The movie opened on passing trees and a view of a pebbled beach, scored by chamber music. If not for the drab conference room and scenes of Ian McEwan pensively saying the words “nipples” and “penetration,” you’d think you were in Tribeca, instead of at Book Expo America’s first film premiere. The 28-minute short, produced by Powell’s Books in Portland, Oreg., is headed to cinemas and bookstores in 54 cities this summer to promote McEwan’s new novella, On Chesil Beach (which takes about as long to read as the film takes to watch).
“Think about book clubs, think about Oprah,” said Dave Weich of Powell’s, who’s launching a series of such author docs called “Out of the Book.” McEwan, on hand to discuss the premiere, had only seen the YouTube trailer of the movie (above). “Tightly and carefully done,” he pronounced. “I very much liked the blues music, and I’d like a copy of it, please.” McEwan, who is forgoing a book tour (they’re “jolly tiring and repetitive”), is equally delighted that readers will flock to dozens of bookstores while he keeps the home fires burning. (Has he heard about the Longpen?)
But wait, what’s an author event without the author? “I think that’s naïve,” McEwan said. His choice not to tour for Atonement, his biggest hit, “confirmed my suspicion that my tours were depressing sales.” Weich pointed out that even a ten-city tour would have left out the forty-odd other towns where the movie will play — towns like humble Hale, Mich., pop. 4,292, whose sole independent-bookstore owner personally thanked Powell’s for screening there. The movies, everyone insisted, are sure to spur discussion at the events — and true enough, there’s plenty to ponder in this one. Like the scene in which Nan Talese, McEwan’s glamorous editor, mused on the book’s pivotal chapter: “Everyone who’s going to lose their virginity is going to have that awkward moment, unless they’re on drugs.” —Boris Kachka