July 24, 2008
Waxing (Philip) Roth
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Although tension-filled, "The Ghost Writer" unfolds at a somewhat leisurely pace, making the film perhaps not the most exciting adaptation of Roth's work, though certainly one of the most successful, conveying a measure of his writing's literary texture.
Twenty years passed after the PBS version of "The Ghost Writer" before another Roth novel made it to the screen. In the interim, Roth experienced a second wind as a novelist unparalleled in American letters, during which he won almost every major prize and award available to him, including the National Book Critics Award, the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen Faulkner award, among many others. If he were an athlete, you would have him checked for steroids. In this new era, almost everything he wrote was optioned, including "The Human Stain."
"The Human Stain" (2003), which stars Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, was the easiest of Roth's films I sought out -- Blockbuster had many copies -- but it is probably the least successful adaptation of his work.
I will offer here that I once tried to option "The Human Stain" myself, but was outbid. My thought was to treat it as a murder mystery in which the detective uncovers a secret he had not bargained for. The hoped-for casting was Paul Newman (his agent when approached said, "Bring me an offer") and Ellen Barkin. So perhaps I am biased, but I believe that "The Human Stain" is a miss -- whether you blame it on the casting or for being too faithful to the novel's exposition, the story just doesn't work on screen. The most poignant moments of the novel do not resonate.
Still, watching "The Human Stain" the other night, I was struck by how Roth weaved elements of the personal dramas of Anatole Broyard, who like Roth's hero, reached great heights while leaving his African American heritage behind, and R. B. Kitaj, who blamed his wife's death on those who attacked him -- all the while setting this against the backdrop of the Monica Lewinski affair and the Clinton impeachment investigation.