Friday, January 15, 2010


I'm kind of surprised The Merchant of Venice hasn't inspired any Hollywood spin-offs--you know, films that take the basic premise and characters of an old story and update them. Like Clueless did for Emma, or 10 Things I Hate About You for The Taming of the Shrew. It wouldn't be a high school story, of course. It would be, like Will's original, a tale of two cities. Not Venice and Belmont, but New York and Hollywood. Bear with me while I pitch this idea.

Young handsome day-trader (or something equally financially risky) loses his shirt in the market. He's brilliant, maybe a future Warren Buffett, but he's had some bad luck. He's sexy, too, in a kind of dissolute way--maybe we can get that Twilight guy, Robert Pattinson, to play him. This insolvent high-stakes gambler has an idea for a great movie (film within a film--an old idea that's due for a comeback), but he needs some capital up front. 

Okay, market junkies don't make films. But in fiction, anything's possible. It could happen this way:

He meets a lovely young starlet on the way up at some...environmental fundraising thing. This gives him the idea for the film. Plus, he wants her. If it all goes well, he'll get the girl and produce an Oscar winner. But he won't be able to get her--personally or professionally--if he doesn't have the cash to look like a high-roller when he goes out to LA. So, he goes to his mentor, a suave older financial genius, played by George Clooney. George is secretly in love with Rob, but he's closeted, and so it's kind of a Death in Venice scenario.

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is one of the most fabulous stories ever written, by the way. You must read it, if you haven't already. Oh, and the movie's great, too--the 1971 film made by Luchino Visconti, starring Dirk Bogarde--who was probably the greatest dissolute-character actor of all time. I highly recommend it. The film I'm proposing here will be miles, fathoms, light-years out of that league. It will be unworthy to even speak the name Visconti. But I still think it could rake in some cash.

And so...

George is tapped out at the moment, too--he's got all his assets riding on a big merger, but it hasn't come through yet. But George will do anything for Rob. He's just that kind of guy--and secretly, he hopes Rob will realize he's also gay, and they can have their own Hollywood Happily Ever After. But realistically, he knows that won't happen. 

This kind of alt-Hollywood ending is never a big draw, so it's just not in the cards. Poor George.

But George loves Rob, so he promises to help. In order to fund Rob's big California adventure, he has to go to his worst enemy to borrow money. Now, in the new version, this guy can't be Jewish--because anti-Semitism is neither as widespread nor as (semi-) acceptable now as it was in the heyday of Old Hollywood. So maybe this guy's some rich Saudi or something. He has to be a Serious Actor, though, preferably an award winner. So maybe Ben Kingsley, or Daniel Day-Lewis, or someone like that. 

The Portia character must be blond, so that the audience underestimates her intelligence. But she also has to be kind of princessy, and a bit spoiled.  I'm thinking a young Gwyneth type, maybe a newcomer.  The Lorenzo-Jessica subplot should stay--maybe Natalie Portman/Orlando Bloom. But younger, of course. 

I bet the phrase "but younger" comes up a lot in real Hollywood pitch meetings.

The pound of flesh thing has to go. Maybe an organ donation instead? There's big money in those. I see George being wheeled into some illegal operating theater...but Rob and Younger Gwyneth burst in, there's gunfire, an explosion...

Gotta pump up the violence, of course.

We'll call this remake/analogue Leveraged. It's Zeitgeisty, it's business-speak, and it can be taken sexually if you use your imagination.

So, what do you think? Will anyone give me money for this crappy remake?

My point is that The Merchant of Venice speaks to our times in ways that, I think, Romeo and Juliet doesn't anymore. Mark my words, somebody will make this film.

Not me, of course. I can barely keep this blog going.

Next: Back to the (real) play.


  1. You are right, GM--I think you just wrote it, now, the screenplay. Dialogue. I remember reading that Elmore Leonard, the living king of dialogue, would record snatches of conversation from a restroom stall, now days with all the smartphones you can do it at Starbucks and noone will notice!

    But you have definitely hit on it.


  2. Who needs dialogue? We can just do it in 3-D and make Shylock a blue-skinned alien.