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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Club

Remember back when I said I might not skip over an adaptation of The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands? Well, I'm glad I said that, because I won't be.

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.
As for our "narrator", which I put in quotes because he only narrates the club scenes, David Adley is a role that could stand some beefing up. He does little but come to the club, meet the other members, drink, read and listen to the stories being told. His curiosity as to what the club really is should probably drive the story's main narrative and it will help having a good, dependable, classic actor to play him. I chose William Hurt.
Then there are the three men who tell the tales. The first, an 85-year-old man named George Gregson, talks about witnessing "a murder" in this very room. For both narrators I wanted an old character actor with a strong speaking voice. For Gregson I chose Christopher Plummer.
The second tale-teller, this being the man who tells us the story of The Breathing Method, is an 80-year-old retired doctor names Emlyn McCarron. He is described as being "cadaverous", and somehow the doleful, somehow alarming eyes of Donald Sutherland were communicated to me.
The final tale-teller, whose story Adley doesn't relay to the reader because it's so horrifying, is told by a man named Peter Andrews, described as a big man with a ruddy beard. Strangely enough, while Andrews is present to listen to McCarron's tale, he actually is a character in Gregson's. A big man with a ruddy beard has got to be Brendan Gleeson.
Another George, this one George Waterhouse, is the senior partner at Adley's firm who first invites him to the club but never loses his stiff formality. Somehow, this made me think of David Straithairn.
Finally, Adley discusses some of his findings about the club with his wife Ellen. Not a huge role, but I pictured her being played by Wendy Malick.
But now, for the stories themselves:

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.
For young Gregson, I chose an actor who, like Christopher Plummer, is tall, deep-voiced and handsome. He's actually Gregory Peck's grandson, Ethan Peck, and while Plummer and Peck will never be mistaken for each other, the fact that they're both classic actors will probably help here.
The younger version of Andrews should probably naturally be played by Brendan Gleeson's son. No, Domhnall Gleeson looks very little like his father, but I was speaking of the other one, Brian Gleeson.
As for Davidson, well, the story doesn't give us much to go on, but I like Fran Kranz for the role because he's the right age, able to portray enthusiastic very well, and has a jawline that says 1920's to me, for some reason.

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.
For Sheila, the choice was easy. When it describes her youth, delicate beauty and perfect poise and self-possession, I picked Saoirse Ronan.
There's only one other role in this story worth casting; McCarron's nurse, Ella Davidson. Yeah...Ella, Ellen. Davidson again. And heck, the title character in The Body is named Brower. Not sure what this means other than King likes to reuse names. Anyway, she's stern and disapproving at first, but once she gets to know Sheila, she turns motherly. I pictured her as Michelle Fairley.
I do plan on another skipped stories post where I'll talk more about the other stories from Different Seasons. I'm about to read the short stories The Raft and Word Processor of the Gods, and after that it's Christine. I've read that one once, and I do think it could stand to be remade.

Next Up: Christine!


  1. Brilliant. Really. I love this post, and now I want this project to happen just like this. I love the idea of combining the two stories, and digging into the otherworldly feel of the club. And it may be the only way you could ever make The Breathing Method a reality. Hurt, Plummer, Cromwell, and Strathairn are all great fits, although I almost might prefer Donald Sutherland as Stephens, just because of that voice (as well as having the requisite tall and slender build).

    After hearing that you were considering The Breathing Method, I thought a little about who could play Sheila, and hadn't settled on anyone, but Ronan would be perfect. She does have a dignified air about her that's essential to the character. Now, I don't usually bother much with this, but it's going to take some very delicate direction to capture the strange tenderness of the story, especially after the accident, enough so that I'd kind of like to see that addressed. I'm not nearly as familiar with young, non-established directors as I am with many young actors, but one name that came to mind was Colin Trevorrow. There were elements of Jurassic World that I didn't love, but he has shown a nice touch with another very unusual story before in Safety Not Guaranteed, which I think could have been a total disaster in the wrong hands.

    For The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands, I don't have any strong feelings. I remember liking it, and was glad to return back to the club, but it had nowhere near the resonance as The Breathing Method. I love Simon Pegg, but he's one of those guys that I can't help but crack up when I see his face, even on Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, and I doubt I'm the only one, so that might be a strike against him if you want it to be taken seriously. Other than that, no questions whatsoever. I seriously love this entry way more than I would have ever expected.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. The concept of the club really intrigues me. If King ever returns to it, I hope there's a bit more exploring of what's going on with it, but at the same time I don't want him to reveal too much.

      Sutherland's voice is good for narration, though if I take Bryant's advice there's no need to ensure a good speaking voice for TMWWNSH, and that also eliminates your issues with Pegg. I like Pegg and I like giving comic actors a chance to do something serious, but I do understand where you're coming from.

      I have yet to see a Trevorrow movie. I didn't realize he did Safety Not Guaranteed, so I'll have to give that one a watch. Otherwise, the first movie of his that I'll see is the Star Wars movie he's directing.

    2. I watched Safety Not Guaranteed tonight. It was a cute quirky little movie.

      I'm not sure if it recommends Trevorrow to me for this film (though it doesn't suggest he's wrong for it), but I think I found my Ben Hanscomb!

    3. Yeah, as I said, I don't know as many names for directors except for the really established ones, but my theory is that the oddball concept in Safety Not Guaranteed probably required a steady hand and probably a bit more skill to make it work than your average low-budget indie. The Breathing Method has so many weird elements that I think unless there's a director who is okay with highly unusual storylines, it could lose everything in translation. I'm not set on Trevorrow, he's just who came to mind.

      For Ben Hanscomb, are you suggesting Mark Duplass? I only know It from the mini-series, and am planning on reading it soon. That seemed like one that would be good to be familiar with, so I know what the hell you're talking about. I have a couple other books I'm trying to get through first, so I'm hoping it's at least a month (or more) until that one's up, because that thing is a doorstop, almost as big as The Stand.

    4. Trevorrow seems well-rounded, and that's a good thing.

      Yeah, I think Duplass would make a good Ben. I didn't expect him to be such a good singer, too, though that's not why I thought of him for Ben.

      Pet Sematary is my next full novel after Christine, and after that, The Tlisman, then Thinner, and then It. And the short stories in between. So you've got some time. I do recommend the novel, barring one scene toward the end.

  2. I'm not positive of this -- by which I mean that I've got no proof of it -- but I'm 99% certain that King's idea for the club came at least partially from Peter Straub's novel "Ghost Story." It includes four old men who occasionally meet and tell each other ghost stories; they call themselves the Chowder Society. It's only a subordinate feature of that novel (which is GREAT, if you've never read it), and I suspect that King was inspired by that to do something similar, but more formalized and ultimately very different; which he certainly did with "The Breathing Method."

    I'm the weirdo who actually thinks "The Breathing Method" is the best story in "Different Seasons." Or if not that, exactly, I'd say it's my favorite. I think there's a hell of a good movie waiting to be made from it. It won't be easy to do, but that shouldn't stop 'em from trying. I don't think it would ever happen (a good version, I mean; a bad one certainly could) unless a real fan gets his/her hands on it and tries to find a way to keep the story intact. Odds are, if it gets made it will be by somebody who finds every reason to tear the story apart, and "fix" what needs no fixing.

    Personally, I'd keep "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" out of the movie altogether. Or, at least, I wouldn't show the story via filmed cutaways; it might work okay for one of the members to tell it briefly as a means of establishing the conceit of the club, but I don't think it's a strong enough story to devote any filming to it.

    I think it would be fun to instead focus on the actors. Have a few of them tell brief stories, and give the performers a chance to shine by not cutting away from them.

    I love James Cromwell, but I don't like him for the role of Stephens. I'd kind of like for Stephens to seem unimportant for most of the movie, and only at the end to be revealed as . . . well, I guess "revealed" is the wrong word, but I'd want him in the end to be hinted at as being . . . well, let's say rather more important than we'd been lead to believe. The first name that comes to mind in that capacity for me is Mark Rylance. I'm not sure that's because I'd actually want Rylance, though. I think I'd want somebody the audience didn't know at all (as was mostly the case with Rylance in "Bridge of Spies"), and therefore had NO expectations of. My actual impulse would be to hire a veteran theatre actor who was good enough to go toe to toe with any of the other actors in the film, but who had perhaps literally never even been in a film before, so he would fly totally under the radar for as long as the movie needed him to.

    I like pretty much everyone else you've suggested, though. Well done!

    1. I've never read anything by Straub except the two books he wrote with King...other than an abortive attempt to read Shadowland (at least I'm pretty sure it was Shadowland) and thinking it stunk, so I put it down just a few chapters in. I'll have to check out Ghost Story.

      My thought about including TMWWNSH is that it would show the main purpose of the club and give us a warmup for the bigger story. That said, if we leave it out all together, I recommend dumping Sutherland and keeping Plummer in the narrator role, in this case McCarron.

      It's funny how you mention Rylance as being an unknown when I think he's about to become a pretty big star. I do dig the idea that Stevens be played by a total unknown theatrically trained actor, but as you say, such an actor would probably be unknown to you and I. And I do know about some theatrically trained actors whose film careers don't exist.

      All that said, glad you liked this. I'm doing Christine for sure, but I want to ask you; what do you think of there being an implication that Christine was one of the Low Men's cars before falling into LeBay's hands? Maybe one that went rogue or something.

    2. Regarding the "Christine" question: I think it's a valid way to go about an adaptation, but just for my own tastes, I don't like it. As the years have gone on, I've gotten resistant to the notion of all of King's stories linking together. To me, it sort of makes his universe seem smaller, not larger.

      Take that with a grain of salt, though, because I'm the guy who toys around with the idea of writing his own fanfic sequel to the Dark Tower series just so he can bring in Carrie White and John Smith (among others). So I get the impulse!

      Agreed on Rylance. It's entirely possible he'll steal the Oscar from Stallone this year, and then he'll have "The BFG."

      Straub is very much a divisive figure among King fans. He has a very -- VERY -- different approach than King has, at least in the handful of novels of his I've read. I like "Shadowland" a lot, but I can also see quite easily how somebody else would find it insufferable. "Ghost Story" is in much the same boat, though I'd say it's a lot more accessible.

    3. Dang my nerdy heart. I LOVE finding little connections in King's books. It can be as simple as a character with the same last name as another character in another story, and my ears perk up. I'm not all that far into Christine this time (job hunt), but I have read it before and correct me if I'm wrong; there's no explanation for her...behavior, is there? That's why I wondered if implying she's a Low Men car might work.

      Hey, as for that fanfic, why not Charlie McGee? Okay, so she's still alive, but there are other ways of crossing the dimensional boundaries.

      I think Stallone's win is pretty safe. His only real competition wasn't even nominated. But I've been wrong before.

      Shadowland lost me with the whole scene of the kid being brought into the Dean's office (or whatever he was; it's been years) and told the story that ends with the line "Begin to eat, my dogs." It just sounded so...stilted. Like, people don't actually talk this way. King is very good with natural-sounding dialogue, to the point where even in The Dark Tower, High Speech sounds natural.

    4. I can't remember if there is a definitive explanation for Christine's behavior or not; I tend to think the movie moreso than the novel, and the movie definitely has no explanation.

      I would definitely include Charlie in that fanfic if and when it got written. Her and many, many others. Probably never going to happen, though; I'm much too lazy to do any intensive writing.