I’m always comforted to hear that Woody Allen has another film in production. It means that he’s still alive and there’s a chance he’ll make another film that entertains and inspires me. There’s a chance, because he’s often made films that have bored me and made me wonder if he’s completely lost that special something that led to the creation of ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo,’ ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ ‘Deconstructing Harry,’ ‘Annie Hall’… (the list could go on). His newest film stars Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Roberto Benigni, and Penélope Cruz.
But when I read the title of Woody’s new film, I was nonplussed. What the fuck, exactly, does ‘Bop Decameron’ mean? I could only assume it was another sign the director’s age was catching up with him. He was clearly speaking non-sense at this point. However, when it finally occurred to me to look up the word ‘decameron,’ I was relieved to see that it did refer to something real—a book by Giovanni Boccaccio called The Decameron. However, I became concerned again when I read that the book was written in 1350… medieval times? The ‘bop’ in the title of the film clearly means an updating of the material, but what could possibly translate to the modern age from the time of Black Plague?
A few weeks before this discovery, my roommate placed a paper bag of books in the hallway he intended to take to Goodwill. I asked to rifle through them before he took them away and he agreed. One of the volumes I took was a book that looked fascinating called… can you see where this is going? … THE DECAMERON.
When I remembered this very book sat upon my bookshelf, I snatched it up and began to read. ‘Decameron,’ according to Wikipedia, “is a portmanteau, or combination of two Greek words meaning “ten” (δέκα déka) and “day” (ἡμέρα hēméra).” The book opens in Florence, with a terrifying description of how the Black Plague decimated the population and altered the social landscape, it would seem, for good. Seven young women plot to flee the City for the Country, and enlist the help of three young men. Each night, the group of ten gathers to tell one story each, for ten days.
The first tale concerns what must have been that time’s most egregious example of a despicable human being. Ser Ciapelletto forges documents, lies under oath, swindles his friends, and “was as fond of women as dogs are of a beating with a stick; he was, in fact, more fond of me, more so than any other degenerate.” The man of ill repute falls ill while traveling. On his death bed, he wishes to not be a burden upon his hosts. In order to receive a burial by the parish, Ciapelletto gives a priest his confession and makes himself out to be the most woe-fully ignorant and pious, God-fearing man ever lived. Ciapelletto dies. The priest hails his holiness at a public funeral, consecrates his body, and eventually makes the man a saint.
This story line wasn’t exactly what I expected to read in a book from the Middle Ages. Another story involved a monk taking a woman from the fields into his room where they “amuse themselves” with another. In order to sneak the woman out, the monk sets a trap that involves the head monk stumbling upon the woman alone in the room where they, naturally, “amuse themselves.” The head monk caught red-handed, has to help the first monk get the woman out of the monastery, back to the farm.
What I’m getting at, is that this way old book had funny, raunchy stuff in it. Like almost Apatow-worthy comedic plot twists and flourishes. I’m excited to see a modern adaptation of a few of these tales. There are a hundred stories told in the book, so it’s almost impossible to tell which have captured Allen’s imagination. But their consistent theme of mistaken identity, swindlers, sexual escapades, and fools makes it prime material. Given its public domain status, the stories are also cheaply-acquired source material. I sense mimicry afoot. I’m reading the stories to figure out which ones I want to adapt.
Update 4/3/2012: Woody Allen changed the title of his new film twice since the writing of this post. First to “Nero Fiddled,” alluding to the myth that Emperor Nero played the fiddle as Rome burned; then Allen changed the title again “To Rome With Love.” Comes out April 20, 2012.