Tag Archives: books

Dear Jim (#27) Re: The Movie Is Always Better

BY JON PILL

Dear Jim,

It is accepted wisdom that adapting a book is a task fraught with dangers – mostly angry fans of the book who didn’t imagine the book the way the filmmaker did, often because key creatives have never read a book let alone the one they are adapting.

The wisdom, however, isn’t wise. It isn’t even vaguely true.

Take for example: The film is always better.

Always.

It’s the most general generalisation you can get. And I imagine if you are a fan of a book that got – lets say ‘rearranged’ – rearranged in the move from ink to celluloid you can almost immediately see what’s wrong with the statement: It only takes one bad adaptation from book to screen to prove the statement wrong (thank you Karl Popper). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), for example. Or The Golden Compass (2007). Or Jackson’s recent Hobbit trilogy.

Go ahead and apply that logic the other way. When I was coming up with that Top 40 last week, I kept spotting films based on books up there. And most are as good as the books. Lots leave the book in the shade.

Popular opinion for example does not rate Mario Puzo’s The Godfather nearly as highly as Coppola’s and to take an example not on the list  – so skipping over: Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, The ExorcistStarship Troopers, etc… – Jaws by Peter Benchley is properly, properly terrible. Spielberg’s Jaws, on the other hand, is one of the great artworks of the 20th Century.

The book is not always better. It’s not even better often enough to make it a useful rule of thumb. Cus it’s not just bad books getting fixed on screen. Great books can be the source for great films. Fight Club is almost always the subject of intense close discussion as to whether book or film is better (the correct answer is ‘yes’), and American Psycho is basically the same thing as the book in a different format. Who out there has been disappointed by either the book or film of The Princess Bride.

Other adaptations work in concert with the book. Like Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, which is more of a dramatised and surreal ‘making of the book’ type story, than a straight adaptation, while still being thoroughly in keeping with the not-really-a-novel.

Bruce Robinson did something similar with The Rum Diary making a few changes that turned it into a bridging work between the rather straightforward book and Hunter S. Thompson’s later, more Raoul Duke-y, efforts.

Film is a great storytelling medium, every bit as rich and interesting and diverse as the written word. Assuming that moving from one to the other is a guaranteed omnishambles is daft.

So stop it. Stop repeating the flawed wisdom. Or I’ll go after something you love.

Jon out.

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Filed under Dear Jim, The Silver Screen

The Best Books For Writers – Part 5: Books on the Other Arts

BY JON PILL

Previously on… 

Part 1 – Books on Being Writerly

Part 2 – Books on the Craft of Writing

Part 3 – Books on The Writing Life

Part 4 – Books on Reading

This is the last and considerably latest, in this series on books to read if you’re a writer / into writing / want to write. This time looking at a grab bag of books that I and / or humans have found useful in our approach to writing that deal with other art forms topics.

There will also be another post coming soon about all the non-book resources people have found useful. So look forward to that, kidz.

Part 5 – Books On Other Art Forms

1. Silence by John Cage

This collection of lectures by experimental composer John Cage (he of 4′ 33″ in(fame)y), is a collection of lectures on various subjects. Unable to keep from experimenting even in the when typing up his lecture notes, the book is full of odd formatting and the occasional section of apparent word salad.

But as a creative guide it’s served a few of my writerly friends. It might well serve you to.

2. 7 Minutes. The Life and Death of the American Animated Cartoon by Norman M. Klein

This is another Interior Dasein recommendation, covering the history of the short American Cartoon, typified I guess by the work of Chuck Jones. There are parallels between the zany movies and the short story, and you can certainly learn a great deal from the discipline of the artists and the surreal and metamorphosable worlds they build.

For members of the straw poll, it was also a source of inspiration and permission to break the rules of our world in interesting and fun ways in their art.

3. The Artist’s Reality by Mark Rothko and 4. A History of Art by E. M. Gombrich

Visual art has inspired a great deal of poetry and a little prose, but it is also probably the art form with the longest history. Where the stories told by the cavemen at Lascaux are lost to time, their paintings live on.

The Rothko is a collection of essays on art and artistry, and the Gombrich a broad history of visual art from the ancients to us with a ton of colour plates and a lovely binding.

5. How to Read a Film by James Monaco

An overview of the mechanics, theory, business and history of film this book is readable intro to the medium. I consume a lot of story through television and movies, and having a better sense of how to watch closely and think critically about film has improved my ability to do the same for reading and in assessing my own writing.

It could do the same for you.

6. Logical Chess: Move by Move by Irving Chernev

Recommended by Jim MacDonald in an Absolute Write thread on the grounds that Chernev’s approach works for the creation of plots as much as it does check-mating your opponents on the board.

If nothing else, it will probably improve your chess game.

7. Measurement by Paul Lockhart

Measurement teaches maths creatively, and draws comparisons between the formal restrictions of poetry and the logical restrictions of maths. Paul Lockhart empowers the reader to go away and create maths on their own by focusing on the process and on proof. Having given the reader the tools to do maths, he then sets them off with a bunch of questions for them to look into and solve on their own.

The link with writing is pretty tangential but much of what makes maths beautiful is there in literature: those moments of realisation and discovery, and the revelling in patterns. The approaches to learning however, are perfect for the writer.

Enjoy.

If you have any favourite books that have helped you with your writing, especially if I missed them in this series, let me know in the comments.

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