Is literature better than film?

I’m unsure what it was about this man, maybe it’s because he’s French, but goddamn was his pieces difficult to read. They shouldn’t be difficult, because they were relatively straight-forward, but still. Ahem.

Whenever I think of film, I inevitably think of movies today. I’ve watched older movies (I’ve seen The Blob and some other sci-fi movies, the original House on Haunted Hill, etc. This is all because I got a discount on Amazon Prime tv and movies for a year), but I feel as if he’s talking about a radically different cinema than I’m used to or that I expect. And, well, he is.

I ask myself: In today’s cinema culture of remakes, superhero movies (I’m not interested in seeing Avengers *barf*), movies based on video games (I love Resident Evil, but not Doom), reboots (Batman, Superman, and Spiderman), do I really think that books are better than movies? My answer: No. Well, maybe a little. Movies today are there for when I don’t want to think; nonetheless, books are special in their own way and so are movies (except superhero movies *projectile vomiting*). I wonder how much of the brain is engaged when we watch movies vs. when we read books? Though, I think the answer is obvious.

Bazin argues that contrary to popular? thought, new art feeds off of the old art until it gets its own legs, but cinema was the special child. It started off with over original ideas, then began adapting more heavily. But literature and cinema (movies?) have a symbiotic relationship to each other. Maybe symbiotic is the wrong word — a mutual need? mutually beneficial? — to describe the relationship. Though, while film can adapt, literature doesn’t want to admit that the door swings both ways (Am I saying they’re gay? *smiles*). There are some genres of literature that are more visual than word obsessed, i.e. comics and graphic novels. (I throw those out, but I could be wrong, so please don’t beat me up with your knowledge). Fantasy novels also must be focused on visuals to produce that otherworldly effect. A novel like The Lord of the Rings relies on visuals heavily to get the basic message of how good (white, Nordic-looking people) are just super-cool and neat compared to evil (brown, dirty, black, Arabic-looking people; and don’t forget the physically handicapped, i.e The Great Eye).

I think — I’m unsure what the problem is? I don’t think that film is less than literature. Nor do I think that adaption is a raping of literature. Adaptation is the production of a new piece, like translation works away from the original. I saw an interview with the cast and three directors for the new movie Cloud Atlas and the newly publicly minted Lana Wachowski said that the directors wanted to make a movie about the what was going on in their heads while reading the book. That shows an immediate remove from literature. Tom Hanks also talks about this thing called “cinematic literature,” which can both be cinema which is an adaptation of literature and literature which is cinematic.

Below is the full video. Lana also says something great about this movie that I think can be generalized, i.e. this idea about not being high brown or low brow but one brow. Film, I think can pull that off better than literature. Start watching from 11:32, where the discussion of adapting the book into a movie begins.

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2 Responses to Is literature better than film?

  1. trevor11 says:

    You bring up an excellent point, film today is different than that of film of yesteryear, I completely agree. I too agree on not being 100% sure on what the issue is. I think part of it is what you so eloquent and viscerally described as the “raping of literature” being not that far off from the initial perceptions of adaptations. Yes, we are in a unique time where a great deal of films now come from fantasy, comics, and remakes, many of which come from some form of traditional literature and like you said it makes it easier for all these different categories, directors, actors, and genres to be on a more even keel. A romance movie can be hailed by critics easier than a romance novel from walmart is. If a movie is shown in whats considered to be a rundown or trashy theater *cough* Jamaica Multiplex *cough* does it lose validity from its critics? No, but that walmart novel will. I like the idea of the “one brow.” I know you want to vomit at the idea of people in capes hitting each other as they save the world but I see this happening more and more with fantasy based and comic based adaptations. No longer are they simply summer blockbusters, they are real contenders for real accolades. Nevertheless, I still don’t completely know what the issue is.

  2. Re. “I wonder how much of the brain is engaged….”: Here’s a great post (and awesome film blog) on the cognitive process and psychology behind watching film:
    http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/02/14/watching-you-watch-there-will-be-blood/

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