Dead Names, Dead Dog: For the Love of Depp

I said I’d be taking some time off, but this quote from Dead Names bears comment:

Years later, sources close to Roman Polanski – the director of Rosemary’s Baby and husband of the murdered actress Sharon Tate – would tell us the Polish director had learned of the story of the Necronomicon, including details not generally known to the public. This became the subject matter of the film The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp as a rare book dealer who becomes involved with a mysterious volume of black magic that is concerned with “gates” to the underworld: a clear reference to the Necronomicon. Anyone who met me in those days in the 1970s would recognize the Johnny Depp character: glasses, beard, black clothes, black raincoat, bag over one shoulder. The intrigue that follows Depp throughout the movie parallels some of the events in the real story, including the references to wealthy individuals who sought the power of the book for themselves.

To answer this properly, I’m going to turn to the Frequently-Asked Question (FAQ) file format. These documents, often consisting of infrequently or never asked questions and their often unnecessarily complex and convoluted answers, have gone out of style in the age of wikis and blogging.  Nonetheless, here’s a touch of nostalgia.

Ninth Gate – Dead Names FAQ version 1.0

Q: Was Simon’s Necronomicon the inspiration for The Ninth Gate?

A: No, but I’d like to think it was.

Q: How are you so certain of that?

A: Because unlike “Simon,” I actually do research on these things.

Q: What sort of in-depth research did you do for this?

A: I removed my copy of The Ninth Gate from the shelf, put it in the DVD player, and watched the title sequence. There, the movie is clearly labeled as an adaptation of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas, which tells the story of a man hired to find a book of black magic sought by many wealthy individuals.

Q: I don’t remember anything about Dumas in The Ninth Gate.

A: You should phrase that as a question, but never mind. A great deal – including an entire subplot involving The Three Musketeers – was dropped for the film version.

Q: Could it be that Perez-Reverte knew about the Necronomicon?

A: It’s fairly clear that he had heard of Lovecraft’s fictional book, as he mentions that the book Corso seeks is a translation of a book called the Delomelanicon. (One enterprising German publisher has issued it.) Still, he lives in Spain and had no known links to the New York occult scene that “Simon” insists appears throughout the book. I’d be more likely to leave it at HPL’s doorstep – Lovecraft is big in Spanish-speaking countries, and I’ve yet to find any reference to the Simon book in Perez-Reverte’s interviews.

Q: What about Polanski? How interested is he in the occult?

A: Here’s a comment from Polanski himself:

“I’m not interested at all in witchcraft and demonology as a philosophy. The devil makes me laugh,” Polanski says. “If I think that material can be fascinating, it’s when I consider it as a film director. It’s a great element to make movies with, but I find it absolutely boring in real life, and I hope that point is made quite clear in The Ninth Gate.”

Q: What about the similarities between the appearance of “Simon” and that of Depp’s character, Dean Corso?

A: I don’t have the book in front of me, but the only major change I can remember is that Depp’s Corso is younger than the Corso in the book. This, of course, is because Johnny Depp really wanted to play Corso, so that isn’t proof of anything. You can bet that if Johnny Depp went to a director wanting to play Queen Victoria, he’d be wigged and curtseying in a heartbeat.

Q:  After all this, why do you say you’d like to think that “Simon” was the basis for Corso?

A:  You’ll note that “Simon” says nothing in Dead Names about the behavior and motivations of Corso.  In his very first scene, Depp’s character is meeting with the family of a paralyzed old bibliophile.  Corso grossly exaggerates the value of their collection and picks up its most valuable work – a prized edition of Don Quixote – for a pittance from the unsuspecting family.  He comes across as a very materialistic character with a complete lack of even the “tainted” spirituality of the other characters.  In effect, “Simon” finding a kinship in this character could be seen in light of his previously-noted admiration for figures who act like scoundrels and con men. Once again, it makes you wonder what’s really going on in his head.

That’s all for tonight, folks!

Published in: on August 25, 2006 at 8:46 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. […] You, too, can see your book promoted, without any action by the authorities, nasty school board resolutions, or endangerment of your loved ones. All you have to do is make an unsubstantiated allegation that somebody, somewhere, wants to take your writing off the shelves. Now you can enter the ranks of such authors as Judy Blume, Alice Walker, and J. K. Rowling without all the inconvenient trials and harassment. I’m Simon, the au editor of the Necronomicon. Thanks to Banned (?) Books Week, I can promote my book because Dan Harms and John Gonce might be thinking about censoring it, even though they say they’re not. Plus, they made fun of me! That’s practically a full-blown government crackdown right there! Now, I’m just like James Joyce – except, of course, that I look like Johnny Depp. […]

  2. […] From Hell, and The Club Dumas (acknowledged as the source of the movie The Ninth Gate by everyone but Simon), it takes us to the world of grimy bookstores and equally shady deals.  Characters are all […]

  3. Q: What was the archangel in Anatole France’s Revolt of the Angels _really_ looking for in that old library?

    A: Victory potion.

    Q. What does “Simon’s” alter-ego write about Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate and all that?

    A. The couple had dinner with Robert Kennedy the night before he was killed. Charles Manson gave birth to the subtitle, A Grimoire of … Witchcraft, when he held aloft a newspaper in court with the headline Nixon had already found him guilty, and proclaimed he was the first American in many years convicted of witchcraft. “Grimoire” here is used in the cognate sense of “grammar,” with the connotation of order, ordnung, kosmos, logos, log, study.

    Q. Did Anton LaVey appear in or consult during the filming of Rosemary’s Baby?

    A. Nobody can find any evidence to confirm LaVey’s statement, but there is a brief flash of Satan’s face, laughing, which looks a little like him, so who knows?

    Q. Hey, I’m asking the questions here, FAQer. So you’re saying “Simon” has a very active imagination and uses the associative, pattern-recognizing part of his brain a lot?

    A. In a nutshell, yes. Which I can’t fault him for, and a lot of it is really interesting.

    Q. What does Necronomicon mean? Dead names?

    A. It would have to be a neologism to mean Dead Names because Necro- is Greek, and *-nomicon from nomen is Latin, just as television is a mixture of Greek and Latin. ICON is Greek, but then you have to drop the NOM. It might be more fun to pretend the NOM is Egyptian NOMOS, but that’s getting a little far afield. Lovecraft probably saw one of a number of neo-Latin titles ending in -con and tried out different permutations to fit it to Necro in a way pleasing to the eye. The two elements Necro and -icon probably stood in his mind for Book of the Dead, about which he likely knew from Budge’s works.

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