After declining to write the screenplay for his previous novels “The World According to Garp” and “The Hotel New Hampshire,” Irving approached “Cider House” armed with director, cast and script approval. But the picture appeared star-crossed from the start.
The story of orphan Homer Wells (played by Tobey Maguire) and the personal odyssey that takes him away from the orphanage obstetrician (Michael Caine) who hopes Homer will one day fill his shoes, the film itself became a production odyssey.
It was orphaned by directors Phillip Borsos, Wayne Wang and Michael Winterbottom and re-written several times (“the first draft was a nine-hour movie”), eventually landing at Miramax with producer Richard Gladstein and director Lasse Hallstrom.
In recounting the compromises he made in compressing the huge and intricate novel into a feature film Irving laboriously details scenes that were revised and scrapped, reprints his notes on the first cut and excerpts of dialogue and often pauses to vent his frustration either with abortion opponents or with the unreliable producers who first offered to bankroll the project: “in the landscape of Hollywood, they’re as familiar as litter.”
An author “who had virtually stopped going to the movies when Bergman announced he had made his last film,” Irving comes off as a testy collaborator with a decidedly anemic view of the screenwriting process. “What passes for language in a screenplay,” he writes, “is rudimentary, like the directions for assembling a children’s toy.”
But this outsider’s account of the painstaking process of shaping and reshaping an Oscar-nominated script illuminates something deeper about the creative process: the frisson of a novelist who sees the characters he created some two decades before finally come to life on the set of the film. Irving’s thrill is palpable.