Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Film and Literature

In class we are watching a movie based on the novel I'm considering analyzing in my next article. As a result, I'm rereading the novel at the same time as I'm showing the movie in class. I'm noticing more vividly than ever how poor, how lackluster, how limited are the artistic means of even the best film as compared to literature. The cinematic version is so heavy-handed, so gauche in comparison with the literary text.

Still, the movie was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Movie category while the novel it is based on is generally recognized as not being nearly the writer's best work.

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Spanish prof said...

Contemporary cinema is one of my research interest, but I'm not going to argue over whether film or literature are better. What I can say is that I try to avoid film adaptations of novels, specially "prestigious" novels. As a rule of thumb, the better the book, the worse the film, and viceversa.

Pagan Topologist said...

I agree, Spanish prof. The only exception I can think of is the Lord of the Rings movies. Even there, the books were better, but not by orders of magnitude as is often the case.

The Midnight Choker said...

I'm noticing more vividly than ever how poor, how lackluster, how limited are the artistic means of even the best film as compared to literature.

Depends on the nature of the comparison, and what you're expecting each to do. And I wouldn't frame the difference as an inherant deficit of the artistic means of cinema - I couldn't imagine any novel or poem being able to accomplish what TOP HAT or SWING TIME or CABIN IN THE SKY or any of the greatest musicals of the 1930s or 1940s could.

Are you familiar with Andre Bazin's essay "In Defense of Mixed Cinema"? It clarified a lot of my thinking on the issue of adaptation.

Canukistani said...

“I'm noticing more vividly than ever how poor, how lackluster, how limited are the artistic means of even the best film as compared to literature.”

I agree with you on unidirectional artistic media where the observer can only react. Remember in John Fowles’ novel, “The Magus” where Maurice Conchis had moved his drama from a stage in his garden on the Greek isle of Phraxos to a real life interactive story involving the inhabitants of the island before the hero, Nicholas Urfe came on to the scene. He created an artificial reality which transcended the limitations of the stage. Using digital technology we can create a new interactive media which also transcends the limitations of the printed word. Here are some examples of digital interactive poetry. Take your time discovering the intricacies of the interface and the permutations between the piece and your perceptions.

Digital poetry:

Poetic rubic cube: http://www.secrettechnology.com/ausco/poecubic2.html

Vinod Khare said...

@Pagan Topologist: I second you on Lord of the Rings. I love how the movies were able to capture the spirit of the book.

I think the best way to look at movies based on books is to see them as interpretations or adaptations rather than as translations.

Clarissa said...

I will never forgive the makers of the Lord of the Rings movies for slaughtering such wonderful books. Tolkien manages to create the ambiance of dread just through words. They try to do it through special effects and fail miserably. The actor who plays the leading part is beyond talentless. It's like he's made of cardboard. The rest of them can't be distinguished from each other at all. The amount of computer graphics is excessive. Is it supposed to be a cartoon?

I couldn't force myself to watch more than 30 minutes of it.

The books are a masterpiece though.

NancyP said...

Cinema is a specialized form of theater, not comparable to novels in either means or form.

LOTR movie is an art directors' dream. I love the grand scenery - some 12 hours of "See NZ Now!" with story attached. The best part of the DVD set is the "how it was made" doc. series. The director made many questionable decisions and many brilliant ones as well. The two Ians, McKellan and Holm, are the only real actors in the bunch.

Pagan Topologist said...

I agree that the books are a masterpiece, although I think there are people who have done even better than Tolkien in the genre that he pretty much created.

But I do not share your negative feelings about the films. To me they are amazing, and stand as the only movies based on novels that I have ever seen that are really satisfactory.

The Wheel of Time series [Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson] I find to be much better. Also A Song of Ice and Fire [George R. R. Martin.]

Pagan Topologist said...

Come to think of it, Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death which I have written to you about before is more or less the same genre, and is better than any of the others I mentioned in my last comment, even though it is only a single book.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Movies and literatures are different media. I do not "read" cinema the same way I read literature.

I noticed that some of us, literature/language professors lack the analytical tools to analyze movie and teach our students the full potential of cinematic language... me first. I would like to ask you why are you showing this movie to your students? What are your objectives? How would you analyze the specificites of cineatic language vis-à-vis the novel you are reading?

The only succesdful cinematic adaptation of a novel I can think of now is Nelson Pereira dos Santos's Vidas secas, based on Graciliano Ramos's novel Vidas secas... The movie ad the novel are among the most powerful works of art of the last century. In Brasil, the movie is second best to... the novel:)


Pen said...

"Is it supposed to be a cartoon?"

-Actually, a cartoon version was made. The cartoon Lord of the Rings was much better than the "real-life" version, and much more effective at capturing the feeling of the books (though it was still missing something--I didn't watch it long enough to really be able to tell what that something was). Though it was a lot longer (the first movie was about six to seven hours alone), it stayed a lot closer to the book. I couldn't sit still long enough to watch it, though.

I do agree that film adaptations are always missing something. I think it's because you can't just mess with a person's creative genius and expect it to come out the same way. This is also exactly why I don't like fanfiction.

I don't think films in general are all that bad, though. There are some really effective documentaries--and movies--that could never be captured in words, just as there are books whose effect could never be captured in a single universal image.

Clarissa said...

" I would like to ask you why are you showing this movie to your students? What are your objectives? How would you analyze the specificites of cineatic language vis-à-vis the novel you are reading?"

-My friend, let's not exaggerate the sophistication of my students. I'm showing them Galdos's El Abuelo because

1) I don't want them to get too exhausted with too much reading.

2) They would rather watch a movie than do any other activity.

3) I want them to like me.

4) There is no way we can read a realist novel in this Survey course.

I am incapable of teaching film. But as a philistine viewer, I'm just expressing my modest opinions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! This is exactly what I wanted to hear:)
You see my point, no? Many of us, literary trained professor, struggle with cinematic language, and too often movies are used to break the routine.

Why not showing Buñuel's adaptation of Galdós?

FYI. I read Galdós's Doña Perfecta during the break. I learned that there is a movie adaptation of that novel. It was made in 1918... by a WOMAN born in NEW ZEALAND!!! Her name was Elsie Jane Wilson. The movie is probably a very early melodrama, but out of curiosity I am dying to watch it.


Spanish prof said...

Clarissa, I've said it before and I'll repeat it again: you need to watch a few screwball comedies from the 40s. The biggest argument among my husband and I is whether "His Girl Friday" is the best comedy ever made, or "Bringing Up Baby" (Baby is a leopard, not a real baby). Both are by Howard Hawks.

@NancyP: With all due respect, cinema is not a specialized form of theater. Film language is very different from theater language, starting by the presence/absence of the "illusion of reality"

Clarissa said...

"Why not showing Buñuel's adaptation of Galdós?"

-Because I had no idea it existed, and you never told me. :-)

Pagan Topologist said...

I watched the cartoon version fo LOTR in the mid 1960's (or early 1970's?) when it first appeared. It was not as good as the newer version in my opinion.