Jumping Out of a Book and into the Movie Screen

Sergei Eisenstein argues in his essay, ‘ Film Form,’ that the great works if Dickens has influenced film makers; in particular the influence of Dickens on Griffith films. Eisenstein says  that, “We can recognize this particular method of Dickens in Griffith’s inimitable bit-characters who seem to have run straight from life into the screen. I can’t recall who speaks with whom in one of the street scenes of the modern story of Intolerance. But I shall never forget the mask of the passer-by with nose pointed forward between spectacles and straggly beard, walking with hands behind his back as if he were manacled. As he passes he interrupts the most pathetic moment in the conversation of the suffering boy and girl. I can remember next to nothing of the couple, but this passer-by, who is visible in the shot only for a flashing glimpse, stands alive before me now and I haven’t seen the film for twenty years!” (Eisenstein 199) This particular comment said by Eisenstein really stood out for me. I cannot help but think of the many times that particular scenes in a movie or a novel have stood out to me, and may have not been such a big part of the central plot. This begs the question: What can novels do to film makers to allow a certain scene or characters  to jump out of the book and into the screen? What has the influence of authors had on film makers to allow these scenes to stick for ‘twenty years’ to come?

Eisenstein argues that the films of Griffith are more perceptive to the idea of using texts as an influence to his films; He says, “As children we paid no attention to the mechanics of this. As adults, we rarely re-read his novels. And becoming film workers, we never found time to glance beneath the covers of these novels in order to figure out exactly had captivated us in these novels and with what means these incredibly many-paged volumes have chained our attention so irresistibly. Apparently Griffith was more perceptive” (201).  He argues that Griffith is able to capture what we love most about novels and use those methods into his films. He grips the audience the same way we are gripped to characters in novels that we love most. The characters come to life on screen much like the characters come to life for us while we read a piece of text we feel connected to. Is it possible for film makers to continue to use great authors like Dickens to influence their films? Can they still create characters that come to life to us like characters written in text?

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2 Responses to Jumping Out of a Book and into the Movie Screen

  1. Mike Salerno says:

    I definitely agree that filmmakers will continue to be able to use a novel’s narrative and structure to influence the way they adapt the piece. However, I think one of the greatest testaments to the art of adaptation is when a filmmaker can take a relatively mundane sentence or passage from a story, or some moment of relative insignificance, perhaps one lacking detail or vivid imagery, and completely give it new life by utilizing the advantages of the film medium. I have one particular example in mind but I’m going to hold off on sharing it because I’m considering using it for my presentation later in the semester.

    As one of our classmates wrote in a previous entry, I’d be very curious to analyze the reverse process of adaptation. That is, film to novel. I wonder what Eisenstein would think of novelizations of major motion pictures. Do the authors of these novelizations write from a “cinematic” perspective and try to retain many of the qualities of the film medium? Or do they instead make use of the advantages of the literary medium in adapting the film? Perhaps Eisenstein would think there would not be much of a difference.

  2. Dana Choit says:

    I definitely think it is possible for filmmakers to both continue to use greats works of literature as inspiration and that they can still create characters that come to life for us. I think that the idea of an adaptation though is where many of the issues that we commented about on the intro post comes about. We create characters and connections, images, etc. that come to life with written text as you mentioned, and this is in our minds and imaginations. We have full control of what each characters looks like, how each scene unfolds, and when a film adaptation does what it’s meant to- adapt- sometimes we react negatively simply because it is not our vision, but someone else’s. Sometimes adaptations may cut scenes, characters, even change endings and because this does not match up it is meant with negative reviews. (Whether negative reviews are warranted at times for a number of reasons may be a whole other discussion)

    I recently saw an advisement for an upcoming film adaptation of Les Miserables (the musical) and it got me wondering, how might people react to this? First a novel which was then adapted to a musical, and this famous musical is now being adapted to the screen. You have individuals who feel loyalty for either the literature version, the musical stage production, or both.

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