John Updike at the Movies
Seventeen years later, Mad Max director Grorge Miller's film version of Updike's The Witches of Eastwick, starring Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson, was a hit, spawning a stage musical and two unsold TV pilots in its wake. But it also took drastic liberties with Updike's 1984 novel and was described publicly by Miller as the worst creative experience of his career. "[It] "had a beautiful cast but intruded on the world of the witches. It became Nicholson's movie and dissolved into special effects," Updike told USA Today last fall, upon the publication of the book's sequel.
Indeed, the best and most faithful film adaptation of Updike came on the small screen, in the form of Fielder Cook's superb Too Far to Go (1979), which used Updike's series of short stories about Richard and Joan Maple (played by Michael Moriarty and Blythe Danner) as the basis for a devastating portrait of modern marriage from "I do" to "I'm leaving you." So impressed was Francis Coppola with the film that he decided to give it a theatrical release via his Zoetrope Studios in 1982. After a long period of unavailability, Too Far to Go has recently been issued on DVD. I urge you to see it.
Meanwhile, our own Chuck Wilson, writing at his Flickers blog, recalls a lovely passage about moviegoing from Updike's century-spanning 1996 novel In the Beauty of the Lillies, the first part of which concerns one Clarence Wilmot, a New Jersey Presbyterian minister who loses his faith and becomes an encyclopedia salesman -- as well as a fanatical movie buff.
During the summer Clarence took his own defeat indoors, deserting the sunny harsh streets of door-to-door rejection for the shadowy interiors of those moving-picture houses that, like museums of tawdry curiosities, opened their doors during the day....When Clarence had paid his nickel -- one of the brand-new Indian-head nickels, with a buffalo hulking on the reverse side -- and settled into his hard chair in the dark, carefully placing his leather salesman's case upright between his ankles, it was as if his eyes drank a flickering liquor. The passionate, comical, swift-moving action on the screen, speckled with bright scratches, entered him like an essential food which he had been hitherto denied.
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