Much of the essay is given over to questioning, in relation to the stage adaptation of the diary, which of the two basic genres the story belongs to: Tragedy or Comedy? He says that it can't be a tragedy, because "...none of the characters' trials are engendered by their actions." Mamet goes on to say that, dramatically speaking, and in the broadest possible sense, the story is a comedy:
If we forget for a moment that someone was killed, the form of the piece becomes more recognizable -- it is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Our Boardinghouse, complete with (in the original [version of the play]) the traditional comedic punch line, "People are still good at heart" or "Waal, I guess we're all jes' folks..."
You might get a sense from this what Mamet, a devout Jew, thinks about the idea of turning the diary into a piece of drama. In case you're unclear, he finishes the essay with this:
It is -- one cannot even say "a truer understanding," for it is not for us to understand -- but it is, I believe, the only possible approach or relationship to these artifacts, the only permissible relationship, to them, the Diary included, is silent, distanced respect. They are not and should not be "the possession of the world," nor should they be pressed into the world's service as entertainment.
I agree with Cynthia Ozick: Better the diary had been burned.
So this announcement about his film version of the diary would seem to signal quite an about-face on his part. It could even be evidence, depending on how charitable towards Mamet you happen to feel, of straight-up hypocrisy. I don't pretend to know which it is, but I am pretty damn curious. The essay was written about ten years ago, and that's a lot of time in which to mull over a topic and, at the end, conceivably, find yourself holding a different opinion. But Mamet seems so damn concrete in that essay that I can't imagine what would take him not just from that opinion to the point where he can appreciate a film based on Anne Frank's diary, but to actually make that film himself.
Maybe Mamet simply feels like he's hit on just the right approach to do the diary justice. This wouldn't necessarily surprise me, as Mamet's never been accused -- nor do I think he'd claim this virtue for his own -- of humility. It's just that even to consider such a project would seem to go against some pretty core beliefs. He's not simply making a film about the Holocaust, he's filming the exact story he used as an example of what should be left alone.
In short, I'm baffled. To be honest, when Krauthammer first passed along the news in the comments section of my previous post, I thought that Mamet had made a joke, and somebody took him seriously. It wouldn't be the first time that's happened. Just recently, in fact, I heard that Joe Dante said, in front of a reporter, that it wouldn't surprise him if somebody made a new Gremlins movie, and in no time at all that story turned into one where Joe Dante was in talks to make a new Gremlins movie. But the details in the Variety story linked to above would seem to refute that theory. Mamet apparently really is attempting to retrieve the diary from the respectful pyre he'd mentally cast it into and put it on screen.
I love ya, Mamet. But I sure hope you know what you're doing.