MEET JOE BLACK
Meet Joe Black is the culmination of two decades of gestation on the part of director/producer Martin Brest and was inspired by a character from the 1920s stage play adapted for the screen in 1934 as Death Takes A Holiday
Meet Joe Black is the culmination of two decades of gestation
on the part of director/producer Martin Brest and was inspired
by a character from the 1920s stage play adapted for the screen
in 1934 as Death Takes A Holiday. "I first saw the
original film over 20 years ago," Brest says, "and it
intrigued me; haunted me, really. There was a suggestion in the
old movie of what might be a great story, but it was a story that
had yet to be discovered. We had to start from scratch because
rather than do a remake I wanted to explore an element that sparked
Brest first started thinking seriously about the project as early
as 1982, but the proper approach remained a puzzle. He worked
with several writers and various drafts were penned over the years
while he was busy with other projects. At last, the screenplay
Brest envisioned began to take shape: a story that revolved around
a wealthy, powerful, universally-respected businessman and his
The impetus of the story would be the man's-William Parrish's-assessment
of his life and the astonishing appearance in his house of an
otherworldly presence. The twist, however, is that the screenplay
concerns itself not with any dark side of the subject but with
it's life-affirming aspects.
Interacting with the man prompts the otherworldly presence to
assume a human form-Joe Black-so that he can learn about Parrish's
life and the ways of this world, but the unthinkable occurs: Joe
falls for Susan, Parrish's beautiful, forthright daughter, and
experiences love in all its exquisite and painful permutations.
Throughout the creation of the script, the forging of Joe Black's
character was key to the story and its evocative power. "We
struggled to find a voice for Joe Black," comments Brest.
"Who is he? What does he sound like? What is his point of
view? How do we present him as a viable character so that the
audience believes that this might really happen?"
The answer was to make Joe Black as real as possible. Explains
Bo Goldman, who collaborated on the screenplay, "Joe has
a certain New England formality, and a courtesy, but he also has
something more-a profound innocence. He speaks as a child does.
He's curious, and he has respect for people. He doesn't judge
anyone, not at first anyway. And yet, he's possessed with this
unutterable, terrible power. The ultimate power. So he's lovely,
charming, attractive-but he's also menacing."
Bill Parrish's character was equally central to the film's development.
Brest perceived Parrish as an extraordinary 20th century man,
a personage of astounding wealth and power who nevertheless has
remained decent and compassionate, a man of integrity and firmly-held
convictions, someone who loved his late wife and adores both of
Kevin Wade recalls, "We wanted to create another layer to
the conflicts Parrish faces. We identified him as a man who has
built his business as a dearly held reflection of his own convictions
and tastes, and when that legacy is threatened, finds himself
in the toughest negotiation of his life. His struggle to preserve
his legacy, and the effect that his determination has on Joe,
became an integral theme for further exploring and defining their
But for all his grace, Parrish is no pushover. No one who has
achieved the power he has can be treated lightly, and Joe, upon
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