Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kelli Stanley’s "City of Dragons"

Kelli Stanley is the author of the critically acclaimed Nox Dormienda, which won the Bruce Alexander Award for best historical mystery and was nominated for a Macavity Award. She lives in San Francisco, California.

Here she shares some ideas about director and principal cast for a big screen adaptation of her new novel, City of Dragons:
First, I want to thank Marshal for letting my imagination run wild in the fields of celluloid! I loved dreaming about film adaptations for Nox Dormienda, my first novel, and am thrilled to be back!

City of Dragons is a PI series set in 1940 San Francisco, a reimagining of noir with the censorship gloves off and a femme fatale in the driver’s seat. And period pieces are almost as tough as my protagonist.

Miranda Corbie is a PI, ex-Spanish Civil War nurse and former escort. She’s a rich, complex character, and City of Dragons is really her book—and her movie. I’m also adamant about trying to capture the truth of the era … to not get lost in the fog of nostalgia but to show both the beauty and the ugliness of the past.

After all, you scratch 2010 and underneath—covered up with a veneer of social progress and respectability—is 1940, with all the concomitant human problems that still plague us: poverty, crime, racism, sexism, ignorance.

But—and this is important—I don’t see it as “neo-noir.” I envision the film almost with a post-war neo-realism vibe, mixed with some expressionistic camera movement—Otto Preminger, maybe, or Charles Vidor or Jacques Tourneur or Nicholas Ray.

So … it’s tricky. I don’t want a director who thinks of noir as a pastiche, as something to mimic. I want a director who understands organically what the genre and style were, and understands what I’ve tried to do with the book.

Originally I thought I’d dream up two casts—one contemporary, one from the ‘40s. Then I realized that City of Dragons would not have been able to have been made in 1940—at least not as a faithful adaptation. So let’s stick with directors and actors that could really bring 1940 San Francisco to life seventy years later.

My dream directors for the project? Curtis Hanson and Clint Eastwood. They’re both great, mature cinephiles who can coax jaw-dropping performances from actors, and neither one of them relies on special effects to construct a film.

As for Miranda … well, if you could picture Rita Hayworth as Gilda, except much tougher and more cynical, that might give you an idea of what she’s like. She’s 33 but looks younger, about 5’7”, auburn hair, brown eyes. She’s a beautiful woman, and she uses it. She has to—it’s her bread and butter. She’s a broken idealist, and that is the most cynical condition in the world.

A number of top actresses could bring different gifts to the role, different nuances to her character. Angelina Jolie can do beauty that’s tough, hard and yet vulnerable. Kate Winslet, too. Charlize Theron and Catherine Zeta-Jones would also bring unique charisma to Miranda.

Of course I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Hollywood will come knocking, and we’ll see an A-list production of City of Dragons—a big screen Miranda and 1940 San Francisco in all her sinful splendor. My film agents are working on it—after all, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of.
Read an excerpt from City of Dragons, and learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Nox Dormienda.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

--Marshal Zeringue