MIAMI — Oscar Corral thought someone was yanking his chain the day the phone rang at The Miami Herald newsroom and a soft-spoken voice with just a hint of southern drawl said: “Oscar Corral, this is Tom Wolfe.”
That would be master journalist-turned-novelist Tom Wolfe.
For decades Wolfe had traversed the country in his trademark white suit and fedora, sending up the idiosyncrasies of rich and poor in novels such as the New York City-based The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full, set in Atlanta. Now the satirist had his sights on Miami, and he wanted Corral’s help.
Over the course of several years beginning in 2008, Corral became a tour guide and translator for Wolfe, taking the famed author from Miami’s raucous Columbus Day Regatta to Little Haiti’s Santeria shops. With Wolfe’s approval, Corral began filming their escapades. The result is the documentary Blood Lines, which follows Wolfe as he researches his latest novel to be released this October.
Wolfe told The Associated Press he came to Miami to write a book about immigration: “Not how people get in, but how they get along with one another, and sometimes how they don’t.”
The book, Back to Blood, promises to be a Bonfire-like take on Miami, with Wolfe’s familiar themes of class, race, family, corruption and of course sex. Among the characters are a Cuban-American nurse and cop, a randy, sex doctor and a journalist on the trail of a Russian-mob-comes-to-Miami story.
The documentary – Corral’s first – is both an ode to the elusive literary giant and a voyage through the best and worst of wacky Miami.
Jazz great Federico Britos and the group Afrobeta provide the music.
“It was like hanging out with Yoda,” said Corral of accompanying Wolfe on more than a half-dozen trips to Miami.
“After the first trip, I thought to myself, ‘I am watching literary history unfold,’” he said. “Tom Wolfe is pounding the pavement as he has throughout his career … and it’s a great story for anyone about how good writing comes to life.”
The film captures rare, candid moments with Wolfe. He is soaked during the regatta as bikini-clad revelers boat-hop across Biscayne Bay. He checks out white suits at thrift shops, visits new immigrant homes and rubs elbows with Miami’s elite. The film, which Corral wrote, directed and produced, also features interviews from Wolfe’s longtime friend, former New York and Miami Police Chief John Timoney.
Describing Wolfe’s latest choice in settings, Timoney jokes in the film: “New York is all about money. Washington is all about power. L.A. is all about fame, and Miami is all about sex.”
Wolfe calls the city and its surroundings remarkable.
“Miami is the only city in the world where people from another country and another culture have taken over though the ballot box. And it’s all happened in slightly over one generation,” he told the AP.
Wolfe said Corral introduced him to areas he had no idea about.
“Oscar will go anywhere and ask anybody anything, which is one of the main keys of being a good reporter,” he said, adding Corral also instinctively knew when to turn off the camera so as not to interfere with an interview.
Corral plans to release the film, now in post-production, in time for the book’s expected October release date. He aims to provide a new glimpse into his beloved hometown, and he hopes to attract a new generation of multimedia enthusiasts to his literary idol.