The Drop Edge of Yonder

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The Drop Edge of Yonder

Post  Ludvig on Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:07 am

Eric Davis, in his review of the novel The Drop Edge of Yonder by Rudy Wurlitzer ("How the West Was Fun", Bookforum, April/May 2008):

In the late '70s, Wurlitzer began a screenplay about a mountain man named Zebulon who gets shot in the heart and tracks his family to say good-bye; he dies in the Pacific Northwest and is put to sea in a burning canoe. The script had a more tortured career than most, and the project passed through a number of hands before winding up in those of Jim Jarmusch. Wurlitzer and Jarmusch were pals from the Lower East Side, and Wurlitzer respected his work; they talked for a few weeks before amicably parting ways. Wurlitzer didn't hear anything more about the project until he saw Jarmusch's 1995 Dead Man, a visionary western whose protagonist is shot in the heart before traveling to the Pacific Northwest and dying in a canoe. Wurlitzer considered suing, then decided that it would be toxic and pointless and opted instead to transform his tale into The Drop Edge of Yonder, whose cinematic tensions are partly the result of Wurlitzer working through his long and complicated life of writing for the screen. In the end, Wurlitzer said in an e-mail, he wound up "feeling rather perversely grateful for Jim's unconscious rape and pillage".

Allegedly, the film was meant to star Tom Waits. Confusingly, Jarmusch and Wurlitzer originally (this was around 1989) intended to call the film Ghost Dog, which of course ended up as the name of an alltogether different Jarmusch pic, in 1999.

From an interview with Jim Jarmusch in FilmZone in 1996:

Q: Didn't you originally intend to make Dead Man in 1989, following Mystery Train?

A: No, it wasn't Dead Man. It was another story called Ghost Dog. It was a somewhat different story: there was no William Blake, of course. There were a few elements that were sort of pillaged from that for Dead Man, but it's not the same story. I wasn't able to get that film financed and I basically abandoned it. And when I wrote Dead Man I didn't even reread it or refer to it, because I had a painful relationship to it because I wasn't able to get it off.

Wurlitzer is best known as the author of two classic screenplays,Two-Lane Blacktop and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid; he is also the author of three cult novels (Nog, Flats, Quake), a novel about the movies (Slow Fade), and a travelogue (Hard Travel to Sacred Places).

Joe O'Brien, "On the Drift: Rudy Wurlitzer and the Road to Nowhere", in Arthur Magazine (#29, May 2008):

Rudy, typical of his gentle nature, speaks of this without much bitterness and even laughs about it. His old friend Alex Cox, however, is not so kind. 'Jarmusch just stole the idea, which was really shocking,' Cox said when I called him at his Oregon home. 'I haven't been able to speak to Jarmusch since that happened. Rudy could've sued him. I would've sued the guy's ass.' Rudy ultimately lets his work set the record straight with Drop Edge, an old hand laying down what may well be the best piece of writing he's ever done.

- - -

Arthur: Jim Jarmusch was interested in it too, right?

RW: Right, Jarmusch was going to direct it but after talking about it for a few weeks it became clear that we each had a different point of view of what the script was going to be and we went our separate ways. I was surprised when he lifted some important themes from the script for his film Dead Man. Let's just say that was an awkward situation. [laughs] At least for me.

Arthur: I'd seen Dead Man before I read Drop Edge but some of the similarities are striking.

RW: Yeah, he took a lot. But I think the book is sufficiently different. And in a way, the good part of it is after a while I felt compelled to write my own version to get away from what had essentially been contaminated. Not just by Jim, but by the whole long journey of the script. I'd done a lot of research in each variation, along with a script on the gold rush that I never got on. So I had all this stuff in me. And after years of reading and inhabiting that world, I became very much at ease with the vernacular. And that always seemed to me to be very important in a so-called historical novel. I didn't want it to just be a novel about historical information. So all the film stuff provoked me to go underneath, to explore some other layers.

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