Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jonathan Sperber's "Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life"

Jonathan Sperber, the author of The European Revolutions, 1848–1851, is the Curators’ Professor of History at the University of Missouri. He has written extensively on the social and political history of nineteenth-century Europe.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life:
As a professor, I generally don’t think much about how my books would be on screen. To take just two examples from previous books I have written: why would Hollywood be interested in filming a scholarly monograph dominated by statistical tables with equations in the appendix, or a book based primarily on nineteenth century civil court cases? Although it is still difficult to imagine a film version of Karl Marx’s life, at least it is very faintly within the realm of possibility, so I have taken on the unfamiliar task of imagining actors in the main roles.

For the older Karl Marx, I would suggest Philip Seymour Hoffman, from his wonderful performance in The Master. Scientologists and Marxists both should rest assured: in making this suggestion, I am not asserting in any way that either their doctrines or their founders have any similarities. But Hoffman’s portrayal of a determined leader of a small group of disciples, with ideas most of society regarded as peculiar, is not unlike the position in life of the older Marx. Thinking of an actor who could play Marx as a young man proved more difficult. Ultimately my choice was Johnny Galecki: best known for his comedic role as the physicist Leonard Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory, he has also done more serious acting and would fit as the young man Karl Marx, who was both brash and reticent, privately convincing and self-assured, but publicly sometimes inarticulate.

A key role in any film about Marx’s life would be for Marx’s loyal friend, political associate, and chief disciple, Friedrich Engels. The Austrian actor Christoph Waltz would be an interesting possibility. The self-assured, arrogant and potentially violent characters he played in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained were not unlike Engels. Admittedly, Engels did not go around heavily armed and shooting people, but he did get into fist-fights with political opponents, and once, in a pub brawl in Manchester, developed legal problems, after poking someone in the eye with his umbrella. The lead female role in a Marx film would fall to his wife and life-long love Jenny von Westphalen. Michelle Dockery, who has done such a good job as the sensitive intelligent daughter of an aristocrat in Downton Abbey, would be appropriate for Jenny, who was herself very much the sensitive, intelligent offspring of an aristocratic family.
Learn more about Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life.

--Marshal Zeringue