Movie pitch: Six men, all artists, find their way to New York City at the turn-of-the-twentieth century and find friendship and love. They are also crushed emotionally and creatively by capitalism.Learn more about Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man.
On the one hand, this book would be super tricky to adapt into a movie because so much of what I argue is happening in the paintings, which is not very cinematic. It is also part of the point of the book that in this historical moment, we need to remember that different media (painting, illustration, film, and photography) are vying for cultural dominance. Photographers want to prove their work can be fine art, illustrators are trying to not be edged out by photographers, and painters are going to silent films and trying to reimagine what they could add to narrative now that pictures move. So perhaps it is blasphemous to make these painters and their attempts to stay modern and relevant into a movie.
On the other hand, I think this could be a very interesting story about male friendship and competition. In movies male friendships tend to be highlighted through some kind competition over a woman, a love triangle. Or, we are introduced to men as friends but then the story turns one into a villain and one into the hero. But these six Ashcan artists were friends in ways that were less overtly dramatic, but definitely complex. They competed for work and visibility, but they also helped each other. They shared studios, swapped teaching gigs, gossiped, wrote about art, and went drinking and carousing together. They got good reviews and bad reviews. They wanted to be rich and famous and have followers, and they struggled and hustled to make that happen. Some were luckier than others. I guess the crux of this tale would be about men, friendship, ambition, and aging. It would also be a different kind of representation of artists; not as super emotive and raging but as people with jobs. People who had to keep working for money. In that way, maybe this could be a great film, both in terms of giving complexity to men and their friendships and to explore the limitations of those friendships.
Robert Henri: He is often called the “leader” of the Ashcan Circle, but I argue against this in my book. He’s got vision and he’s a supportive friend. He’s a young widower and has a deep restlessness. Henri was not the traditional “good-looking” guy, but he was handsome. Erza Miller is young for the role, but he has the look and sad undercurrent.
Everett Shinn: He’s the jerk of the group. And super good looking. But basically an ass of a person. Armie Hammer.
John Sloan: I think art historically he gets to play the hero of the Ashcan Circle, but not in my story. No heroes here. He is tall, wears glasses, is a bit nerdy. Drinks too much. Insecure. Andrew Garfield.
George Luks: So again, art historically he is typically remembered as a big drinker, party guy, fighter. The “fun” one. I say take a look at the photograph Alvin Langdon Coburn took of him (page 60) and rethink this image. He is a sad man trapped in his body. Jonah Hill.
William Glackens: Sort of a cream puff of a person. Nice. Boring. Chris Evans.
George Bellows: He is the youngest of the artists. And I think he is the most ambitious. Nicholas Hoult.