Saturday, September 20, 2008

#77 Saturday Matinee--"Wee Folks"... the Movie

Starring Mandy Patinkin as Emanuel "Manny" Lazar. Why not? He wrote the Foreword to the book, and I gave an imaginary GIFT yesterday--why not make up a movie? There is some method to this madness: I believe The Pied Piper of South Shore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago (2005) by "Mr Wee Folks'" daughter, Caryn Lazar Amster (see earlier posts), is worthy of it. And so do many others, she tells me, who may have read it with more than a nostalgic eye. And I promised her a "review" from my bully blogospherical pulpit, so what better way than to translate a very readable book, by the way, into the medium of film. Maybe not, but here goes anyway, with apologies in advance to the author.
  • The three-part narrative of the memoir--kudos for self-written--lends itself to cinematic treatment. We we're talking about flashbacking the other day: well here, coincidentally, we've got another Before the Devil Knows You're Dead in the making. (Maybe the 83-year-old Sidney Lumet can hang on a little longer to direct!) We begin with the "Big-Heist-Gone-Wrong" event, then all the history that goes before, then the flash-forward to The Trial. (Lumet's 12 Angry Men or The Verdict again.) No need to tamper with this ready-made dramatic structure, thank you.
  • Character and action are of course REAL and thus also ready-made, but far from the Everyday. In fact, they are EXTRAORDINARY. Sufficient to quote from the back cover: When a gang assassin gunned down Manny Lazar, he died in the place he loved best: the Wee Folks toy store he and his wife, Belle, had run for a quarter-century....It is the story of this beloved retailer's death... But it's also a story of two children of immigrants, their American dream, and their richly diverse neighborhood, each falling prey to the brutality of gangs. The shooter's name was Thomas Gunn. Could a filmmaker ask for a larger-than-life cast of characters or a more gut-wrenching, tear-jerking story? Not.
  • Scene-setting would be easy too. The broader views of the people, their daily lives in the neighborhoods, and so on, are clearly and carefully drawn. But the author can also reconstruct the ferocious particulars in almost forensic detail. E.g.--The young man panicked, fired five shots, and tried to rush out of the store. Unfamiliar with its layout, he first ran up an aisle that dead-ended at one of the large plate-glass display windows, covered, as usual, with the nose-prints of wishful children. [Like those of my little sister and me in earlier days] Realizing he was trapped and terrified to launch himself through the thick glass, he frantically sought another way out....Two peach-colored display islands welded together stood between the gunman and the double glass entry doors. The islands stood five feet tall and, being made of steel, could withstand great weight. He attempted to vault over them but lacked the room for a running start [nice detail]. With the superhuman strength of intense fear, he began pulling the welded units apart, the metal slicing through his jacket into the flesh of his arms....merchandise scattering every which way. Mainly Barbies. And meanwhile poor Belle was cowering under the counter not knowing what was happening. Whew...what a skilled director could make out of that! And if it were a Sidney Lumet, he could also easily stage the courtroom-drama aftermath in Act III, right out of the riveting transcript-testimony.
  • All that's needed is dialog for the first two acts. I'll volunteer. It shouldn't be hard. The narrative speaks silent volumes already. Take this scene---No...let me continue with a Part 2 later.
N.B.-- an autographed copy of The Book is available (60 left of first printing) for $19.95 plus $5.00 shipping from: OR toll-free 866-507-4737. Proceeds go to a charitable organization.

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