There Will Be Blood – Oil! – Upton Sinclair

Review by Scott Weinberg of film There Will Be Blood based in part on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!

Also: more recent, in “This Land of Hope,” a detailed overview of Upton Sinclair and his novel Oil! in relation to the recent film There Will Be Blood:

In its obsession with the road and the roadside poster, Sinclair’s novel overlaps with other key American novels of the pre-second world war period. Another portrait of an American money-maker who has accumulated his fortune dangerously, The Great Gatsby, which just beat Oil! to the bookshops, crucially involves a motor accident and is visually dominated by a huckstering hoarding for an occulist.

And Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men, which charts the introduction of marketing tactics and financial corruption to American politics, begins with a description of a new freeway across a state which is so similar to the prologue of Oil! that it must be presumed a deliberate tribute. In any case, in all of these novels, the car is the star, although it is already also cast as a possible villain, at least in its potential for ruining tycoons.

What notoriously disappears from even the best cinematic adaptations of novels is the writer’s style, and the biggest surprise of my rereading was the grandeur of Sinclair’s narrative voice. In common with other popular American novelists of his generation – such as Penn Warren and Thornton Wilder – Sinclair was greatly impressed by the Greek and Latin classics, and seems to have been attempting some kind of coalition between ancient poetics and modern subject matter, a project encouraged by America’s self-conscious ambition to become a great republic.

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