Quentin Tarantino may know how to make a blood bath of a western, but he’s no match for the brutality and carnage laid down by Cormac McCarthy in his 1985 novel BLOOD MERIDIAN. Following the perspective of its main character, known only as “the kid”, BLOOD MERIDIAN tells the story of a real life group of scalp hunters called the Glanton Gang. Taking place between 1849 and 1850, the novel depicts a particularly brutal and disgraceful chapter in history, which would make for an incredible film.
Cormac wrote BLOOD MERIDIAN based on a excerpt from Samuel Chamberlain’s memoir MY CONFESSION: THE RECOLLECTIONS OF A ROGUE. Chamberlain, an American adventurer and author, was one of the last known survivors of John Joel Glanton’s infamous ride through Mexico, collecting the scalps of Native Americans. Hired by the Mexican government to track down and kill a band of Apaches, Glanton’s gang was paid by the scalp.The gang quickly realized they could make more money hunting down and killing any Native American tribe unfortunate enough to cross their path. Not happy with Glanton’s tactics, the State of Chihuahua put a bounty on Glanton and his gang’s scalps. The gang quickly made a run for Arizona, but not before leaving a path of destruction in their wake.
Glanton’s gang met their end in Yuma, Arizona at a ferry crossing. The Yuma Crossing spanned the Colorado River between California and Arizona and was heavily traveled by gold miners returning from conquest. Once again motivated by greed, Glanton had his men murdered and robbed 49ers, returning from California with their newfound wealth. Just downriver a group of Quechan natives were operating a rival ferry. Unfamiliar with the term ‘friendly competition’, Glanton had his men killed the natives and destroyed their boat. In retaliation, the surviving Quechan warriors pulled together their forces and massacred Glanton and most of his gang, making sure to scalp them before tossing their bodies into a fire. The event would lead to the Yuma War, and more death and destruction.
McCarthy’s retelling is a literary account filled with cruelty and brutality depicting the vicious murder of men, women, and children. Most of his characters are reprehensible, but in their reprehension they are fascinating. The kid is a soft-spoken innocent who matures in an atmosphere of extreme violence. The morals “the kid” develops starkly contrast the killers that surround him. People like John Glanton, who collects his victim’s teeth and ears and wears them around his neck, do little to break the kid’s morality. And for years, Hollywood has been trying to put out a movie version of this riveting story! And many have tried!
A film version of BLOOD MERIDIAN has been in development ever since the book was released. One of the first directors to take on the task was Ridley Scott who called the project “Bloody and so unforgiving [and] irredeemably dark”, before abandoning the project. Todd Field would take over for Scott, but he too agreed that the film should be left as a novel. The most recent attempt at getting the film off the ground was led by James Franco who released test footage online after being rejected by the film’s rights holder.
One factor that makes an adaptation so difficult, besides living up to the source material, is the violence. Sure films like BONE TOMAHAWK have reinvigorated violent Westerns, but its nothing compared to the viciousness encapsulated in BLOOD MERIDIAN.
However, the biggest factor that makes a film version so difficult is the characters. Those who have read the novel will agree that very few actors could live up to the sheer magnitude of McCarthy’s characters. No matter where you look on the call sheet, there are characters any actor would kill to play, but none are more appealing then McCarthy’s most reprehensible character, Judge Holden. A pederast, an intellectual, and the embodiment of evil- the Judge may just be a demon from hell. Holden is a learned man, frequently pontificating on the precepts of law, chemistry, philosophy, and various other intellectual subjects while at the same time committing despicable acts of rape and murder. McCarthy describes him as a massive man standing over seven feet tall. He is extremely strong and carries a howitzer as though it were a rifle. The judge is completely bereft of hair, possibly suffering from alopecia. He also takes great pains in protecting his skin from the sun, as his skin will burn red from exposure. Although many of the characters from BLOOD MERIDIAN are drawn from real people, no one has yet found a source for Judge Holden.
When the book, BLOOD MERIDIAN, was originally released, it received little attention, but over time, it has grown to be considered one of the great american novels and masterpiece of Wild West literature. Although a film version, if done right, would be a masterpiece of violence and gore, you can’t help but feel that no movie could live up to the novel. But I’d still pay good money to see an adaptation come to the big screen!
And click here to check out James Franco’s test footage for a possible BLOOD MERIDIAN movie!