Billy Wilder, Danny Boyle and others

Director’s Dreams

As part of our enquiry into the connection between literature and film we asked a few prominent and promising directors which book they would most like to make into a movie, given a totally free choice. We received the following replies:

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BILLY WILDER

It would have to be Josefine Mutzenbacher, an early twentieth century pornographic work, which is thought to be by Felix Salten who also wrote Bambi. Why? Because the costumes would be so cheap. It is the diary of a prostitute whose father was a janitor. It’s a delicious piece of literature, the most obscene, pornographic piece of Austrian literature. I’d like to do the screen tests all day.

(Mr Wilder’s best-known films are Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, The Apartment and Some Like It Hot)

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ROMAN POLANSKI

I would choose The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, because of its originality, humour and the richness of its emotions.

(Mr Polanski’s most recent film is Bitter Moon)

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RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH

For me, it would have to be a biography of the great English radical Thomas Paine, to illuminate his extraordinary work the Rights of Man, which I first read in my late teens.

(Mr Attenborough’s most recent film is Shadowlands)

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MICHAEL MANN

Aside from Man’s Fate (developed numerous times), Paradise Lost, and the obscure Out of the Night, the following is my answer: The Prophet Armed and The Prophet Unarmed (the first two parts of a trilogy) by Isaac Deutscher, the definitive biography of Leon Trotsky. It is the triumph and tragedy of the revolutionary who, with Lenin, turned the world upside-down.

(Mr Mann’s most recent film is The Last of the Mohicans)

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PEDRO ALMODÓVAR

A novel I would love to make into a film is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. This marvellous book is funny, pathetic and intelligent. The characters are a wonderful gallery of freaks. Although it is a very American story, it has elements of humour that are very similar to mine, at the same time realistic and absurd.

(Mr Almodóvar’s latest film is Kika)

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JOHN SCHLESINGER

What I would really like to film is a combination of Hadrian the Seventh, a novel written by Frederick William Rolfe (aka Baron Corvo), and A J A Symons’s The Quest for Corvo. The mixture of the paranoia of the writer (Rolfe), his thwarted desire to be a Catholic priest and the fantasy of what he would try and achieve were he to be accepted into the Catholic Church reveal a grandeur of ambition and generosity of spirit that he was incapable of expressing in real life.

(Mr Schlesinger’s latest film is The Innocent, based on the Ian McEwan novel)

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MILOS FORMAN

Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger

It is fascinating to go through history and discover how the whole of international politics is alternatively being shaped by two contradictory philosophies about human nature – one which is based on a preposition that man is basically good and the other one based on the preposition that man is basically evil. The intriguing part is that very often, international politics based on a belief in the goodness of man is causing far greater catastrophes, tragedies and bloodshed than the politics that are governed by the belief that man is basically evil.

(Mr Forman’s most recent film is Valmont)

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WIM WENDERS

Many years ago (approx. 15 years) I tried to get hold of the film rights for The Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith, but unfortunately the rights were already optioned by someone else. Recently, I was interested in The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, but again the rights were not free. Anyway, I prefer to develop and write my own stories together with coauthors.

(Mr Wenders’s latest film is Far Away, So Close)

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NORMAN JEWISON

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

I have been carrying this novel, which is the first part of the Deptford trilogy, with me for ten years. To me it speaks with a very Canadian voice/point of view. Though it takes place in a small Canadian town, during the First World War, this is not a provincial book. It deals with conflict of class, mysticism and magic. It could be regarded as Canada’s Citizen Kane.

(Mr Jewison’s latest film is Other People’s Money)

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PETER GREENAWAY

We don’t need books to make films. It’s the last thing we want – it turns cinema into a bastard art of illustration. Besides cinema is a poor narrative medium compared to literature. If a narrative is created in words, that’s where it should stay.

(Mr Greenaway’s most recent film is The Baby of Macon)

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DANNY BOYLE

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Every so often a book comes along that makes your teeth ache – like eating ice cream in February. This honest, ferocious and blazingly funny account of life in Edinburgh on smack and the alternative economy is a truly subversive experience. Trainspotting lets you know just how wonderful and essential heroin is. This is alarming and responsible. You can understand why you just can’t say no even if it does mean sharing needles sometimes. Free of the usual moral baggage you’re expected to traipse around territory like this, Trainspotting would be a hand grenade of a film. Proof that low-budget British films are essential to the health of the nation.

(Danny Boyle’s first feature, Shallow Grave, will be released this autumn)

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KENNETH BRANAGH

We contacted Mr Branagh’s office and were told that ‘Mr Branagh does not partake in such things’.

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