Audiences love Salvation Boulevard. Critics hate it.
I've seen it five times.
Twice at Sundance, at the Library, a beautiful, but drafty, old auditorium with mediocre sound that seats around 400 people, and at a 1500 seat venue with great sound. With a really bad, dark, purplish print at the Lighthouse Film Festival on the Jersey Shore, at Thriller Fest on a smallish screen in a dingy meeting room in the drab and dreary Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street, and with a home town crowd at the Tinker Street Cinema in Woodstock, New York.
At each and every screening, the audiences appeared to love it.
That is, nobody snored, the absolute minimum of people made toilet and refreshment runs, they laughed out loud at the right places, and when it was over, they walked out talking avidly about the subject matter and praising the film.
Most of the reviews have been lukewarm to vicious.
Why have I seen it five times? Why do I care?
I wrote the book that it's based on.
When my books are reviewed, for good or ill, I have a policy of no replies. No complaints, no excuses, no explanations. That's the game. You put your work out there, bask privately in the praise if there is any, take your lumps in silence, looking cool and unfazed.
The relationship of the movie to the book is this.
Imagine that I built myself a wonderful little castle out of Legos. Then two mischievous boys, George Ratliff and Doug Stone came along, knocked it down, broke it apart, and then built their own castle, using all my pieces. The themes, the ideas, several of the characters and many of the incidents are there, but they're stacked in different places and attached to each other in different combinations.
How much should a movie be like the book?
Anybody every read To Have and Have Not, by Earnest Hemingway? It's my favorite Hemingway, actually, his only novel that I really like. The screenplay is by William Faulkner (another well know writer). The only relationship between the two is the title and the lead character has a boat. It's a wonderful film. Gorky Park was a great novel. The dreadful film follows it precisely and loses its soul. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo tried to accommodate the book's plot points and tied its own tail in knots.
The differences free me to comment.
After seeing the film -- to my great delight -- I was shocked by first reviews. The cognative dissonance continues.
Why the difference?
Anyone who sounds off for a living has an opinion of what religion is, their own very special idea of what the real, real truth is, how it should be treated and explained. When a movie doesn't do it they way they would have written it or directed, they feel like the writers and the director got it wrong! So there! What it should have done was ... whatever.
The second reason is that the word "satire" got attached to the film.
Doctor Strangelove, and Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, were satires. A satire either takes behavior to an extreme, like Zoolander, or moves normal behavior into a different frame to reveal how bizarre it is, like Wag the Dog. It is normal and necessary to create war propaganda for the home population, but in the book, a film director is asked to create a war that the American people will love on television. In the film, it's a producer who creates the illusion of a war, in both cases to win an election.
The book of Salvation Boulevard was not a satire. It was an exploration of faith and religion and their influence on politics.
The film of Salvation Boulevard is not a satire.
Neither one exaggerates religious actions. We're in at least two religious wars, the Republican Party is a co-dependent of the Religious Right, the Democratic president of the US has to go around proving he's a Christian, and Republican candidates deny evolution. Compared to that, the effects of faith in the book and the film are relatively reasonable and mild. The book only has two corpses and the movie has less.
Neither the book nor the film moves religion to a different venue, say, a fast food franchise empire or an intergalactic civilization in order to reveal its absurdities.
Each, in its own way, tries to explore the needs that lead us to faith, how those faiths, in the form of organized religion can both sustain us and lead us into error -- even, if you will, into sin.
The movie has a decidedly different tone from the book.
George is a genial story-teller, in the Mark Twain mode. A more modern comparison would be Garrison Keillor. Imagine, if you will, a mega-church wannabee real estate developer goes to Lake Woebegone. That's the psychic space where this movies lives.
Then, if you're young or old, a believer or an unbeliever, sit back, munch your popcorn and enjoy this very human and very funny tale. As did all five audiences that I watched watching it.