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Thursday, 12 August 2010

The film of the book

Novels and short stories have of course provided the inspiration for many films. If you take the first ten of the IMDb's Top 250 films as a measure of popularity, half of them are adaptations of a work of fiction:
1 Shawshank Redemption (Steven King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption)
2 The Godfather (Marion Puzo's novel of the same name)
4 The Godfather II (as above)
7 Schindler's List (Thomas Keneally's novel of the same name)
9 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey's novel also of the same name).

Add to this list the many well-known and frequently reincarnated characters from Dracula to James Bond, from Romeo and Juliet to Poirot and the debt of inspiration that the movies owe to fiction writers and dramatists is obvious.

But the result isn't always happy. For one thing, turning several hundred pages of fiction into ninety minutes of screen time generally means some things have to be cut. More irritatingly, when a book that you love - and have imagined and visualised and interpreted as you read it - is reinvented by a team of directors, screenwriters and actors, their version can be very different from your own.

Some novelists are clearly very happy to be part of this, often, as was the case with Mario Puzo, working on the film script, thereby earning for themselves a well-deserved extra pile of dosh. But the relationship is not always a happy one.

Graham Greene was one writer who had a very mixed opinion of the efforts of film makers who adapted his books. He was pleased with the films versions of Brighton Rock and The Third Man, both of which he worked on. He also liked the Hollywood version of This Gun For Hire, which he wasn't involved in. However, when directors changed the plot or the characterisation, he became quite irate, as was the case with early adaptations of The Power and the Glory and The Quiet American. And he first viewed George Cukor's film of Travels With My Aunt when it was broadcast on French TV; he turned after ten minutes.

This year, a new version of Brighton Rock has been filmed, and there are reports that Travels With My Aunt and The Fallen Idol may also be remade. I wonder how he would have rated them.

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