400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
Frankly, I'm a little surprised at the reception to Clark Gregg's Choke (12 screens). It has pulled in nearly $3 million, which is fairly respectable, although it's apparently still shy of recouping its production budget. Critics have banded together to rate it a low 56% on Rotten Tomatoes (I contributed a "fresh" review), but fans have ranked it a high 7.3 out of 10 on IMDB. I guess this means that the film has its fans, but only a small group of them. And so it goes when filmmakers try to adapt cult novels.
Cult novels are a far more difficult prospect than a mere best-seller or Pulitzer Prize winner. These are novels that people love fiercely, oftentimes written by a novelist that they love fiercely. Many of these novels resist filmic adaptation for some reason or another (The Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Crying of Lot 49, Kitchen, Snow Crash, etc.). But when a movie of a cult novel hits, it hits big. It crawls under the public's skin and nestles there beside the novel itself. David Cronenberg made a classic out of William S. Burroughs' "unfilmable" novel Naked Lunch. Danny Boyle made an energetic, powerful, disturbing crazy-quilt out of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, and Ridley Scott made a flat-out masterpiece out of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (a.k.a. Blade Runner).