Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

Introducing yet another occasional series here at Maud Newton dot com: Dream Adaptations, in which we consider some less well-known books that might make good movies. Not all good books would make good movies. In fact, many great books suck ass onscreen. It’s just the nature of the beast. That’s why we call this “Dream” Adaptations.

Why is it so hard to adapt a novel for the screen? For one thing, even a longish screenplay tops out at about 20,000 words, only about one-fifth the length of a short novel. Even in a wordy, introspective novel that means that much of the story needs to be cut, leaving it like a stripped-out car on cinder blocks by the side of a highway. And the fact that most movies are a collective enterprise, the product of the creative decisions of many different people. Also, we experience films differently than books. For better or worse, most of us have been trained by western cinema to expect narrative flow and causality. In a book, we’ll happily read fifty pages without much happening if the characters and voice engage us, but if nothing “happens” in a movie in the first ten minutes, we’re liable to start feeling that the filmmaker is either incompetent or manipulative.

But enough reality. Let’s get back to fantasy. Books I’d love to see turned into a movie, if that movie were done exquisitely well:

First up: Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black by Cookie Mueller.

As John Waters said in his introduction to one of the posthumous collections of Mueller’s work:

Cookie Mueller was a writer, a mother, an outlaw, an actress, a fashion designer, a go-go dancer, a witch-doctor, an art-hag, and above all, a goddess. Boy, do I miss that girl.

Mueller died of AIDS in 1989, at the age of 40. She starred in two John Water’s films, Pink Flamingoes and Female Trouble, and was a columnist and occasional art critic for Details, Bomb and the East Village Eye. Most of her writing was published posthumously, including Walking Through Clear Water In a Pool Painted Black, a collection of autobiographical recollections.

I’ve always loved this book. I love Mueller’s no-bullshit, good-humored approach to even the darkest material, how her work is so goddamn life-affirming without the faintest sliver of self-pity or senitmentality. And I love her killer openings:

I had two lovers and I wasn’t ashamed. The first was Jack. He was seventeen and I was fifteen. The skin of his face was so taut over protruding bones that I feared for his head, the same sympathetic fear one has for the safety of an egg…

I accidentally burned a friend’s house to the ground once…

The whole time we were flying across the Atlantic I hadn’t been nervous at all about my personal stash of drugs that I was carrying inside my overly padded bra…

There’s more in this short book for a killer roadtrip movie and a dozen sequels. Cookie’s a heroine for the ages.

Any obscure books you’d like to see made into a movie? Drop me a line at annie at maud newton dot com.


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