First published in April 1985, Cormac McCarthy‘s historical western novel Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West has long been considered too dark and violent for a film adaptation to do the relentlessly horrific narrative justice. Directors like Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) and Todd Field (Little Children), who have never been strangers to making thematically challenging films, have tackled developing a Blood Meridian feature into a reality, but their efforts always ended in complete surrender. A tale of the dark days of the Old West whose violence and tone made The Wild Bunch look like an episode of Bonanza was never going to be an easy sell as a big-budget motion picture, regardless of what important names were attached.
The latest name to take a crack at filming the un-filmable is actor and director James Franco. Having already ventured into the world of cinematic adaptations of literary classics with film versions of McCarthy’s Child of God and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying on his resume, Franco has long desired to be the one to bring Blood Meridian to the silver screen. A few years ago he even went as far as to shoot some test footage for his prospective adaptation, and managed to rope in some quality actors to help better visualize how Franco would approach a film based on the novel many consider to be Cormac McCarthy’s best.
To coincide with Child of God‘s upcoming U.S. theatrical release Franco has released the Blood Meridian test reel for all to gaze upon. You can watch the video here below.
Franco also included with the video’s initial post on the Vice website a statement regarding his love of McCarthy’s brilliant literary works and his intentions for this test footage:
In honor of “Child of God’s” release on August 1st, I’m posting a 25-minute test I did for the film version of Blood Meridian. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is my favorite novel. It marks the midpoint of his career, between the Southern Gothic stories of his Tennessee days (he grew up in Tennessee and went to the high school with painter Josh Smith) and his later border-based stories (The Border Trilogy, No Country for Old Men, The Road) after he moved to Texas and then to New Mexico.
In some ways Blood seems un-filmable. It is almost Biblical in its lapidary. His terse prose utilizes vocabulary only found in the crannies of annals of the Old West and the specialized spheres of working men. He captures the slang of forgotten peoples so deftly, it’s as if they were his barroom friends.
I made my test for Blood Meridian three or four years ago. It stars Scott Glen, Luke Perry, Mark Pellegrino (Lost), and my brother, Dave. We shot it in three days in some place near Yosemite that is the Mule Capital of the world. If you know the book, you’ll recognize that this is the sequence where Tobin recounts how the Glanton gang met the Judge, a Satan-like character and Glanton’s right-hand man. The gang was out of gunpowder and about to be caught by Apache warriors, whereupon they would be killed for lack of working weaponry. Enjoy.
This video may not best represent Franco’s vision for a fully funded Blood Meridian adaptation, but it shows the passion he has for the material as well as gives us a sense of how he would approach making a film of his favorite Cormac McCarthy novel. Maybe one of these days he will turn out to be the one who finally accomplishes what more celebrated directors before him couldn’t. Before he does though, I need to finish reading the book.
Child of God opens in limited released on August 1, 2014.