The success of Adaptation, based on Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, has turned other unlikely books by New Yorker writers into hot properties. The only question now is, which exciting work of literary nonfiction will screen-writer Charlie Kaufman tackle next? —Variety
ADAM GOPNIK’S Paris to the Moon
Open on: Baby in crib.
Voice-over: “When our son, Luke Auden, was born, we knew that we would have to go to Paris soon, or we wouldn’t go at all.” Beret placed on baby’s head.
Soundtrack: Django Reinhardt.
Cut to: Eiffel Tower.
Cut to: Jean Baudrillard.
Cut to: Luxembourg Gardens.
Cut to: Les Deux Magots. Adam (Steve Buscemi) nibbles pain au chocolat, scribbles in notebook.
Voice-over: “Here in the City of Light, I look for the large in the small, the macro in the micro, the figure in the carpet, and if some big truths pass by, I hope some significant small ones get caught.”
Cut to: Adam inhaling salutary aroma of pommes frites.
Slow pan: Left Bank.
Soundtrack: Jacques Dutronc, “Et moi, et moi, et moi.”
ANTHONY LANE’S Nobody’s Perfect: Selected Writings From The New Yorker, DAVID DENBY’S Great Books: My Adventures With Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World, and NICHOLSON BAKER’S The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber and Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper
Open on: Clip of Y Tu Mamá También, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna and Maribel Verdú, disrobing in climactic three-way.
Cut to: Anthony (David Hyde Pierce) typing, smiling slightly upon having thought up bon mot for this week’s review, which we hear in voice-over: “There are many kinds of core, hardcore, softcore, etc.”
Cut to: Gael and Diego and Anthony, disrobing in climactic three-way.
Cut to: computer monitor, cursor blinking.
Cut to: Anthony exiting hardcore Austrian porn booth. Bumps into woman, dashes out of store.
Reaction shot: It’s Isabelle Huppert!
Soundtrack: Einstürwhatever Neubauten (whatever).
Cut to: David Denby (Viggo Mortensen) putting finishing touches on review for The Piano Teacher, which he has written using a quill pen.
Single 97-minute tracking shot: David placing beautifully calligraphed finished copy on his editor’s desk, then cabbing it uptown to Columbia. In taxi we hear this voice-over: “When I turned 40, I thought it would be interesting to go back to school and immerse myself in the so-called canon. Were the classics still ‘relevant’? Should there be such a thing as a ‘Core Curriculum’?” After attending a brilliant lecture on Montesquieu, he chatters to a classmate (Anna Paquin) about how he’s looking forward to reading Persian Letters. But upon reaching Butler Library’s second floor, he discovers there is no card catalog, only row upon row of computer terminals. In a rage, he hurls insults at the librarians (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung), who call security. At the precinct, he is allowed a single phone call.
He rings “Nick” Baker (Bob Balaban): “Nick, it’s me—Double D. This is fucked. They trashed every single one of those wooden, spindled beauties.” “That’s wrong—I mean, sure, every card has supposedly been typed into the system, but what about human error? Even at the rate of two mistakes per 1000 cards, that’s 5 million mistakes for a collection that size. It’s inexcusable. Put the chief on.” Nick stammeringly unpacks his argument against computerized cataloging, digresses on nail-clipper design, and ends with his cri de coeur—that libraries stop pulping “unread” books and return to their mission: preserving knowledge. The conversation is broadcast via loudspeaker all over campus, and indeed via the Web all over the world; when it’s over, the student body erupts into gale-force applause, followed by similar outbreaks in France (Adam Gopnik looks up from his desk), Montana (Ian Frazier hears a commotion from the general direction of the nearest midsized town), Mexico (Alma Guillermoprieto puts down her tequila shot and rushes to the window).
Replacing the receiver, Nick contemplates the fate of the printed word. He looks at his own books, there on the middle shelf. The phone rings: “It’s Anthony. Lane.” “Tone?” “Yeah. It’s Tone.” “Hey, babe. I was wondering when you would call.” The two stay up till dawn, reading aloud from Baker’s third novel, Vox.
Soundtrack: New Edition, “Mr. Telephone Man.”
Read more meta-coverage
J. Hoberman’s review of Adaptation
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 3, 2002