Hell, even after the critical crap-mat The Canyons became (directed by Paul Schrader from an original script by Ellis) I'm interested in it. And geez, I don't know what the state of the Ellis-produced television adaptation of Jason Starr's The Follower is, (been a while since I heard anything, so it may not be happening), but yeah, his name raises an extra eyebrow on a property I'd already be tuned in to.
Ellis - love him, loathe him (and either for the wrong reasons) he's a compelling choice for Picture Books... Bryce, the mic is yours.
Psychofrenetic Cool: Bret Easton Ellis’ Su-su-pseudo Film Trilogy
Wielding a style self-described as ‘affectless extremism’, Ellis’ work consistently deals with the concept of postmodern terror, blending morbid satire and hyperrealist sensibilities with quintessentially-American topics/settings to create works that are both captivating and disconcerting. The film versions of his novels have managed to maintain this basic framework, albeit with varying degrees of success and exactness.
Despite the efforts of Robert Downey, Jr. as ill-fated party boy Julian and James Spader as the cruelly-engaging drug dealer Rip, Less Than Zero is simply unable to faithfully convey the noxious ambivalence of the novel. In addition to the book’s most notorious/shocking scenes being outright removed, various aspects of the characters/story are altered in a manner that dilutes the tale’s potency, a plastic veneer of morality being haphazardly applied to the malignant sentimentality conveyed in the book.
Ellis’ original vision does manage to permeate through the film’s flaws however. Cinematographer Edward Lachman is able to effectively give the setting (affluent L.A.) a noirish ambiance that belies the glossification of the teleplay while the vacant cynicism, grotesque selfishness and ethical ambiguity of the group of ostensible ‘friends’ presented in the book remains evident in small doses throughout.
Moreover, the film’s most glaring weaknesses actually serve to, unintentionally, echo the novel’s central theme (or lack thereof). The movie looks good and has a high budget but it’s ultimately an empty shell of itself, with darkly atmospheric undertones persistently imbuing a sense of foreboding dread in the viewer.
In the abstract, the wooden/vacant performances turned in by Less Than Zero’s lead actors in conjunction with the overall awkwardness propagated by the interference of the middle-aged film executives working on a multimillion dollar project makes the film almost a perfect conduit for the abject decadence Ellis’ prose evinces. So while the film fails as an adaptation, it somewhat succeeds in acting as a vehicle for the young author’s message of appearances and reality being horrifyingly interchangeable, thereby negating the value of both.
As such, the film version of Less Than Zero flourishes in a perverse realm beyond itself – a piece of art AS a piece of art, a distorted/demented recreation that both betrays and augments its origins.
Deftly and economically taking the very best scenes from Ellis’ novel and placing them in a perfectly-sequenced manner that nails the outlandish machismo and sadistic Epicureanism of maybe-serial killer Patrick Bateman’s world, Harron creates a slick, sardonic feature that perfectly encapsulates the black humor and bombastic irony of the book. While (necessarily) excluding the book’s most graphic sections, she brilliantly navigates (instead of circumventing) the shock-factor elements of the text, ironing out a wrinkly masterpiece and making the nefarious story at once more profound and accessible. Just as the live versions of ‘I Want You To Want Me’, ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ and… well, all of Frampton Comes Alive are more successful than their studio versions, so too is Mary Harron’s American Psycho an improvement upon Ellis’ novel, a point of contention among BEE purists but indisputable IMO.
Unlike previous efforts to adapt Ellis’ work for the big screen, Avary’s film embraces the unrepentant depravity of his characters and remains utterly faithful to the novel. The frantic ennui of the multiple nontagonists are showcased in glorious fashion, with the jarringly uneven makeup of the narrative also adhered to, almost to a fault. The satirical elements are so subtle that they almost go unnoticed however, particularly for viewers not familiar with the source material.
Certain aspects of TROA didn’t particular transfer well from the 1980s novel to the early-21st century film either (a line of dialog pertaining to the writing of a letter is particularly glaring anachronism, forced into the screenplay most likely because it really is a great line)… Nonetheless, The Rules of Attraction remains the most faithful adaptation of a BEE novel and the one with which he has stated is his favorite.
Bret Easton Ellis’ three theatrically-released film adaptations are at seemingly odds with each other, their producers/marketers, and, to an extent, themselves. They each present a unique interpretation of their source material and their lack of collective cohesion and combative nature with one another as entities is, in a way, a microcosm of what Ellis’ schizophrenic marque has become – by design, accident or otherwise… Much like this rambling, overwritten/semi-coherent essay, Ellis’ pseudo-trilogy is essentially an elegant collection of tales brimming with sound and fury - signifying nothing.
The Spartak Trigger is presently available from Bedlam Press.