Friday, January 29, 2016
That story, written a bit after the one I just finished reading, but published first, introduced a concept by King that I find fascinating, and I wonder why he never revisited it.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. As I said in a previous post, I have been reading Different Seasons, a collection of novellas, three of which have already been adapted to film.
The Body, adapted into film in 1986 as Stand By Me, as well as Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, adapted as The Shawshank Redemption in 1994, have become modern classics of cinema, so much so that many refuse to believe King wrote them. After all, doesn't he only write horror? Well, no, and Different Seasons was a blatant attempt to prove that.
Apt Pupil, adapted to film and keeping its own name in 1998, isn't really thought of as a classic, or really, even a good film, but to be honest, that story is so dark that I don't see a successful film version ever being made. I'll talk more about all these in a future "skipped stories" post. Suffice it to say that the first three novellas in this collection don't need another film version.
But then there's that last story: The Breathing Method. Efforts have been made to film this in the past. I believe the rights still belong to a studio and that somewhere there's a studio suit swearing this will become a film some day. But it's very hard to film, and for several reasons.
First, it's fairly short. The shortest, in fact, of the four novellas in Different Seasons (Apt Pupil and The Body are almost long enough to be considered full novels). Second, probably half its length isn't focused on the actual story that the title refers to. Instead, a large bulk of The Breathing Method is set at a stately "gentlemen's club", back when that title wasn't a lofty euphemism for "strip joint". This is the same club used in the setup for The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands.
Now, I know that I've stated that I won't be doing anthology films on this blog, no matter how fascinating or needing to be filmed a short tale is. But in this case, I feel that the framing device for both stories is more engrossing than the stories themselves. See, this club with no name is very mysterious. Membership seems to be little more than being invited to attend an evening. Each Thursday, someone is chosen to tell a story, a true story, and he begins by dumping a bag of phosphorescent powder on the fire, causing it to briefly reflect a kaleidoscope of color, announcing that the tale has begun.
That's right. Stephen King invented the Midnight Society.
Each Christmas, a tale is told of the supernatural or the macabre. Again, these are all supposedly true. There's one such tale that the narrator decides to spare us, but he says to this day he wakes up in the middle of the night shouting "His head! It still speaks in the earth!" Chills literally up and down the spine, folks.
But we're not done. Stevens, the indefatigable butler who seemingly operates the club single-handedly, strikes our narrator as having the sort of eyes that have seen more than a mortal man is supposed to. Even in The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands, another club member remarks that Stevens has been there "since he can remember", in other words, back to the twenties, and while Stevens insists that was his grandfather, and later his father, that club member insists the resemblance is too close to perfect for that to be believable.
Also, professionally published books can be found in the club's library that, according to any source outside the club, don't actually exist.
Also one night, our narrator, the one who narrates scenes from within the club itself, is a bit late to leave one night and hears a liquidy thump from upstairs. He has never been upstairs, and isn't sure any of the other club members have, either. He asks Stevens about it, and Stevens tells him that he isn't sure he really wants the answer to that. He does allude to the fact that all floors have entrances...and exits. Possibly into Other Worlds Than These.
King has, completely without meaning to, I am sure, made it so this club might very well be located at one of the "thin places" in each world, and might be very similar to other buildings in the Dark Tower series that have doors that open onto other worlds. Why this couldn't be incorporated into the Dark Tower movie series is beyond me. In fact, I'd insist on it, if the SKCU ever became a reality.
And it is because of this that I say, let's not make a movie simply of The Breathing Method. Let's make a movie called The Club, and include both sub-stories, The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands and The Breathing Method, but ultimately, its focus will be on the club itself.
Within The Club and Present Day
First, we'd have to establish the club, and its members. The action begins with a New York lawyer, David Adley, being invited to an evening at the club by the senior partner in his firm. As one evening becomes two, three, and then years of attendance, he realizes all the aspects of the club that make it strange. He's not even sure the interior of the club is in the same dimension that he lives in. This is very interesting, because this might mean it's possible that several members of the club come from alternate realities. Stevens is always the one to open the door and close it again. He might choose for them where they're being picked up from and dropped off too.
Stephens is described as "white-haired", meaning he's probably an old man, and with a Brooklyn accent, though honestly he could be from anywhere. I finally centered on James Cromwell, whose great height would aid in making the character seem slightly otherworldly.
The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands
Though in the books, I think this tale is told after The Breathing Method, I thought it should go first in a film, as it's the simplest of the two and the least heart-wrenching.
This story concerns an early period in the club's history, somewhere in the mid twenties, when a young George Gregson and Peter Andrews are joined for a hand of cards by an enthusiastic young man named Jason Davidson and a somewhat odd gentleman named Henry Brower, who recoils whenever someone offers to shake his hand or even if it seems that someone might accidentally touch him. The men play their hand, Brower wins, and Davidson enthusiastically pumps his hand before Brower can withdraw it. Brower reacts with utter horror and bolts from the club. Gregson follows him outside where Brower is waiting for a cab. He reluctantly tells Gregson where his winnings can be sent, but talks in great terms of the woe he feels at being forever an outcast. He touches a stray dog, which keels over dead shortly after.
You can tell what the twist is.
For Brower, I was trying to think of an actor who can do the wide-eyed shocked face of pure terror, and after a while I realized I was thinking of Simon Pegg's face when he would look terrified in A Fantastic Fear of Everything. I don't think he'd have a problem playing Brower.
The Breathing Method
I'm going to spoil things here. It's kinda unavoidable.
The final story for this film will be the bittersweet tale of young Sheila Stevens, who arrives by herself in Dr. Emlyn McCarron's office, unwed and pregnant. McCarron is struck by how self-possessed she is, how determined to see this through, and how well she's bearing up despite being an unwed mother in a time when such women were always and only objects of scorn.
McCarron teaches her a method of pain control during delivery that she takes to like a fish to water. It will of course later be termed Lamaze method, but as Lamaze was several years away (this story takes place in 1935), it's simply called the breathing method. Gradually McCarron comes to admire the young lady, even fancy her, though he denies he ever fell in love with her.
Then, the night of her delivery, during a freak snowstorm, her cab hits some black ice and collides with an ambulance. In the ensuing accident, Sheila is decapitated, but by some miracle of will, her body keeps the breathing method going until the baby is delivered.
It's actually far more touching than it sounds.
For young McCarron, many might think the obvious choice would be one of Donald Sutherland's sons. After all, both are actors. However, Keifer is too old to play a 35-year-old man, and Rossif simply isn't well-known enough (nor, in my opinion, a good enough actor) to carry an entire act of a movie. So I went with Scoot McNairy, who has a slight resemblance to a young Sutherland.
Next Up: Christine!