With so many conservatives—myself among them—clamoring about our need to reengage Hollywood and American culture, it struck me that projecting Tom Wolfe’s novels on the big screen might be a good place to start.
Wolfe’s latest novel, Black to Blood, is, like so much of Wolfe’s work, a sprawling, energetic portrayal of contemporary life. And contemporary life being what it is, America starts to look pretty gaudy pretty fast.
The story follows Nestor Comacho, a wayward but heroic Cuban cop in Miami, whose various acts of valor are misinterpreted by his family and city at large. Alongside Comacho, Wolfe portrays a cast of newspapermen, urban politicians, and social climbers whose sheer narcissism ties them in a series of dramatic binds. These include a 70 million dollar museum fraud propagated by a Russian oligarch, a psychiatrist’s debut at a pornographic yacht regatta, and a stampede of Florida billionaires at an art expo. Individual misdeeds give way to social tensions and Wolfe’s theory that the 21st century marks an era in which people abandon God but cling to racial bloodlines.
In a recent interview with the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson, Wolfe maintains that the best American novelists have been realists, adding adds:
I devoutly believe that each of [our] lives is determined by two things—not just your psychological makeup and your own hormonal makeup and the rest of it—but by the fact that you’re going to intersect with society. I think of the individual as vertical and society as this broad plane, and you’re going to change when you intersect with society, whether you want to or not. I just think there is no way to understand individuals—particularly today, today—without understanding the society around them.
And this broad social story might lends itself to the big screen. Wolfe has little patience for highbrow psychological novels or French theorizing. His characters are down in the American trenches—or, in the case of Back to Blood, roaming the streets of Miami.
Wolfe’s themes tend to be conservative without being overtly moralistic. If anything, Wolfe specializes in irreverent, trashy, and self-obsessed characters. But rather than endorse these types—as Hollywood so often does—Wolfe exposes their hubris and, implicitly, encourages the audience to pursue a more redemptive course. At the end of Wolfe’s 700 pages worth of crime, racial strife, and debasing sexual scenarios, I wanted to go read Homer and race to church. Perhaps the cinematic version would have a similar effect?