Booking A Show
Adapting a book for the screen isn’t easy.
No, really, don’t laugh at the obviousness of that statement! It isn’t. A screenwriter (okay, this is Hollywood we’re talking about…is there a word for a group of scripters, perhaps a Scribe of Sceenwriters?!) has to find the essence of the novel and attempt to bring it to the screen; novels and movies obviously aren’t the same, both can accomplish things of which the other is incapable. Then again, there’s the tendency to option books and then throw out everything but the title and, if you’re lucky, a few character names. Not so much translating a book as transgressing against it. There’s been more than a few film adaptations that I’ve watched then uttered the words “What the *expletive deleted* was THAT?!” afterwards. Except, that’s not the whole story is it? Some of my favorite films weren’t entirely faithful (and in some cases weren’t faithful at *all*) to the original material, yet are still *great* movies and great adaptations. Books aren’t movies and movies aren’t books but both, at their best can succeed on their own terms. As a novel to be novel must be novel then a movie to be movie must be a movie – or something like that at least…
Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” has Elliot Gould as a laid back, somewhat ineffectual, Marlowe disdained even by his own cats but underneath that he’s still Chandler’s “shop-soiled Sir Galahad” and even though the movie is only tangentially related to the source’s plot and situations it is still great (plus apart from Mr Gould it has under-rated character actor Henry Gibson as a sinister psychiatrist so it just *has* to be good, no?!). David Lean’s wonderful “Great Expectations” cuts characters and plot threads, streamlines the narrative, and changes the ending but it all *works*, the result being one of the greatest movies ever made (I should confess that as a child I had the biggest crush on Jean Simmons’s Estella, which, as she treats the boy Pip abominably may be slightly odd… *winks*). Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep alters some elements, not least so we can get more of that Bogie/Bacall chemistry – which was slightly lacking in the original cut, but the result is faithful to the spirit and evokes the “feel” of Chandler’s novel while preserving much of the plot, it is another magnificent picture (even if Chandler himself confessed to being confused by his own plot). All three are fine movies and there are many more I could mention. I wonder if any of you have favorite adaptations, and, if so, what are they?
If I had time I might bring up screen versions that are *too* faithful and don’t do enough to transform the material for cinema but I fear I have taxed your patience too much already!
This post may be the first in an occasional series on novels and their silver screen adaps, also – be still your beating hearts! – you may see some book-based posts from me in the future, if the wonderful Ms Lester chooses to make it so! Until then – it’s Farewell from Mr Kaplan…