthy Changed My Life - The Daily Beast

‘It felt like Faulkner and Melville but with grisly scenes of murder and atrocity that gave a contemporary and strangely authentic feel, as if McCarthy had actually been there.’

I read Blood Meridian when I was in my early twenties because Harold Bloom said it was one of the best books of the second half of the twentieth century. I had dropped out of UCLA to pursue acting, but Bloom was my man to point me to the important works in the Western canon, which I read fervently to make up for my lack of education. It took me a couple reads over the years to appreciate Blood’s dense, almost biblical prose, prose that delivers some of the bloodiest, darkest, and bleakest renditions of the old West I’d ever encountered.

It felt like Faulkner and Melville but with grisly scenes of murder and atrocity that gave the flavors of the old masters a new, contemporary, and strangely authentic feel; as if McCarthy had actually been there, otherwise how would he know such idiosyncratic details? Yet Blood took place in the middle of the 1800s and McCarthy wrote it in the middle of the 1980s. He could capture such an authentic tone simply because he was a master. A joke P.T. Anderson told me after watching my film, Child of God:
What’s the difference between Cormac McCarthy and God?
McCarthy is God.

Later, after acting in Freaks and Geeks, James Dean, City by the Sea, and Spider-Man, I went back to UCLA to finish my bachelor’s degree in English. I was older than most of the other students by six years, but I did it because I was serious about literature, and because the UCLA English department at the time (before the housing crash) boasted some of the top scholars in the country.

Mark Von Holden/Getty
While there, I took a class entirely devoted to McCarthy’s work, taught by a poet named Cal Bedient. Because Bedient was so interested in film he allowed us to write screenplay adaptations of McCarthy’s works; I wrote a short film script inspired by the hog stampede in Outer Dark, and another based on the scene in Child of God where Lester Ballard, the crazy outcast, discovers two dead teenagers in a car in the wilderness, and over the course of the scene realizes in stages that not only can he steal from the bodies, he can have intimate relations, and not only that, he can actually take one home so that he, the doomed reprobate, can have a companion.


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