Can the movie ruin the book?

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Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby Lomax on May 5th, 2016, 4:01 pm 

Cormac McCarthy's superlative 1985 novel Blood Meridian is set to be made into a Hollywood movie, directed by James Franco and starring (in an as-yet unspecified role) Russell Crowe. Some have reacted with disgust at the threat of Hollywood ruining yet another classic, whereas others have argued that if you don't like the idea then you're free to not watch it.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the movie will be terrible (otherwise, pick your own disastrous adaptation or remake), do you think that this to some degree spoils the book? Or are they entirely separate?

My feeling is that if you're going to decide for yourself which content is canon and which isn't then you don't need anybody else to write or edit a book for you in the first place. The suspension of disbelief which comes with immersing ourselves in any piece of narrative art comes with the refusal to pick and choose which bits are actually in the story. In other words, if you didn't like chapter 21 of A Clockwork Orange (as Kubrick evidently didn't) can you be happy with just saying "I loved chapters 1-20 of A Clockwork Orange! What a great piece of art they were"? Or would you be held back by some uneasy feeling that comes from knowing that 1-20 isn't the piece of art, that there's this other bit, 21, clinging on to the side of them like some great ugly barnacle, spoiling the scenery?

And if the latter, does this impact the judgement calls we make (or should make) about unfinished art (like Don Juan or Kafka's The Trial or the British TV series Utopia)?
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby TheVat on May 5th, 2016, 5:45 pm 

I view movies as separate works from any originating book, which have a life of ther own and are best judged on their own merits. An average 350 page novel would require a 10 hour movie for a complete scene-by-scene translation to film. That's why a lot of derived scripts come from short stories or novellas. Using a novel requires massive condensation, composite characters, and so forth. Lovers of the sacred originating text often find the film to be disappointing because it has to cut out so much. The plus side is that viewers of the film who are then motivated to seek out the novel are often rewarded with depth and detail and sidebars that enlarge upon the narrative they've watched. That happened for me, for example, when I read the book "The Road," (also by Cormac) after seeing the film version with Viggo Mortensen.

Great thread topic, hope others weigh in.
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby Serpent on May 5th, 2016, 7:41 pm 

I enjoyed Simon Birch, even though it was only the first one-third or so of A Prayer For Owen Meany - it was a good enough story on its own to make a nice film. I loved the movie version of Cider House Rules, but did not like The World According to Garp at all. And that's just Irving!

I usually prefer to see the movie first, so there are no preconceptions in casting; an actor's face superimposed on the text doesn't bother me. Casting is really important!
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby TheVat on May 7th, 2016, 12:35 pm 

It is. I easily think of the main characters in Somerset Maugham's "The Painted Veil" as Ed Norton and Naomi Watts. That's because they were well chosen for their parts, and did a good job. OTOH, when I saw the movie version of Michael Connelly's "The Lincoln Lawyer," I had a hard time seeing Matthew McConaughey as the lawyer from the book. There is something indelibly Southern about McConaughey that one would not expect in the LA born-and-raised Mickey Haller of the LL novels. And there were other things that didn't fit, as well. OTOH, the actor Titus Welliver seems to be Harry Bosch (Connelly's most famous, indeed iconic, lead character) in every way.

Some novelists, I've noticed, seem to be hoping there's a movie deal down the road, specifically describing a character by comparing his/her looks to a famous actor. "His wife had always said he looked like Jack Nicholson back in his Easy Rider days." Probably a risky way to do physical description if you have any hope of creating an enduring piece of literature. But for ephemeral pulp stuff, it works okay I guess.
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby Serpent on May 7th, 2016, 2:52 pm 

The trouble with aiming a literary description at a particular actor is sell-by date. When I think of Bruce Willis in a role, which vintage Willis is before my mind's eye? And what will he look like by the time the rights are sold, the studio makes up its mind, the script is written and revised, the director fired and rehired....? The characters in a novel stay the same age forever. Actors age - and sometimes that's a very good thing.
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby Lomax on May 8th, 2016, 7:12 am 

Just to be clear, my concern in the OP isn't whether seeing the movie first corrupts your mental image when you read the book. The backlash against Franco's movie is by people who have already read McCarthy's book. The question is about whether the making of the bad movie is in some way detrimental to the already-read book, given that immersing ourselves in a piece of fiction entails the suspension of disbelief, which is harder to maintain when you're having to tell yourself "just ignore that bit".
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby Serpent on May 8th, 2016, 9:54 am 

I don't think a movie can spoil a book I've already read.
Since all our movie watching happens at home, we turn off bad ones in the first twenty minutes.*
However, a bad movie might deter me from reading a book, which might be unfair to the author. I can see this happening particularly in science fiction: for some reason, that genre often gets brutal cinematic treatment. (I hear they did well by The Martian; we'll have to see that one.)

*Except the Sunday afternoon disaster flick. They're supposed to be bad.
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby dandelion on May 14th, 2016, 1:30 pm 

I guess the fairly recent history of film and things like hype, expense, and global mass audiences, tends to give an impression that a film adaptation is quite singular, almost definitive, while plays and music, say, can be expected to be repeated differently more often. Recall of the book can be updated along with new influences anyway, and if given something is always lost in interactions there would be loss in updated recall anyway, having seen the film or not, muddied by interim experiences, etc. If seeing a new interpretation questions or obscures earlier views then it probably depends on the quality of earlier impressions whether or not those remain important to the reader-viewer or not. I think Kant talked about unchanging essentials, but particularly if I didn’t like the film’s interpretation, I’d probably try to find other interpretations, films, reviews, or discussions, and take from a range of views while revisiting.

I’d thought suspension, like as a phrase coined by Coleridge as a Romantic reaction (leaning more on creativity) to Enlightenment Classicism (considered more about mimicry/realism), was often associated more with imaginative difference, like from a text, not about copied accuracy. They’d cared more about fidelity to the spirit of creativity (of the text) rather than fidelity (to the text) alone. Concern for fidelity to the text, given all translations involve loss and more, things like the change in media requires difference, presenting problems like, often, brevity (already mentioned) and linearity. Along with expectations from prior knowledge, a lack of suited solutions could lessen some suspension. Some solutions may be more suitable than others. Creativity in much greater distance from the text, and greater acknowledgement of some of the other influences involved (away from the expectations of prior knowledge and the other problems of close following) presents differing problems too but could help with suspension, involving the viewer more in a process of things like learning along the way from where the text and film diverge and come together, from apt weaving of text and other influences and parts, to attempt to anticipate possible successful resolutions.

What was said about holding on to the text in a fairly close adaptation, trying to ignore parts that diverge from it while viewing, makes sense about differences with suspension too. Watching while less suspended, holding on to memories of difference and their suspended affect, can sometimes be an interesting way of experiencing the film. Or, while watching a fairly close adaptation with some changes, it could be more enjoyable to willingly suspend some knowledge of the prior reading and expectations, to see if it works better separately, given the market that interpretation is aimed at, and compare more against updated memories afterwards. Like other things, a strong reference may involve more suspension from suspension within suspension. Recently I watched a filmed performance of a play to a live audience at the Globe, at home. Accepting that play and performance can be close, between novel and film, it seemed fairly close. There seemed to be little in the way of changes for the sake of filming, and there seemed to be various, but not so strong, suspensions, including being part of the audience there, and being drawn into the play. I felt less lost in the play than in other cases, but even so enjoyed that that allowed me to notice things I mightn’t have if I were more absorbed, and was also pleased it wasn’t the only filmed version of that play so felt it didn’t matter as much that this was different to what I might have hoped. Some films, derived a great deal from one book, have achieved creative suspense well despite the changes I think, like Eco’s. I’ve also liked fairly close interpretations for other reasons, like as short, pictured over-views, and wouldn’t like to rule out adaptations. It would seem a pity not to sometimes draw more heavily from an especially valued piece of literature. As well, given ideas that signification involves numerous references anyway, there are also good reasons to have further removed interpretations, too, creatively acknowledging more of some of the various other influences involved. So rather than ruling out film adaptations, and more distantly related films, another solution might be for more interpretation- more varied, and hopefully some that are quite creative.

There are some thoughts on suspension by Derrida and others, with ideas that interactions of all signification comes through suspension, and more, as life as suspension. Some of these reference Shelley’s large, unfinished poem, if that’s interesting, with discussion too about cessation of suspension as repetitions of suspension. Shelley had said of Don Juan, things like it bears the stamp of immortality and that is carries originality and defiance of imitation. I wonder where it is unsuitable to consider possible resolutions and where it is suitable (if not thrust upon others?). Some of the discussions also link suspension and justice. I haven’t seen Utopia yet.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q2x ... 21&f=false
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby dandelion on May 29th, 2016, 6:43 am 

I should have referenced Bakhtin, Kristeva and Derrida on loss and gain in translation, above.
This is about Shakespearean pronunciations which might be interesting-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPlpphT7n9s
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby TheVat on May 29th, 2016, 10:17 am 

Dande, it's rare to see a post so thoroughly answer the OP. I like the points you raise about fidelity to the spirit of creativity v to the text as written. That's surely what has to be the priority, especially with writers who depart from conventional narrative, e.g. Wm S Burroughs, T. Pynchon....actually, Blood Meridian fits that latter category, too. At the moment, I'm trying to imagine who would be cast as The Judge....
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby dandelion on May 30th, 2016, 9:26 am 

Thank you!

I mustn't be feeling very creative at the moment because I have trouble thinking past Brando as Kurtz as The Judge. The horror!
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Re: Can the movie ruin the book?

Postby edy420 on May 30th, 2016, 4:19 pm 

Movie remakes dont work well in general.
I think if you enjoyed the original then even if the movie version is bad, at least you enjoyed the art in its original format.

But if you were to watch the movie first then its harder to enjoy the original because you have a vivid vision of how the movie played out.
So movies can ruin the book in this way.

For me, the biggest upset is the amount of content that has to be cut for the length of the movie.
A direct copy from book to movie would probably make a 24 hour length movie.
It happens with cartoons, games and comics, where tivial information isnt even mentioned but in the original, that information played a big part in explaining why certain choices were made or why the characters are who they are.

Blizzard started making a movie in 2005 for fans of their biggest game series, Warcraft.
But the director had a different vision and the project was scrapped.
The movie is being made again and Blizzard had a lot of input with regards to plot and art design, so Im actually excited to see it.

Perhaps if the book Authors were to direct the visual remake, then it may not be so bad.
I say visual remake because a movie is just too short, perhaps a series would be better.
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