Peter Graham and Duncan Porter of Virginia Tech have never been in the movies, but their collaborative anthology The Portable Darwin appears in the recent Nicolas Cage-Meryl Streep film Adaptation.
According to Beth Jones, a Roanoke Times movie critic, Adaptation is about real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, played by Cage, who is having trouble adapting real writer Susan Orlean's non-fiction book The Orchid Thief for the screen.
"Cage is obsessing about Darwin and about how to begin his screenplay, so he starts with a Darwinian sequence of events," said Lynette Moyer, instructor of English at Virginia Tech, who saw the movie with her daughter, Holly, an aspiring Los Angeles screenwriter. Holly Moyer said she recognized the book in the movie because they have had it around the house for years.
Graham's former student Jeff Koelemay said in doing research about orchids, Kaufman (Cage) "collects some books so he can read about variation and mutation of species, etc., and as he is reading, the camera does a slow pan over the top of his coffee table and stops for about three seconds on The Portable Darwin. It's in the center of the screen, clear focus, very large, and you can clearly see the title and both Peter and Duncan's names. Then the shot dissolves into something else."
Graham and Porter edited The Portable Darwin, which was published by Viking Penguin in 1993. The book fits the botanical theme of the movie, said Porter, professor of biology, because Darwin did a great deal of research about orchids and orchid pollination. Extracts from Darwin's book on orchids appear in The Portable Darwin. "So that's why Duncan and I can be found on Kaufman's coffee table," Graham said.
Matthew McAllister, a media critic in Virginia Tech's communication studies department, said it is unusual to get free "product placement" in a movie. "Normally, to have your product prominently displayed in a movie costs big bucks," he said. "But sometimes the creative personnel think a product lends artistic credibility to the movie. It sounds like that's what happened."
Neither Graham nor Porter has yet seen the movie, but both are happy to have their book in it. "The film plays around with fact morphing into fiction, so we'll find it amusing to be at once moviegoers and a prop in the movie," Graham said.
"It's marvelous," Porter said. "I just wish one of them were standing there reading it."
Nicolas Cage has been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the real-life Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald Kaufman in the film. Chris Cooper has been nominated as best supporting actor, and Meryl Streep has been nominated for best supporting actress. Charlie Kaufman and the fictional Donald Kaufman have been nominated for best screenplay based on material previously produced or published. The Academy Awards presentations will be Sunday, March 23, televised on ABC beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST.
Adaptation just finished its major theater run and played at the Grandin in Roanoke, but Susan Mattingly said the Lyric in Blacksburg has scheduled the film for March 14-20 (nightly at 7 and 9:15 p.m. plus a Sunday 3 p.m. matinee). And then there's always video and DVD—the natural evolution of a movie.