Tom Dulack writes a rather long forward to his The Misanthropes in which he evaluates the audience impact of various literary forms–novels, plays, screenplays. He pretty much concludes that novels and plays have the most lasting impact and that films, though they may hit hard in the moment, have the least. Nothing changes, you see. Unlike the play, whose impact depends on variations in actors, sets, directors, and all the other variables that manifest from one production to the other. Thus, the Henry V you see today might be an entirely different experience from the Henry V you see the following month. Whereas, I suppose, the Henry V of Olivier remains static, uninspiring, and unmemorable. And that the screenplay itself is so much toilet paper. After all that parsing, he explains that he has decided to write his The Misanthropes as a screenplay.
I still don’t understand his rationale, but I read the work with some interest and wondered the while why he hadn’t written it as a novel, which it clearly is. There’s some excellent writing, and some of the best of it is in the between-scenes intervals where Dulack describes character and scene–the very stuff of the novel. The tale is of eccentric English professor Tom Bowman who suffers a midlife crisis, gets tossed out the college door, then refuses to come back even when invited. While flailing around in his new dilemma, he falls into translating an off-off-off broadway production of The Misanthrope. It’s an exciting adventure, as is the romantic liaison he enjoys with one of the actresses, one of his college students.
Somehow, everyone at the college cares about him so much they arrange all sorts of bizarre ways for him to live out his maverick ways and return–a retroactive sabbatical, for example. Not too believable since no one seemed to have cared so much for him before the crisis. But whatever.
The wife is kind of a shadowy figure, but we’re not supposed to worry to much about her because it’s clear she’s better off without him.
There is a lot of humor here, some highly inventive situations, and some clever language, but I still think this would have played better as a novel. As a piece of fiction, a screenplay is, indeed, a moribund form of literature.
There are some post-script films outlining the fates of some of the main characters, which I didn’t find all that intriguing because none of the characters captivated me enough to get me terribly curious about their futures.