Monday, 30 May 2005


(One of life's pointless little ironies: my fingers always, ALWAYS mis-type the A-word.)
The argument of my dissertation more or less is: if adapted movies almost universally irritate and annoy people who have already established some kind of relationship with the original book, it is fairly likely there is something intrinsically irritating about them, at least in our time when it is generally considered a bit suss to copy someone else's work, postmodernism notwithstanding. Once you stop beating yourself up for feeling short-changed or otherwise ripped off by a movie of a book, and start to really think about why you feel that way, interesting things start coming out. Well, a bit interesting, anyway. My theory is that adapted movies inevitably make the readers in the audience remember things about the book, and unless the movie sort of makes a space for the reader/audience person to think through the ways his or her experience of the book is the same as and is also different to what's going on with the movie, unless that happens, nobody goes home happy.

So there is a theory of sorts in there, if by theory you mean a set of assumptions underpinning what is said and what isn't. But the thesis is really about close reading and close comparison, and I hope it is kind of a defence of the value of these activities as well.

Actually, having written that last sentence, what i really hope is that it is not full of shit and really boring!

Here's my list of adaptations; I've been thinking about these for so long that to me just their names are like talismans now. I'd be interested to know if, as a group, they suggest anything in particular to you.

Possession / ditto
The Virgin Suicides / ditto
Random Harvest / ditto

chapter one:
Northanger Abbey / Ruby in Paradise
Sense and Sensibility Kandukondein Kandukondein
Mansfield Park / Metropolitan

chapter two:
Fahrenheit 451 / Fahrenheit 451

chapter 3:
The Tenant / ditto
Letter From an Unknown Woman / ditto
The Graduate / ditto
Amerika / Class Relations
The Magnificent Ambersons / ditto

Chapter 4:
Twins / Dead Ringers
Lolita / Lolita / Lolita
Fight Club / ditto
A Passion in the Desert / ditto
Alive! / ditto
Morvern Callar / ditto
Among the Dead / Vertigo
Psycho / ditto
Deliverance / ditto

Chapter 5:
The Exorcist / ditto
The Gospel According to St Matthew / ditto

Chapter 6:
Billy Budd / Beau Travail
Bartleby the Scrivener / Bartleby
Pierre, Or, the Ambiguities / Pola X / Careful
Moby-Dick / ditto / ditto / Zelig / Heathers

Chapter 7:
A Ghost at Noon / Contempt
The Orchid Thief / Adaptation

Plus a couple dozen more that drop in for a paragraph or two.

By the way, I am still racking my brain for a title... got any ideas? Otherwise I'll just be going with "Adaptaion"


Phantom Scribbler said...

The theory is entirely fascinating. I love the idea of a film trying to make space for its viewers to reflect on their own experiences of the book upon which it is based. Sign me up for a copy of your dissertation! (I mean, dissertaion.)

About your list, alas, I have little to say. (Unless you include a later appendix on adaptations of children's books -- I haven't seen too many films for adults in the past decade.) Though I may spend my spare moments for the next several years pondering the connection between Moby Dick and Heathers...

Ampersand Duck said...

If nothing else, I am grateful for a list to work through over the next few months/years.
I like thinking about titles. I'll think upon it whilst pumping the bike pedals. And I am also intrigued by the appearance of Heathers in that line... (please explain?)

Fyodor said...

Yes, Heathers needs explanation. I don't remember a really fat white Heather in the movie, though there may have been harpoons involved... and who was Starbuck?

Ampersand Duck said...

After a most amusing bike ride thinking upon your list, here's some title suggestions:

Great Expectations: Anticipation and the Cinematic Experience

Unmoving Pictures: the Problem with Adaptation
(or you can do the French thing: Un/moving, Un-Moving or (Un)Moving Pictures!)

Ampersand Duck said...

Woops, just read the link that went with title -- I've probably flunked on all counts!
Never mind, it was a fun bike ride...

Susoz said...

Laura, Maybe I missed it on your blog, but have you seen Bride and Prejudice and what did you think of it? I ask because I just watched it on DVD this weekend and enjoyed it and found the adaptation aspect amusing.

Lucy Tartan said...

I have seen B & P Susoz, but I didn't write anything about it at the time. I thought it was a lot of fun, but dumb. Aishwarya Rai is very easy on the eye, and I thought the Bollywood stuff was pretty good. I'd question the way the emotional dynamics of the original story were sort of flattened out by various changes made to the plot line, but it seems sort of pointless to quibble and be picky about it, since the Pride and Prejudice story really is turning into a generalised myth with no particular link ot the novel. There's another P & P movie coming out next year, set in the 1790s, with Keira Knightley as Lizzy.

Lucy Tartan said...

Phantom, I thought you were on holiday woman?

In Heathers, JD and Veronica put it about that Heather Duke is obsessed with Moby Dick, as part of the plot to make it look like she went loopy & killed herself. They underline words in her copy of MD - supposedly they underline the word "eskimo" (but the legend is that this word isn't in MD. I haven't checked.) The filmmakers wanted to use Catcher in the Rye but surprise surprise Salinger refused permission.

Fyodor said...

So how does that make it an adaptation?

Lucy Tartan said...

Well derrrrr, it doesn't make it an adaptation. It makes it a tiny, tiny reference to a huge, big, blubbery fat, unwieldy encyclopaedic mess of a novel.

The one thing everyone "knows" about Moby-Dick is that it's big and long and complicated and intimidating, so not very good material for adapting: it makes no difference how long a miniseries you make, you'll still never "get" it. So you may as well just do a ridiculously crude rendering: the Monty Python "summarise Proust in 30 seconds" theory of adaptation. To fixate on one word which may not even be in the book, is just the logical end that literalminded summarising adaptation leads to.
OK, actually I just wanted to put Heathers in my thesis, it IS my thesis, I am allowed.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I love it! I need to get up in the middle of the night and watch Heathers again whilst the babes are sleeping....

Fyodor said...

Fairenoughski, Laura.

Teenage suicide! Don't do it!

Lucy Tartan said...

Exactamundo, Fyodor. I could quote from heathers now -- but better not -- just in case any fragile teenagers are reading...