Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Paged & Screened

           A film version of Kerouac’s On The Road is coming out shortly, and I’m excited. It happens that I just re-read the book, almost forty years after first reading it. And I recently viewed Howl, about Ginsberg and the writing of his poem, and got a new appreciation of how the lives of the two authors intersected, and of the inspirational influence of Neal Cassady on both. I’m wondering how On The Road will translate, rambunctious, radiant and rambling as it is. Can the film possibly do the novel justice?

          The occassion has me thinking about other page-to-screen adaptations, how they so often disappoint, but are sometimes revelations that transcend the book. There’ve been quite a few times that I’ve sought out a book after loving a film: Little Big Man (loved it too), The Shining (made me a King fan), Being There (very disappointing), 2001: A Space Odyssey (ah, now I get it) and Lolita (such brilliance!) pop to mind (yes,so much Kubrick). But more often than that, I’ve viewed film adaptations of loved books: The Brothers Karamazov (Hollywood! What can you say?), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Hey, not bad, not bad), Slaughterhouse 5 (not bad, but not close either), Beloved (sadly flat and lifeless), Lord of the Rings (great fun!) and I, Robot (how dare they!) are some of those.
          Yes, it’s true that the book is usually better. But not always. For example, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is a pretty good page turner of a book, but, in my opinion, the films made from it are epic and surpass it in every way. And, as already noted, I found Kosinski’s paged Being There a huge disappointment after Peter Seller’s magnificent turn as Chance on screen.

          Once or twice, I’ve rushed to read a book after being intrigued by a film’s preview. The Bourne Identity was such a case. But it backfired in a way. The trailer grabbed me, I loved the book, and was then annoyed by all the film’s shortcuts and omissions. I didn’t get why everyone said it was such a great thriller. But I saw films II and III – without reading the books – and they grabbed me and didn’t let go.
        Often, a film erases or abuses the powerful or beautiful images an author has created in my reader’s mind. But at other times, the film maker transcends my own imagining in a way that enriches the text (think Kubrick!) Sometimes a film struggles to convey mood, tone or perspective. And at other times, it just creates its own ambiance. Sometimes, the actors and sets and physical dimensions of a film replace what my mind had built from the words on a page, but not always. And they do so less when the book is a truly great one, with a rich sensory dimension of its own.
          So, I’m waiting to see how On The Road makes the transition. And I’m also waiting for (and sometimes dreading) adaptations of other favorite books. Will Invisible Man ever get the treatment? Or The Master & Margarita? Or Doris Lessing’s Shikasta novels? Maybe, just maybe, with all the great television being written these days, they’ll get mini-series treatment, and at least have a greater chance of remaining whole

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