Paul Simon isn't the flashiest of musicians, and is rarely in the news. He's not a former Beatle, he doesn't rock cool sunglasses, and he doesn't get cameos in Pirates of the Caribbean movies. But he's been making some small headlines thanks to hanging out with Oprah in Australia, and for giving his new Christmas song, "Getting Ready For Christmas Day," away for free. Nice guy!
Since he's been in the news, we've spent an inordinate time thinking about him and his career, and this led to wondering what songs of his would make good movies. If you're snorting in disbelief, just stop and think for a moment. We're in an era where board games are being optioned for movies. Are we really going to say that "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" has less screenplay possibility than a game of pegs and plastic ships?
Besides, songs have provided inspiration for movies before. Bruce Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman" was the basis for Sean Penn's film The Indian Runner. Sam Peckinpah's Convoy was based on the country song by C.W. McCall. Love Potion No. 9 was ... OK, we won't talk about that one. But Elvis Presley had a decent career of songs-to-movies, so there's a lot of precedent, and it's more promising than making a magic eight ball movie.
So, let me help you out, Hollywood. Here are five Paul Simon songs I feel would make brilliant films. Some of them date from his solo career, some of them from the Simon and Garfunkel era, but all were penned by him.
1. "The Boxer"
This plaintive 1968 tune is just begging for the big screen. Simon claims it's autobiographical, but I've always interpreted it as an immigrant's tale. Can't you see it set in the 19th century? A poor boy who leaves home (Ireland, probably) and winds up in New York poor, scared, and alone. He scrabbles around in tenements, finds comfort with prostitutes, and becomes a professional boxer for money. Think Gangs of New York crossed with Far and Away and The Godfather II, with plenty of bare-knuckle boxing and scenes of the lonely character soaking his knuckles in brine. It would end tragically, with the titular character suffering some kind of fatal or career-ending injury. "I am leaving, I am leaving / but the fighter still remains." Colin Farrell, Tom Hardy, or Kevin McKidd could star and win an Oscar.
Is there any song more suitable for the 21st-century screen than America? Two drifters in love with one another and poetic ideals hit the road supplied only with pies and cigarettes, and search for the soul of America. It would be like Away We Go and Easy Rider only more vague, aimless, and haunting. Dave Eggers could write it and Sofia Coppola could direct it, lingering on shots of some scruffy young things looking morosely across the New Jersey turnpike. "I'm empty and I'm aching and I don't know why."
3. "That's Why God Made the Movies"
Obviously! Wes Anderson should direct this melancholy and quirky tale about a boy who loses his mother and grows up with an absentee father, and gets all his life lessons from cinema. He falls for an inscrutable and lovely woman, and is so socially inept he attempts to court her using only lines from movies and songs.
A song-story in a similar vein to "The Boxer," "Duncan" is the story of Lincoln Duncan, a fisherman's son who abandons "the boredom and the chowder" of Canada for the marginally more exciting coast of New England. He falls in love with a female street preacher who seduces him in a tent, and then abandons him in a cheap motel. But why translate this exactly? Let's change the gender of the street preacher to a male and keep the setting in the 1970s, so that Duncan can still end up abandoned, alone, and thanking God he has fingers with which to play a guitar. Ang Lee should direct.
5. "You Can Call Me Al"
There has to be one goofy one of the bunch. Though the lyrics of "You Can Call Me Al" are pretty serious (there's a whole section that seems to take place in a developing nation), its connection with Saturday Night Live and Chevy Chase beg for a comedic interpretation. Hand it to Mike White and Jack Black, and it can become a dorky and charming romp about a man who accidentally becomes a Secret Service agent. He falls for the president's wife (Betty, of course) and it ends up happily ever after when she dumps the president for the honest and soft-in-the-middle man who only wanted "a photo opportunity."