where the writers are
Burchfield at the Bijou: Parker versus Parker


When the fresh-faced kid behind the box-office window offered him the matinee senior discount, Burchfield told him to go to hell.

“Screw you, buddy!” the cashier yelled. Burchfield took the ticket, spat on the window and entered the theater lobby.

Burchfield stopped at the snack counter, paid $10.00 for a small Coke and got back $10.00. The scotch-tape-on-the-fingertips trick still worked.

Then he stomped out his e-cigarette, spat on the door leading to a showing of Les Misérables and strode into the theater.

The theater was small, had a single aisle down the middle. It was the way Burchfield liked it. Empty. Like his mind. In the night. While watching American Idol with the sound off. Or sitting in the dark, thinking of nothing.

Two more guys came in. That was all. One sat right across the aisle from Burchfield. Their eyes met in the dark. Burchfield’s hand moved toward the holster under his coat. The guy got up, moved five rows down.

When you sit in a near-empty theater with Burchfield, you’d better sit in front of him. So he can keep an eye on you.

Then the commercials and coming attractions started. It had taken years for Burchfield to stop himself from marching into the projection booth and threatening the projectionist to hurry it up or else. Now it was pointless. Everything was run by computers. The machines just sat and blinked when he barked and waved his gun at them.

He could have shot the machine, shot it dead, but then he would have missed the entire movie. In the end, he decided, commercials were the cost of doing business.

Finally, the silk red curtain rose like a whore coyly lifting her skirt. The movie began.

The movie was called Parker. It starred Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Bobby Cannavale, and Nick Nolte. It was directed by Taylor Hackford. The picture was adapted from a novel called Flashfire by Richard Stark. It was the first movie to be adapted from a Stark novel since Stark vanished forever on New Year’s Eve, 2008.

It was the first movie from a Stark novel to use Parker’s name, instead of making one up, usual a weak, stupid-sounding name like “Walker”, “Porter”, or “Dortmunder.”

It sounded like a promise that the Parker in Parker would be just like the one in Stark’s twenty-four Parker novels. It would capture the spirit of original character. Parker fans would know they would get the same thing. The true Parker.

But it wasn’t. This Parker, played with a British accent by Statham, smiled when he didn’t have to. He bragged about his ethics (as though marketing himself as the Thief You’d Most Want to Be Robbed By.) He held therapy sessions with his robbery victims. He was sincerely nice to sick people. He smiled at Jennifer Lopez’s mother. He gave away the treasure he worked so hard to steal. He struck fear only in the bad guys, in no one else, least of all Burchfield.

Worst of all, Parker made friends with a dog. A tiny, yapping dog.

As the dog wagged its tail and barked and barked and barked, Burchfield recalled wise counsel from a famous comedian: “If you can kick it for distance, it’s not a dog.”

Burchfield leaned forward, anticipating the moment when Parker would kick the dog through some convenient goalposts. But the moment never came.

This Parker also killed many many more people than the literary Parker would have found necessary to complete his business. He was a very unbusiness-like Parker.

Burchfield was no touchy, obsessive fan boy. He got it that every movie from a novel had to stand on its own as a movie. Settings have to be changed. Plots have to be reworked and telescoped, characters, even good ones, have to be put down, brutally. In the case of a bad or mediocre book, Burchfield didn’t give a damn what they did, so long as the movie was good.

But a good book has a spirit to it. That’s why they want to make it into a movie in the first place—or should. A good movie adaptation of a good book may change a lot, but it keeps that spirit, makes it glow in the dark, even if it is a fire from Hell. The reason they decided to make a movie of the book survives and prospers. Look at The Maltese Falcon.

The spirit of Flashfire, of the Richard Stark novels, Parker himself, wasn’t the Parker of Parker. Probably couldn’t be helped. It was an expensive movie. Nowadays, the more expensive the movie, the wider the audience has to be to pay for it. The knife must be dulled, the edges softened. Otherwise, not enough people will come.

Hence the warm, sincere smiles, the moral vanity, the giving of money away.

And the dog. The damn stupid dog.

Not that Burchfield thought Parker a bad bad movie. He thought it was a well-made pulp crime movie typical of today: glossy, loud, clangorous, every punch ringing like a hammer on a bell, blood running like cherry syrup. Except for Ms. Lopez, none of the other actors and their characters were given much to do, besides curse and yell and then fall down and bleed all over.

At one point, Burchfield worried that Nick Nolte would burst into song. Good thing that didn’t happen.

Sometimes, it was funny as though another writer had applied his pen from somewhere. It became more like something written by that writer.

People who knew little or nothing about Parker wouldn’t know, wouldn’t care, would actually like this Parker. They’d think they were seeing the real Parker. They’d think it was the same thing.

Richard Stark and Parker, in their cold-eyed spirit, may not be at home in a big-budget A-movie. Parker needs an independent B-picture, or an HBO/Showtime movie, to be Parker, pure and simple, this ornery emblem of unbridled criminality.

“Who the hell’s Donald E. Westlake?” Burchfield growled as the credits started to roll. He rose, spat on the carpet, and strode grimly up the aisle. At the door, the usher stopped him, told him that it was against the law to spit on the floor.

So what?” Burchfield said.

He left the usher with his feet sticking out of the trash bin. He hurried home, made it just in time to watch Poirot on public television.

At least they nailed him.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by author

Thomas Burchfield is the author of the contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark, winner of the IPPY, NIEA, and Halloween Book festival awards for horror in 2012. He’s also author of the original screenplays Whackers and The Uglies (e-book editions only). Published by Ambler House Publishing, all are available at Amazon in various editions. You can also find his work at Barnes and Noble,  Powell's Books, Scribed and at the Red Room bookstore. He also “friends” on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, and reads at Goodreads. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.