“I have sought escape in the Prytania on more than one occasion, pulled by the attractions of some technicolored horrors, filmed abortions that were offenses against any criteria of taste and decency, reels and reels of perversion and blasphemy that stunned my disbelieving eyes, shocked my virginal mind, and sealed my valve.” — Ignatius J. Reilly on Hollywood movies in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces.
First off, I’m a big fan. HUGE fan. I’ve seen just about everything you’ve ever been in, watched just about every episode of Between Two Ferns multiple times, and have made a point to try to catch every interview you’ve done on television, radio, podcasts and in print since you first crossed my radar years ago. It think it’s safe to say that I think you’re great.
With that said, last night, like the rest of the world, I learned about you signing on to portray Ignatius J. Reilly in a potential film adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces. This news simultaneously filled me with both excitement and dread.
The reason I felt excitement should be obvious: I’m a fan of yours and you signing on to play one of the greatest comedic characters ever created should be reason enough for me, or anyone for that matter, to get excited. The reason I felt overcome with dread, however, is more complex and, frankly, probably a wee bit irrational. Allow me to at least attempt to explain.
Like many people, I once read something that left a profound impact on me, and A Confederacy of Dunces was that thing. Simply put, the delight it showered upon me made it the first thing that ever made me aspire to write things for a living. Therefore, I can say without hesitation that the book actually altered the course of my life.
But, believe it or not, there’s more to it than that. (I know, I know — that previous sentence sounds crazy because, after all, how can a work of fiction possibly have an impact beyond changing someone’s life for the love of God?! But please, bear with me here.)
You see, I harbor what one might characterize as a mild obsession with the book. For going on a number of years now, I’ve read it at least once a year, every year. I keep a withered, dog-eared and ridiculously highlighted copy of Dunces in the vicinity of my bed, like many do with the Bible and other books people consider holy. Additionally, I keep a surplus of copies of the book at home so I can have them handy to give to people who haven’t read it. I’d estimate that I’ve gifted Dunces to at least 100 people over the course of my life.
Further, my obsession with the book is probably exceeded only by my obsession with the man who wrote it, John Kennedy Toole. The fact that he killed himself in despair — presumably over the belief that he’d never get the book published and was thus a failure as a writer — years before Dunces was posthumously published has only served to inflame my interest in him.
In an effort to learn more about the author of the book that changed my life, I’ve read virtually everything I’ve been able to find written about Toole (Google alerts set to his name and the book’s title have been particularly helpful in recent years) including the three biographical books devoted to exploring and examining him and his life (the most recent of which is quite good, btw).
Additionally, I’ve spent hours in the Tulane University library pouring through the papers in their Toole collection. I’ve sought out the places Toole lived and frequented in New Orleans, Lafayette and New York, along with a few of the still-living people who knew him and his eccentric mother when they were alive. If that weren’t enough, for some time now I’ve been planning to travel to Puerto Rico to visit the U.S. Army base where Toole wrote most of the book, but that has yet to materialize. I did, however, recently make a pilgrimage to the site of his suicide in Mississippi.
So, yeah, like I said, I’m mildly obsessed with the book and the man who wrote it.
But here’s the thing: I’m hardly alone. Yes, there are many others like me — some more freakishly obsessed, some less — but they are out there, and they are legion. I know this because I’ve met a lot of them.
Which gets me back the sense of dread I mentioned earlier: few entities in the history of modern man have demonstrated a more prolific ability to magically turn works of genius into steaming piles of shit than the Hollywood movie-making machine has. And all of us who’ve invested considerable chunks of our lives reading, thinking, talking, researching and writing about Dunces and Toole are today concerned — understandably so, I think — that this could happen to our beloved Dunces. We’d much prefer a film adaptation never happen rather than have it tainted by some bastardized version of the original work (LOGLINE: Wacky French Quarter hot dog vendor who lives with his wino mom encounters wacky people!) hitting screens across the world.
This, my friend, is where you come in.
We — those of us whose cultish adoration and devotion to the book would probably lead to us being institutionalized in less forgiving times and places — need you to do us a favor. There’s a reason this incredible book is the rare decades-old international bestseller that’s never been made into a movie: it’s about an extraordinary person placed in extraordinary situations. And, as Harold Ramis — who himself attempted to produce a Dunces adaptation starring John Belushi — noted, such a thing is a violation of the “basic bylaws of movie comedy,” which posit that for a movie to be funny it has to involve a normal person placed in an extraordinary situation or an extraordinary person placed in a normal situation.
So, in order for a Dunces movie to ever succeed, two things are probably necessary: a perfect script and the perfect actor to play Ignatius. Presumably, a perfect script, or at least the outline for one, has already been created. Still, the movie can’t happen without your participation because there’s simply no one else out there right now who can pull off Ignatius. (Some have even suggested that it’s a role you were born to play, and I tend to agree with them.) Yes, whether you know it or not, you’re the only person with the comedic acting chops who looks the part AND can put seats in movie theaters on opening weekend with your name attached to the project, and it’ll be years before someone else comes along who fits the same criteria.
Conversely, because you’re the only person who can play Ignatius, you single-handedly possess the power to stop this movie dead in its tracks. I trust in your sensibilities enough that you’ll know if this thing is on course to be something great (I look forward to watching it with a big bucket of popcorn at the Prytania, just as Ignatius would, if so) or become the next The Scarlet Letter or something. And if that is indeed the case, I, we,
ask beg this of you: kill it, and kill it with fucking fire.
As Ignatius bloviates in the book, “I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.” If any aspect of this film is not your peer, is not on your level — the script, the director, etc. — don’t mingle with it. Walk away. By doing so you’ll insure that you’ll never have to buy another drink or meal in New Orleans — the city where the book is set and where a statue of Ignatius is maintained on one of its main drags — ever again. This I promise.
Dr. Nut and Big Chief tablets,
P.S. — At one point during my writing this, I actually had to close my computer and go for a walk because I felt as though I was on the verge of crying. LET THE THOUGHT OF MY TEARS GUIDE YOU, ZACH!
P.S. II — I have it on good account that you’re a big fan of the house-made mustard at Sylvain, Zach. I am not below using said mustard as an instrument of blackmail, FYI.
(Pic of the Ignatius statue on Canal St via Flickr)