Patricia Highsmith’s cinematic life beyond the grave

Patricia Highsmith makes me proud to be a Patricia. She wasn’t perfect — far from it — but I admire her for many reasons, chiefly for her legendary novel The Price of Salt. She died 17 years ago, but the present has been good to her in the last few years. The 2010 biography The Talented Miss Highsmith was a fascinating and in-depth look into the life of the writer, who was also a lesbian. The book won author Joan Schenkar awards and praise, but also divulged many things about the somewhat secretive loner Patricia Highsmith was.


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Now the lesbian-themed The Price of Salt is being adapted into a feature film called Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska. The film is going into production in New York and London this February, which means we’ll hopefully see it release in the next year or two. The adaptation is in good hands, as the screenwriter is out lesbian playwright Phyllis Nagy, who has adapted some of Highsmith’s other work for the stage.

Also forthcoming, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst star in the adaptation of Two Faces of January, Highsmith’s 1964 novel about an American con artist who accidentally murders a Greek policeman. (Dunst plays the con artist’s wife.)

Highsmith was alive to see her first ever book-turned-film, though, when Alfred Hitchcock bought the rights to Strangers on a Train a year after it was published in 1950. Just last week, a new Blu-Ray version was released, with special features including several people including director M. Night Shyamalan and Highsmith biographer Andrew Wilson discussing how important the film was. That is to say, how important Highsmith’s story was, as well. Interestingly enough, there are two new films about Alfred Hitchcock coming out this year, too, which may also bring new viewers to the updated Strangers on a Train.

Highsmith was quite prolific, and wrote cinematically, which is one reason she’s become one of the most adapted authors ever. Her 1987 thriller The Cry of the Owl was adapted by Claude Chabrol that same year. Edith’s Diary and The Blunderer were also made into films before The Talented Mister Ripley, one of her most famous books was adapted in 1999, four years after Highsmith passed away from aplastic anemia and cancer. Ripley’s Game followed in 2002, starring John Malkovich, and then Ripley Underground in 2005.

Besides the in-depth Schnekar book about her (which is probably the best biography I’ve ever read), one of Highsmith’s ex-lovers also penned an inside look at the tortured crime novelist. Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s by Marijane Meaker is an inside look at what it was like to be close to Patricia, or what it was like to try. Even more interesting, Marijane was a lesbian pulp novelist and young adult author who wrote under the pseudonyms Vin Packer and M.E. Kerr. The fact that both of them were writers impacted their relationship, as did Patricia’s alcoholism. But if you want to know about the person who is able to create such suspenseful, murderous, dark stories that translate so perfectly into intense and watchable films, it’s definitely worth a read.

Don’t just take my word for how great Patricia is. Take Alison Bechdel, Terry Castle and Joan Schenkar’s, too.

 

Ms. Highsmith may have died more than a decade ago, but she continues to tell great stories with the help of admirable directors, actors and well-meaning ex-girlfriends.

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