Toole’s Ghost Will Walk Streets of New Orleans

I’m often in touch with New Orleans filmmaker, documentarian and screenwriter Dave DuBos so I’ve no excuse for missing Mike Fleming‘s 2.8 Deadline story about DuBos’ forthcoming film version of Butterly in the Typewriter, based on Cory MacLauchlin’s biography of “Confederacy of Dunces” author John Kennedy Toole.

DuBos wrote the screenplay and will direct the New Orleans-set film starting in May.

Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Kong: Skull Island) will soon begin inhaling pasta, ice cream and cheeseburgers to play the late Toole, who attained Victor Buono-like proportions before offing himself at age 31.


(l. to r.) Butterly in the Typewriter costars Susan Sarandon, Thomas Mann, Diane Kruger.

Susan Sarandon will play Toole’s mom; Diane Kruger will also star.

I love the notion of a butterfly in a typewriter — that darting, dancing, elusive thing that you’re trying to capture when you write. It’s from an unpublished O’Toole poem called “The Arbiter.”

As Dubos’s film is not an adaptation of “A Confederacy of Dunces” and was written about two years ago, the following HE article, posted on 11.16.12, doesn’t apply:

“Any widely admired screenplay that has not been filmed over the period of several years (like, for instance, the various efforts at adapting John Kennedy Toole‘s A Confederacy of Dunces) is either doomed to stay on the sidelines for eternity or it won’t pan out if it finally does get made. And the reason is that oft-referenced rule of creative potency.

“Once something has been written (be it a novel or a screenplay), the movie version has to be made within four to six years or the film will feel faintly musty or ossified or precious on some level.

“Once the egg is laid, it has to hatch within nature’s timetable. Strike while the iron is hot or the magic will escape. Because once the ship has sailed, the ship has sailed. As Lem Dobbs has acknowledged via a quote from Frederic Raphael, to wit: ‘Screenplays don’t age like wine — they age like fruit.'”

Again — DuBos’ relatively recent screenplay is not an example of this syndrome.

At the end of the piece I wrote that “nobody will ever want to see a movie about a fat, brilliant, super-depressed guy living with his mother in New Orleans, based on a novel authored by a fat brilliant guy who killed himself at age 31.” I take that back. Well, partly. Mann is going to put on some pounds, as noted, but “he isn’t going to do a Robert De Niro,” DuBos says. As long as we’re not dealing with a massively obese guy, I’m ready to roll with this.

  • Dr. New Jersey

    “Once something has been written (be it a novel or a screenplay), the movie version has to be made within four to six years or the film will feel faintly musty or ossified or precious on some level.” There are always exceptions such as The Man Who Would Be King.

    • Raygo

      One of my all-time favorites.

      • Dr. New Jersey

        I don’t think the Bogart/Gable version would have been as nearly as great.

    • Melanierrodgers

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    • filmklassik

      And of course THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), OUT OF AFRICA, CASINO ROYALE, THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), and — even though I have no personal affection for it — lots of people love Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

      And then there’s every goddamn Merhant-Ivory movie ever made (e.g., all those stately and seemingly interchangable Henry James/Evelyn Waugh/EM Forrester adaptations: HOWARD’S END, THE BOSTONIANS, ROOM WITH A VIEW, etc), and every origin story in the Marvel Universe (the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby originals were written back in the 1960s), and anything by Dickens, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and hundreds of other people whose work predates their quality film adaptations by decades.

      “Once something has been written (be it a novel or a screenplay) the movie version has to be made within four to six years…”

      Say what now??

  • “Confederacy of Dunces” would make a terrible movie, and I loved the book. The characters and situations are so bizarre and over the top that an accurate visual reproduction would be unwatchable. And if you edited the story and watered it down, as you’d have to for a 2-hour movie, it wouldn’t be true to the novel. Leave it alone.

    As for a bio of O’Toole, it’s probably going to be depressing. Not sure if there’s an audience for it.