The Alienist Pilot Reviewed at Script Shadow

A review of the pilot for The Alienist appeared on Script Shadow earlier today. Unfortunately, I do not have good news to report from this. It suggests the character changes for John that I reported on a few days ago have indeed made it into the adaptation. After reading the review, I suspect that whether one is going to enjoy this series ultimately comes down to a matter of taste. While the reviewer was enthusiastic about the script, I don’t get the impression they have read (at least recently) the source material, so inconsistencies clearly don’t bother them. However, from what they have described, this show will not be representative of The Alienist that I know and love. For example, it has been confirmed that John enjoys playing “games” with prostitutes that sound like they correspond to the “twisted role playing” that was mentioned in the press release for the character of Flora.

We meet John Moore with a prostitute and, as he’s having sex with her, he’s angry because she’s telling him that she’s in love with another man. At that moment, the madame bursts in and the girl “drops the act.” It was all a little game they were playing.

In addition, it appears that the character changes are not restricted to John. The review also makes mention that Kreizler keeps fetuses in his office. Where on Earth did this come from? Yes, the book mentions that he keeps brains in specimen jars, but that makes sense. He is a psychiatrist. More than this, the reviewer’s comment that Kreizler is “into some really dark disturbing shit” is enough to convince me that the script will not be loyal to the book. Kreizler is a workaholic who is passionate about saving children from abuse. In his free time, he enjoys relaxing at the opera, dining at fine restaurants, collecting antique furniture and fine art. When has Kreizler ever done anything that would suggest that he is “into some really dark disturbing shit”? I first became concerned about this when I read Daniel Bruhl’s recent comment “I’m playing a nice guy in The Alienist, too. More or less, I would say.” Why would he suggest that Kreizler is “more or less” a nice guy? Kreizler is a nice guy — there should be absolutely no debate about it.

Given this troubling turn of events, I feel that I should be open. I fully understand that we all have our own degree of changes from source material that we can accept in adaptations and there will undoubtedly be fans of the books who won’t be concerned about these changes. However, my loyalty lies with the books and the books alone. I started 17th Street as a resource for the books, and that is what the website is going to remain. Consequently, unless there is some drastic turnaround with what is being revealed through these script leaks, I won’t be watching. The are better things to watch, and I would rather keep my memory of the books and characters unspoiled.

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Lots of Alienist Adaptation News

Well, it’s certainly been busy in the lead up to shooting for TNT’s adaptation of The Alienist with lots of casting and production news coming out in recent weeks. As I mentioned in the previous update, it appears as though actors who have already been cast have been making their way to Budapest in preparation for filming, and the photo to the right shared on Luke Evans’ (playing John Moore) twitter feed on March 16 appears to indicate that shooting has now begun!

An additional photo has also appeared on twitter from Antonio Magro sharing his new look for his role as gangster Paul Kelly, with Falk Hentschel seen behind playing Biff Ellison. Meanwhile, Dakota Fanning commented recently in an interview with Collider on what prompted her to take the role of Sara Howard in the upcoming series:

The reason I wanted to do it was that, first of all, I loved the story. I love the other actors that I’m working with, and the character that I’m getting to play is a super strong woman, especially for the time in which she lives in. She’s the first woman to work at the New York City Police Department, and that’s really cool. And as for why I wanted to do TV, I think work is work, and telling stories is telling stories, no matter where they’re shown. I’m such a huge fan of television and what’s happening in television, right now. You are able to visit characters and visit a story, week to week, push things in a different way than you can in a film, and you are able to go deeper, simply because you have more time. I’m just excited to do that. It’s always good to do new things. It felt, for so many reasons, like the right time in my life and the right piece of material. I’m thrilled!

On the casting front, it was announced on March 9 that Sean Astin will be playing Theodore Roosevelt. Astin is perhaps best known for his role as Sam Gamgee in the Academy Award winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, but has also appeared in numerous TV and movie roles over the years ranging from The Goonies (1985), to Rudy (1993), to the TV series 24 (2006), and most recently Stranger Things (2017). TNT’s press release for Roosevelt describes the Police Commissioner as a “brilliant and ambitious yet principled … crusading reformist determined to clear up corruption in the police force he now heads. While usually inured to crime in New York, Roosevelt becomes outraged over the fact that children are being murdered in his city and develops a warlike zeal to find the perpetrator.” This is a fitting description of TR’s character, and Astin’s recent appearance in Bad Kids of Crestview Academy (2017) as pictured to the right certainly gives the impression that he will look the part of a younger TR at least.

Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. Deadline reported on March 17 that a new character has been cast who is not in the novel. Emanuela Postacchini has been cast as Flora, “a beautiful young prostitute at the Frenchtown brothel who indulges in some twisted role playing and is a favorite of newspaper illustrator John Moore.” It should go without saying why this is a troubling piece of news. First, it is confirmation that John Moore’s profession has indeed been changed from crime reporter to newspaper illustrator, a change that — as I noted late last year — is concerning for several reasons, not least its connection to the disturbing audition recordings that surfaced in early 2016. Second, and more importantly, it suggests that John’s character has been changed. While we can all acknowledge that John has a weakness for a beautiful woman (or as Stevie puts it in The Angel of Darkness, “Mr. Moore’s always [been] an easy mark for a charming lady”), there is quite a far divide from that and engaging in “twisted role playing” at a Frenchtown brothel. Moreover, the wording of the character description appears to indicate that John is a frequent patron of this particular brothel. Given that, at its core, The Alienist is a story about the rescue of children from the sex industry — a cause that John is vocally passionate about at numerous points in the novel — the decision to change his character to someone who would engage in “twisted role playing” at a brothel undermines the entire message of the novel.

In addition to Flora, another character who doesn’t appear in the novel, Ernestine (played by Ezra Fieremans), has also now appeared on the cast list at IMDb. There is no word yet on what role this character will be playing in the adaptation. I suppose that only time will tell what direction the production team are taking this adaptation in. However, as Dakota herself suggested, the beauty of a television adaptation is that it allows us to get to know the characters in a deeper way than movies usually allow. Given this, my own question to the producers of this show is why not get to know the fascinating three-dimensional characters that long-time Alienist readers have come to know and love from the bestselling books themselves? After all, historical fiction can be wonderfully evocative and thrillers can be exciting, but the only reason to return to the same book time and again is because we find connection in the story through characters we come to know and love. That is the enduring legacy of these books — and that is what, one would hope, the production team should be aiming to capture on the screen.

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Audition Recordings from The Alienist TV Series

Earlier this week, I reported that a troubling audition recording for the role of Marcus Isaacson in The Alienist TV series had surfaced publicly on Vimeo. The recording suggested that Marcus had taken a woman with a baby into his family’s house so that he could “fornicate” with her. As any Alienist reader would know, this is completely inconsistent with Marcus’ portrayal in the novel. Since posting this, I have been made aware that several more — equally troubling — audition recordings have surfaced, also publicly on Vimeo (see below).

I am making this public because it disturbs me significantly that the team working on this adaptation appear to be corrupting the characters from the novel. Please note that this concern does not relate to the actors whose recordings have surfaced; it relates exclusively to the script they are reading from. Although most of the recordings have now been pulled down, I strongly encourage Alienist readers to share your feelings about what is being done to your favourite characters and spread this news to any other fans of the novel that you know.

Sara Howard

One of the most offensive portrayals in the audition recordings relates to Sara Howard. In the worst scene, Sara is portrayed as silly and immature, giggling and unable to bring herself to say the word penis, before naively asking her maid about the size of one she saw earlier that day. (This from a character who, in the The Angel of Darkness, told John, “even through the sheets I could clip off both your testicles with one shot — so I advise you to unhand me.”)

In another scene that does not appear in the novel, she indicates that she could be enticed to steal coronial reports, betraying Theodore Roosevelt’s trust, if John would portray Roosevelt and herself in a more flattering light in The New York Times.

The recording has now been removed.

Transcription from the recording —
Sara: “Tessie, have you ever seen a…”
Tessie: “Yes, miss?”
Sara: “I’m trying to say the word but I’m failing…”
Tessie: “What is it, miss? Is it a man’s… manhood?”
(They both giggle.)
Tessie: “Oh dear, what sort of things have they been exposing you to downtown?”
Sara: “It has been mainly civilised, Tessie, I swear it. But I did see one today. And it occurred to me, I didn’t know whether it was a large one or a small one.”
(She tries to demonstrate size using her fingers.)
Tessie: “Was it rigid?”
Sara: “Dear God, Tessie, I didn’t touch it! Have you ever…? I’m sorry, I’m being impertinent, aren’t I?”
Tessie: “No, it’s fine, miss. I never thought I’d have this conversation with you of all people. Yes.”
Sara: “Yes! And…”
Tessie: “It felt… dangerous.”

Marcus Isaacson

As I explained above, Marcus is portrayed in the following recording as a man who would take a woman with a baby into his family’s house under the pretext of caring for his mother so that he can “fornicate” with her. He also chuckles inappropriately at the conclusion of a bastardised ‘prayer’ he sings over the mutilated bodies of the Zweig children that, according to another tape in which the prayer is read in English, translates to: “May the Lord bless us and keep us and our loved ones off the autopsy table.”

Although the recording has now been removed, much of the same dialogue can be found in a Lucius Isaacson audition that is still publicly available.

Transcription from the recording —
Marcus: “Doesn’t the Torah say desire is no more a sin than hunger or thirst?”
Lucius: “If you’d bothered to read the Torah, you’d know it says no such thing. It says there are impulses we have to control. That’s what makes men different from beasts.”
Marcus: “I guess I fall somewhere between the two, then.”

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler

No audition recording has surfaced as yet for Dr. Kreizler. However, hints about how his character has been changed can be found in lines that appear in auditions for other characters. For example, he appears uncharacteristically rude in the preceding Sara audition:

Transcription from the Sara Howard recording —
John: “Miss Sara Howard, this is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. Dr. Kreizler, Roosevelt, and I were at Harvard together.”
(Sara holds out her hand to Dr. Kreizler.)
Sara: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, doctor. I believe I’ve read a great deal about you.”
(Kreizler does not return the handshake.)
Kreizler: “A pleasure to know you can read. We’re here to see the Commissioner.”

The Sara Howard audition also suggests that Theodore Roosevelt does not want to associate himself with Dr. Kreizler, in complete contrast to Kreizler and Roosevelt’s relationship in the novel.

John Schuyler Moore

As with Dr. Kreizler, no recording of John has surfaced as yet. However, the first scene from the Patrick Connor recording suggests that John is no longer a crime reporter in the adaptation, while the first scene from the Sara Howard recording suggests that he is a society reporter who has published a piece containing the following line: “Her [Sara’s] father was a childhood friend of Commissioner Roosevelt, although the intimacy of their working quarters calls decency into question.”

As anyone who has read the book would realise, this is the last thing John would ever write about either of his friends. In addition, Sara would have to be exceptionally young in order for Sara’s father and TR to have been childhood friends.

Patrick Connor

The recording that has appeared of Captain Connor indicates that he is being used in place of Sergeant Flynn when the body of Giorgio Santorelli has been discovered, and that he has multiple scenes in the adaptation long before he first appears in the novel. While the decision to blend Flynn and Connor may not appear problematic at first glance, I would like to remind readers that Connor’s role belongs exclusively behind the scenes for most of the novel. If he is introduced this early, what will be the big reveal two thirds of the way into the story at the meeting with J. P. Morgan?

The recording has now been removed.

Please share this news with any other Alienist readers who may be interested.

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The Alienist by Caleb Carr – Part Two

View Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of The Alienist book blog series.

The Alienist 2006 EditionAs we fast approach the conclusion of the 20th anniversary year of The Alienist‘s publication, I am honoring the milestone for the second last time on 17th Street with Part Two of a special three part blog series examining the novel’s central themes. In addition to presenting The Alienist as a superb piece of historical fiction, Part One in the blog series explored two of the novel’s central themes—corruption and hypocrisy—to help to explain why the investigative team attracted so many “powerful enemies” as they pursued their killer. Specifically, it was their enemies’ fear of exposure of “all the hidden crimes that we commit when we close ranks to live among each other,” as Dr. Kreizler put it at the conclusion of The Alienist, that was so very dangerous to the city’s power brokers at the time. As we continue our discussion in Part Two, we will be examining these “hidden crimes” more directly as we explore some of the themes in the novel that relate to the hidden world of the family behind closed doors.

Society’s Secret Sins

One of the more surprising twists in the final chapters of The Alienist was the assistance provided by Paul Kelly’s right-hand man, eat-’em-up Jack McManus, during John Moore and Dr. Kreizler’s final confrontation with the killer. Puzzled about why Kelly, a notorious gangster, might have decided to help the doctor in such an essential way given his efforts to cause mayhem and disruption earlier in the investigation (see Part One), one of the final scenes in the novel involves John visiting Kelly at the latter’s New Brighton Dance Hall. Although Kelly feigns ignorance about the part his henchman played in the crucial battle, he does provide John with one tantalizing hint regarding his motives.

The Alienist, Chapter 46:

“I’m not saying I know anything about it, of course. But ask yourself this when you get a free minute—of all the people who were up there tonight, who do you think is really the most dangerous to the boys uptown?”

Anthony ComstockThis view is reflected in the outrage we see the censor of the United States Post Office, Anthony Comstock, express during a meeting he and other prominent New York figures, including the famed financier J. P. Morgan, have with John and Dr. Kreizler early in Part III of the novel. Comstock claims during this meeting that he believes it is Dr. Kreizler’s intent to “spread unrest by discrediting the values of the American family and society” through the pursuit of an investigation that relies heavily on a theory founded in psychological determinism being found to have merit; specifically, Dr. Kreizler’s theory of “context” in which it is proposed that an individual’s personality and behavior in adulthood is determined by his or her experiences during infancy and childhood. Comstock is not alone in his concerns, with J. P. Morgan joining Comstock in expressing his misgivings about the implications of Dr. Kreizler’s theory as well.

The Alienist, Chapter 30:

“Mr. Comstock has the energy and brusqueness of the righteous, Dr. Kreizler. Yet I fear that your work does unsettle the spiritual repose of many of our city’s citizens, and undermines the strength of our societal fabric. After all, the sanctity and integrity of the family, along with each individual’s responsibility before God and the law for his own behaviour, are twin pillars of our civilization.”

Although Dr. Kreizler successfully contends during the meeting that he has never “argued against the idea that every man is responsible before the law for his actions, save in cases involving the truly mentally diseased,” this is not the first time Dr. Kreizler has faced open opposition to his work or theories. Indeed, early in the novel we see John express his disbelief that Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt would so much as countenance the Doctor taking part in any police investigation given the general public’s opinion of his friend’s work. | Continue reading →

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