The Book Is Better Than The Movie Because It Is, So There!

Andre Bazin’s “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest” adds fuel to the fire that is argument whether the adapted is always better than the adaptation or vice versa.  He makes a case for film adaptations as he claims that adapting a difficult to grasp, more cultured novel to film makes it more accessible to the masses, stating that the “up-and-coming civilization” often says to “grab whatever we can” in reference to attaining some form of culture.  (22).  He mentions how understanding a form of high art provides a feeling of culture, also stating that with modern technology, culture can be offered to what he refers to as the lowest common denominator, thus creating some form of overall progress.

So essentially, even though the film adaptation of the novel provides a more accessible version of the novel, it’s still inferior because it’s the only way “the lowest common denominator” will become exposed to culture, as if films are to decaf as novels are to regular coffee?  Ultimately, this is Bazin saying that the anterior is superior.  He alludes to this at the beginning of the text: “A novel is a unique synthesis whose molecular equilibrium is automatically effected when you tamper with it’s form.”  One might think in response: well, yeah, obviously.  If you attempt to change the form of ANYTHING, you will ultimately “effect” it in some way.  But if you take into account what he mentions earlier about “the lowest common denominator” being given a more accessible form of “culture”, Bazin’s statement at the opening of the text seems a bit more like he’s taking the side of the anterior.

Overall, is the adapted truly superior to the adaptation?  Or is it the other way around?  Or are they simply two forms of telling the same story?  I know these are loaded questions, but I believe the answers will be quite subjective and broad, depending on who you ask.

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3 Responses to The Book Is Better Than The Movie Because It Is, So There!

  1. Mike Salerno says:

    This is off topic, but the statement “the anterior is always superior” is a feeling that many so-called elitists would identify with and I see it played out very regularly in the realm of video games. Many people claim that the original Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda games are the best in the series for the simple fact that they were the first, the original, and there was nothing like those games before them. When confronted with other games in the series as potential usurpers to the throne, elitists throw up their noses and refuse to shift their opinions. Nothing is better than the original, they say.

    Well, sure, the original games put into place the various themes, motifs, and formulae those series of games are known for. But can it not be argued that others in the series have perfected the formula? Must the original always be the best? I find this perspective to be very problematic.

  2. Like another poster for this week, I see we’re also struggling with the chronology thing. We’ll have to dig in to the end of Bazin’s “Adaptation” essay, where he images a work of art as an “artistic pyramid”–it’s not about which came first, but about how the three can be reflected and seen as one thing.

  3. Dana Choit says:

    In reading about your thoughts on film adaptations and “the lowest common denominator” for some reason I was reminded of a recent television commercial which itself seems to pokes fun at adaptations and perhaps how often they are being made today. It suggests the idea of “taking the easy way out” by going to see a film adaptation rather than read the more difficult and long book version. This is something that I think is as noted by Bazin is a great thing in bringing the story and meaning of the work to the masses, but also brings forth the discussions we’ve been having on which is better the book or the movie, and the fidelity that audience members who have experienced the original may feel. In addition, it seems that sometimes individuals who have read the original work may look down upon those who have only experienced the film for access to this cultural experience.

    Here is the commercial (it’s for 1800-CONTACTS) :

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