Saturday, January 1, 2022

John Copenhaver's "The Savage Kind"

John Copenhaver’s historical crime novel, Dodging and Burning, won the 2019 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel and garnered Anthony, Strand Critics, Barry, and Lambda Literary Award nominations. Copenhaver writes a crime fiction review column for Lambda Literary called “Blacklight,” cohosts on the House of Mystery Radio Show, and is the six-time recipient of Artist Fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He has taught high school English for nearly twenty years. He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia and currently lives in Richmond, VA, with his husband, artist Jeffery Paul (Herrity).

Here Copenhaver dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Savage Kind:
So, I’m a big movie nerd. I’ve taught film to high school students for years. I’m always thinking cinematically, and I’ve had readers tell me that I write cinematically. I care a lot about the texture of my writing and how it creates a circa-1950 noir mood for my story. All successful films begin with a cohesive vision, and that vision is the director’s responsibility. With that in mind, for my fantasy movie version of The Savage Kind, I’ll choose a director who has a distinct and flexible style: the insanely talented David Fincher.

Not only are Fincher’s films—Panic Room, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and my favorite Zodiac—steeped in gorgeous atmosphere and unforgettable visuals, but also, he understands noir. His visual style of rich yet muted colors, lush shadowy imagery, and precise and elaborate camerawork allow him to shift between opulence and grit seamlessly. He prefers closed framed films in which the heroes—and by extension, the audience—feel predestined, locked into a series of unfolding events. Fincher is neither optimistic nor particularly romantic, and he loves stories with moral gray areas and deeply flawed heroes, which would suit Judy Peabody’s and Philippa Watson’s stories perfectly.

Now the question is: Who will play Judy and Philippa, my clever, complicated, and dangerous teenage girls? For Philippa, the “good girl” with secret passions and a barely repressed desire to manipulate others, I’d choose Elle Fanning. I’ve had so much fun watching her Catherine the Great in Hulu’s The Great. In that role, she embodies a wonderful blend of naiveté, vulnerability, and nerve, which would be a great fit for Philippa. For Judy: Anya Taylor-Joy, with a jet-black bob. I loved her in The Queen’s Gambit, and she has a remarkable range. In contrast to Philippa, Judy needs to enter thorny, all sharp edges, and then soften throughout the story. Also, much is made of Judy’s dark and all-consuming eyes; Taylor-Joy’s beautiful eyes dominate her face. Bottom line: she’d be amazing.

As for Miss Martins, I will dream even bigger and say Cate Blanchett. Miss M, as Judy refers to her, must be at once relatable and mysterious, kind and cold. Blanchett’s recent (and brilliant) turn at the chilly Dr. Lilith Ritter from Nightmare Alley is still echoing through me. Finally, for Moira Closs—the quintessential controlling mother, based on Angela Lansberry’s Eleanor Iselin from The Manchurian Candidate—I’d choose Sigourney Weaver because I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do as an actor. I’ve always loved watching her. She could materialize all of Moira’s imperiousness and corruption without losing her humanity, which is key.

One last thing: Since I was in high school, I’ve collected film score music. I still collect it digitally and listen to it while I write, choosing specific scores, even specific songs, to help me find the right mood for a scene. There are many amazing film composers, from names you might know, like Jonny Greenwood and Trent Reznor, to names you may not, like Emile Mosseri and Nicholas Brittel. For The Savage Kind, I’d want a score with touches of traditional noir, something nostalgic but still contemporary. Nathan Johnson’s recent scores for Knives Out and now Nightmare Alley capture so well the timeless shift between the delicate and the dark, the beautiful and the dreadful, qualities at the heart of my novel.
Visit John Copenhaver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Savage Kind.

--Marshal Zeringue