The James Purdy Society
James Purdy's Film Potential
The noted French writer and essayist Andre Maurois said of James Purdy’s early short stories, “they are in the best American tradition which is not very far from the best French storytellers.” It was this talent for simple and direct storytelling both imaginative and powerful and Purdy’s ability to write distilled and concentrated dialogue which intrigued and fascinated the world’s visionary film directors Luchino Visconti, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Other directors have also found his writing galvanizing: Derek Jarman, Elfi Mikesh, James Bridges, Ralph Bakshi, John Waters and Michael Cimino are a few.
Dame Edith Sitwell who along with Dorothy Parker and Jane Bowles were the early champions of his work wrote, “I am convinced that long after my death James Purdy will come to be recognized as one of the greatest writers America has ever produced.” The three of them saw the kind of wall both he and his work were up against especially in his own country. In a rather recent autobiography he wrote, “My work has been compared to an underground river which flows often undetected through the American landscape.” Living in virtual obscurity with an ever growing cult following he has delivered a body of intense, diverse, imaginative and highly entertaining work (sixteen novels, nine full length plays, twelve short plays, three books of short stories and five books of poetry). He has been translated into over thirty two languages.
Gore Vidal has stated that the media has three tactics for keeping someone underground: to trivialize, to slander and to ignore. All three have been leveled against Mr. Purdy and as his three strong defenders had died he was left unprotected. Never having had an extremely powerful agent or manager or businessman behind him since Osborn Andreas died very early in his career (the Andreas Foundation/Archer Daniels Midland printed his first book) Purdy fell to a series of devoted but understandably powerless agents editors and publishers who lacked the power the support and of course the money to come up with any overall plan of attack with which they could challenge the lack or kind of media coverage nor even the lack or kind of academic coverage. Perhaps up until now there wasn’t a plan possible.
As we begin to proceed into the new millennium many will be looking back on the last century seeking what was missed. In James Purdy’s work they will find a wealth of raw material waiting to be discovered by the right discoverer. Like so many great artists of the past both he and his work will be moved out from their underground position to a position of much greater prominence. Whereas the people of his time have tried to type and categorize him reduce and dismiss him the future will find great worth in all that the past has slandered. The tide turns.
The cinema will eventually discover him and probably more than any other venue it will establish his reputation. New filmmakers seeking a cinematic style which has never been explored (once they are exposed to and encouraged toward Purdy through some kind of renewal in media coverage) will find a wealth of material all of it fluid and dramatic and all easily adapted to the screen. And all of it immensely entertaining. They will begin to find what they have been seeking. A hot style of realism in storytelling and a style of visualizing a scripted reality both unique, original, individualistic and imaginative which has never been seen in cinema before. Not in this country nor in any other.