Bombay, California

Synopsis

from Bombay California; or, Hollywood Somewhere West of Vine

Though the novel is replete with characters from Paul Bunyan to Jimmy Carter, the main character is Oliveira Katz an Argentine-American novelist who is clearly more American than Argentine, but who uses his "Latino-ness" whenever it suits his purpose. Otherwise, he’s clearly a gringo. But Katz is at his best when (under the Argentine guise) he criticizes U.S. culture. The "veil of foreign-ness" (regardless of thickness) allows him to take any number of "objective shots" at the U.S. media, government, etc. all with a certain amount of impunity. Literary impunity. But he is obviously a part of the culture he criticizes and no matter what posture he takes, the overwhelming influence of the USA affects everyone who comes within its grasp. Katz is no different. All the other characters in the novel, merely play counterpoint to Katz’s worldview. Even in the screenplay that is imbedded within the novel, Ollie is merely an extension of Oliveira and all the other characters are modeled after other characters.

 

Excerpt

from Bombay California; or, Hollywood Somewhere West of Vine

Recently (actually as I was finishing this novel) I sold an option on the film rights to Bombay, California to Parshiveh Production Company, Los Angeles. Seems they had heard about this novel through some Brazilian friends of mine who had some connections with a French filmmaker (a distant relation of Méliès) who knew a cinematographer who once studied with Nykvist and who once worked for a friend of Bergman’s who had sexual relations with one of Fassbinder’s secretaries whose ex-lover had once been a hair stylist for an extra in Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and Her Lover before giving up film and working for a Japanese toy manufacturer whose Italian villa was used in the off-season by Scola’s next door neighbor whose maid’s aunt once attended a pig roast given by Fellini and met the cousin of an Argentine pit bull breeder whose ex-wife’s ex-husband had shared a meal with Jean Renoir’s postal carrier whose American cousin had an ex-student who worked at Farrar, Straus, Giroux and whose brother-in-law’s maid once worked for one of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s rabbis (now deceased) whose brother’s banker played handball at a Sherman Oaks racquet club with the creative director of Parshiveh Productions. Hence the connection.

They read the opening chapter of the novel and were so impressed by it and by the fact that Gallimard was interested in publishing it in France they offerred me $10,000 for a one-year option with an option to option an additional year at another $10,000. I thought it curious that (up until that time) I had not optioned any of my screenplay ideas, but had optioned a novel-in-progress for what, I thought, was a huge sum of money. As I was to find out (also while finishing this novel, but, unfortunately, subsequent to signing the option) 10K in Hollywood terms translates to just so much excess film left scattered on a cutting room floor. But I was rather fascinatedwith the idea of adapting my own novel to the screen and had asked the director of creative development how he intended to take Bombay, California and cinematize it.

"Easy," he said. "We scrap all the chapters that are impossible or cost prohibitive to adapt, rewrite the plot so it conforms to the Hollywood methodicum, cast a bankable star for the lead and throw out what’s left." 

"But, but then it’s not my work," I said, not a little dismayed by how he so whimsically had devastated my material.

"Of course not. Don’t be stupid. It’s a film, not a novel." 

"But why not call it something else if it’s something else. If it’s not going to be Bombay, California then retitle it…Sunset Boulevard or…" 

"Listen, Oliveira, we want to play off the commercialization of your book. Once it comes out in paperback it’ll be packaged in such a way that whomever plays the lead will grace the cover. Like Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman or Connery in The Name of the Rose. That way the reading public will automatically correlate the figure on the cover with the figure in the book which will indelibly affect how they read and perceive the character and will condition them for the movie. Now and forever." 

I really hadn’t thought about that, in those terms, those commercial terms, but it was true. No matter how many times I read Fowles and Burgess and Eco, Sarah Woodruff was always Meryl Streep; Malcolm MacDowell always Alex; Baskerville always Connery. The thought was somehow disconsoling. It was even more McLuhan than McLuhan. It was certainly more Eco than Eco.

"So, what you’re saying is it’s really a matter of profit." 

"Exactly. This is the movie industry, Oliveira, we’re in the business of entertainment." 

"And art?" 

"Fuck art." 

"But what about the spirit of the work. Its adaptative integrity." 

"Oliveira, I hate to break this to you, but Orson Welles is dead." 

"Right." 

Not only was Orson Welles dead, but so were my chances of writing the script to my own novel. He already had a writer in mind.

"Who?" 

"Fleischman Nagel." 

"Who?" 

"Fleischman Nagel." 

"Who’s he?" 

"He’s hot. Top of the rock, king of the hill. He’s an A writer." 

I recalled the alphabeticalness of that from my previous discussions with a producer in Chapter 42. 

"But why can’t I adapt it. It’s mine!" 

"It’s simple, Oliveira. You’ll do something literary with it and in the end it’ll be artistic, but it won’t sell worth a shit." 

"Oh." 

"Let me put it in terms you’ll understand, Oliveira." 

"What?" 

"Luis Buñuel es muerto." 

Luis Buñuel es muerto. Luis Buñuel c’est mort. In any language, he’s dead. Long live Buñuel.

Cut.

Print.