I knew Tevis had written The Hustler and The Color of Money but I'd no idea he had also written The Man Who Fell to Earth - which as a movie years ago absolutely blew me away. Some of the imagery in that film is still vivid in my mind although I did not always understand what was going on in the film. Astoundingly, David Bowie played the man who fell to Earth from the sky - yeah, the musician David Bowie. The film was a stunning experience. I'd no idea beforehand what it was about, except that it was classed as "science fiction" and I'm a big fan of science fiction - not the blood and guts stuff (alien monsters ripping humans or each other apart) but I like a good story like Star Wars type stuff - and so I went to see it on a date. I don't remember who the date was - but I remember that film :)
Tevis, who once was an English professor, died in 1984; The Queen's Gambit was published in 1983. Prior to his death he did some interviews, two of which I found recordings of online, and they are absolutely fascinating. You can find them at Wired for Books: interviews with Walter Tevis. The MP3 worked for me.
I forced myself to put down the novel (which I started last night after working on the Family Tree project for hours) to do a few other things this morning - like blogging, LOL! It was difficult, let me tell you! I am totally captivated by the character of Beth Harmon and her world, which is all too shudderingly vivid. Tevis' prose is "dense" - he packs tons of emotions and imagery into rather a few words (relatively speaking), it's absolutely amazing what he does with words. Not the type of novel prose I'm used to reading but for this story it absolutely works - I "get it" at a visceral level and see the scenes inside my mind in technicolor. By the way, Beth is NOT plain. Today she would be "Top Model" material. But by the standards of the 1950's/early 1960's she is not "cute." Any person who has that kind of intensity radiate out of herself would be a powerful magnet, and to express her power through the moves of chess pieces - Damn, I wish Tevis was still alive, I would love to have a sit down with him and ask him more about this female character he created.
It is interesting that over the years several projects to bring the novel to film petered off into nothingness - the most recent (2008) involved Keith Ledger, who died before much of the project came to fruition.
Turning this book into a film would involve unique challenges, I think, because so much is interior and cerebral/mental - but after seeing how "Searching for Bobby Fischer" was put together, a film that also captivated me and is one of my all-time favorites, I believe The Queen's Gambit could be done. The right sets, the right music to evoke the emotions that accompany the incredible revelations she discovers in blinding flashes, and the emotional roller-coaster that is Beth's interior life. There is a scene, her first visit to Morris' book store, where she sees, all lined up in rows, dozens of books on chess - Goddess! I know that feeling - oh, not about chess books, but what those books represent. I know Beth. The challenge would be to find the right actresses to portray her.
Review by Michael Schaub (August, 2003) at Bookslut
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