The Heathrow Adjudication, The Bickle Permutation, and Other Entries in the Fake Robert Ludlum Title Contest

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Aug. 20 2012 6:06 PM

The Heathrow Adjudication

And other excellent entries in the fake Robert Ludlum title contest.

For this year’s Slate Summer Movies contest, I challenged readers to dream up a title and tagline for a future installment in the Bourne franchise using Robert Ludlum’s venerable titling formula: definite pronoun + proper name + abstract noun. (The Holcroft Covenant, for example, or The Aquitaine Progression.)

Though it can’t count as a legitimate entry, I can’t resist kicking off the results column with Tom Kimpton’s story about a memorably erudite Ludlum title-off:

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Reading your recent challenge to create a Ludlum-style movie title, I was reminded of the late, great Christopher Hitchens’ passage in his biography on this very topic. Apparently one night Hitch and his colleagues challenged their close friend Salman Rushdie to state what a Shakespeare play would be called if Ludlum had had the naming of it.

In Rushdie's hands, and with only a few seconds to think about it, Hamlet became The Elsinore Vacillation. Challenged with Macbeth, Rushdie apparently again stepped up with The Dunsinane Reforestation (my personal favourite). From there, The Merchant of Venice became The Rialto Sanction and Othello The Kerchief Implication.

Perhaps inspired by the Hitchens/Rushdie challenge, Chris Duke also chose to retitle some existing works using the Ludlum formula. Here are a few of his inventions:

The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum.
The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum


Hamlet becomes The Denmark Retribution
The Aviator
becomes The Hughes Derangement
is The Connor Preservation
Taxi Driver
is The Bickle Permutation

Bill Tomlinson points out that the field of physics provides us with a ready-made Ludlum title: The Heisenberg Uncertainty. His suggested tagline: “You can’t know everything.” A reader identifying himself or herself only as Dragos suggests a Mitt Romney-inspired thriller, The Mormon Entanglement: “They thought he wore boxers. They were wrong.” And J.K. Jeter reimagines American history with The Paine Defenestration: “Reason just flew out the window.” David Sano provided multiple great title/tagline combos, including The Vuvuzela Envelopment (“Sometimes the loudest noise … is silence.”) and The Heathrow Adjudication (“When a missed connection turns deadly.”).

There’s something about the act of fake Ludlum titling that seems to foster bursts of linguistic excess. Some of the best entries consisted of tagline-free lists of titles that grew progressively loopier as they went along. Gary Hattier’s list, too long to include in its entirety, featured such jewels as The Venus Dialysis, The Westminster Osteopathy, and The Kimbasa Annulment. I like imagining possible plotlines for the movies on S. Sandrigon’s list: The Bakersfield Ambuscade, The Feingold Bathos, The Saskatoon Shellacking. But for sheer multisyllabic absurdity, I don’t think there was any title that pleased me as much as David Eadington’s The Gormenghast Mispronunciation.

David, please send me your mailing address and get ready to receive a spectacular piece of Slate-branded merchandise. Thanks to all who entered and who may, like me, have observed that once you start looking for Ludlum titles, they seem to be everywhere. The weekend The Bourne Legacy opened in theaters across the country, Slate culture editor John Swansburg, vacationing in Portland, Maine, glimpsed this ice-cream parlor sign suggestive of Ludlumian intrigue taking place within: The Gelato Fiasco.


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