Johnny Shaw: If we're just talking movies, I saw Cockfighter first. But I didn't see it in English until after I was out of college. I caught it on one of the Mexican TV stations when I was a teenager. I actually think it works better in Spanish.
I got back and forth on my favorite movie based on Willeford's books. But even though I have a soft spot for The Woman Chaser, I'll probably stick with Miami Blues as my favorite. I love the idiosyncratic insanity of The Woman Chaser and Warburton's performance, but give me Fred Ward as Hoke Moseley and I'm good. He was born to play that part. Miami Blues captures the balance of funny and dark that is the quintessence of Willeford.
JA: If I had to pick a still frame from any of the films it would be from Cockfighter and contain Oates, Harry Dean Stanton and Charles Willeford himself, but I too think Miami Blues is my pick of the films. I think everybody is terrific in that movie. It was my first exposure to Jennifer Jason Leigh and made me an instant and life-long fan. Hers is the performance that I keep coming back to in that film. It's hard to play somebody who is not very smart well. She's got so much heart, it hurts.
I only recently found out the hero of his novel The Hombre from Sonora (also titled: The Difference) is named Johnny Shaw. How awesome is that?
JA: Wow, that's probably how I felt when I found a character described only as a lanky douchebag in Plaster City was named Jed!
JA: So then, to the movies again - Monte Hellman, Geroge Armitage and Robinson Devore - three fairly different and distinct film makers who've adapted Willeford and each seemed to focus on a different Willefordian thing. Do you think that reflects more on the film makers or on the books they were adapting? How many types of Willeford novels do you think there are?
JS: It reflects more on the filmmakers. As you said, each one chose to focus on a different Willefordian thing, but mostly they each found their own level of realism and their own tone. Considering that Willeford is credited with writing the screenplay for Cockfighter, it's interesting to me that it's the one that plays the closest to naturalism. The Woman Chaser goes broader, including the decision to shoot in black and white with that stylized 1940's look. I guess it's why I lean toward Miami Blues. It does something that I'm a huge fan of, dramatic tone shift. It has the widest range between comedy and drama.
Also, very divisive among crime readers. People love it or hate it. I find it flawed, but I admire the moxie. And it's short enough to not press.
JA: So then for the purposes of a Picture Books piece, where we look at the film adaptations and see what we can tell about the author's voice, taken all together (the three films) what links them? What do they all posses that seems it comes from the same author?
In class story structure, there is often that moment when a character seizes control of their own destiny. In these characters, they seize control of the destiny they believe they are fated to, not necessarily the one they want, the one that's best for them, or even the one that's sane.
JS: If they did it right, it probably would've had a small audience. I can't help it, but I generally associate popularity with mediocrity. While not always true, that's my initial prejudice. The fact that it didn't get picked up could have easily been a sign of its quality.
I haven't seen the pilot, but I was optimistic because of Scott Frank's ability to adapt Elmore Leonard and with slightly less success, Lawrence Block. His obvious affection for crime fiction and noir suggests he could approach the material with regard to Willeford's idiosyncratic style. Giamatti's hang-dog, already-defeated face works, but I never buy toughness from him. It always comes off as posturing to me. I'd be interested to see how he played it. Although, I would have just cast Fred Ward again.
Willeford and Leonard are linked by Miami and I think Leonard is weirder than he's generally given credit for, but I don't tend to think of them as similar writers. What other writers or films you would immediately link to a Willefordian sensibility?
While not the most obvious choice, because I think it's in the parts not the whole. I don't think there's a book that's too Willefordian, but if you took a Dortmunder book and a Parker book and jammed them together, you'd get something pretty close to a Willeford novel in tone and nuttiness.
Not just because of the Florida locale again, but Travis McGee. While he's closer to a familiar detective archetype than Hoke Moseley, they could hang. Particularly true in the later books in the series where McGee is getting older.
The style is obviously way different, as well as the story and approach. Maybe it's the constant balance between bleakness and hope that circulates through the stories.
It's got the Florida setting. Gene Hackman could have crushed it as Hoke. And it's tonally a little all over the place, which is the way I like it.
JA: So give me a quick rundown of each film and we'll wrap this up.
JS: If there's someone reading this that hasn't seen these movies, I would recommend that you see them in the order they were released. It's the way I saw them, but it also follows a tonal progression that I think really works.
Johnny Shaw is the Anthony Award-winning author of Big Maria and the Jimmy Veeder Fiascoes, Dove Season & Plaster City. His new novel Floodgate introduces the world to the fictional Auction City and its criminal justice system. He placed third in the Jedidiah Ayres Lookalike Contest Southwest Regionals, but that was only because he refused to pluck his eyebrow.
JA: Oh shit - only 3rd? Meaning there were at least 3 competitors?
JS: The shaved orangutan placed a lot higher than most people thought it would.