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Yates' Revolutionary Road: Novel to Film

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 8, 2008 at 9:11AM

The guy could write. The story of Revolutionary Road author Richard Yates, told in excruciating detail in Blake Bailey's 2003 A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, moves me, partly because he got so little encouragement, yet went back to writing every morning, hung over or not. And he insisted on drinking and smoking himself to death. But he knew he was a good writer, and that sustained him. Here's my Variety column.
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Winslet and DiCaprio On Set of 'Revolutionary Road'
Winslet and DiCaprio On Set of 'Revolutionary Road'

Yatesnyorkerillo081215_r18043_p233The guy could write. The story of Revolutionary Road author Richard Yates, told in excruciating detail in Blake Bailey's 2003 A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, moves me, partly because he got so little encouragement, yet went back to writing every morning, hung over or not. And he insisted on drinking and smoking himself to death. But he knew he was a good writer, and that sustained him. Here's  my Variety column.  

Yates strikes a chord with me because my father sat at the dining room table every night at his Royal typewriter, a glass of cheap sherry at his elbow and a Kool wasting away in the ashtray. Yates was what he aspired to be. How many writers, inspired by the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Salinger, pecked away at the great American novel? And never succeeded? (My father's debut novel, Halfway Down the Stairs, was launched to good reviews in 1957. He never got another one published.)

Karina Longworth gets me slightly wrong on the movie adaptation of Revolutionary Road. I don't think any producer from Hollywood or elsewhere could adapt this book for the movies without warming it up. You have to give the audience some reason to hang in there. Much as I admire the book, Yates is tough and brutal. Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe, Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio kept the story grim and honest while figuring out a way to cut through the darkness.

Here's James Wood's appreciation of Yates and Revolutionary Road in The New Yorker.

And Tim Dumas in Westport Magazine.

[Illustration courtesy The New Yorker]

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

This article is related to: Books, Headliners, Genres, Awards, Drama, Period, Leonardo DiCaprio


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.