A question of vision in adaptation

Bazin makes a claim that film is made in such away that the audience can attain something from it in a way that can’t be attained in another medium. I think that furthers the question of why does so much negativity towards film adaptations exist? If films function is to achieve a different type of method in order to receive a similar response form the audience emotionally, why is must it be so faithful that its almost slave to its source material?

Furthermore I find it interesting that Bazin makes a case for the validity of adaptations based on the caliber and ability of those whose hands its in. In Cinema as Digest, Bazin states”All it takes is for the filmmakers to have enough visual imagination to create the cinematic equivalent of the style of the original, and for the critic to have the eyes to see it.” So is this begs the question, is this the reason why “Visionary Filmmakers” make such great works of adaptation? Or make such great films in general? What determines if you have enough visual imagination to create the “cinematic equivalent?” This makes me wonder if the upcoming Baz Lerman adaptation of the Great Gatsby will be held in such regard? I almost have to believe that their will be a critic who has the “eyes to see it” the it being the artistic and visual imaginative spectacle. Bazin, I feel is really leaning towards the realm of perception, at least with this particular section in the beginning of the piece. The perception of both the filmmaker and  the critic need to be in some sort of alignment in order to produce a work of film that is equal or in some cases (gasp if you must here) SUPERIOR to the original written medium.

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3 Responses to A question of vision in adaptation

  1. I really like the point you’ve brought up in regards to the validity and qualifications of what qualifies one’s vision as being able to create a sensory equivalent to the original work. The idea that a critic and a filmmaker must have common ground on which they perceive the work to create a working adaptation is intriguing in the sense that it creates the idea of symbiosis between the two. Without one, the other will suffer.

    This brings another idea to the forefront. Despite prose allowing for unique interpretations, the filmmakers behind the movie as well as the critic, and I am assuming here, some of the audience must have a similar or shared vision that accounts for the bulk of the original work. This universality churns the question of can one make a successful adaptation through this general lens?

    I would venture to say no. Instead of painting in broad strokes, so to speak, a filmmaker must decode the original work through his or her own lens. They must identify the themes, ideas, points that mean most to them and wholly craft their film through that lens. In doing this, they must capture the essence, themes, story, settings, etc. of the original work, but it is imperative to take an individualistic order to create a working adaptation.

    One can look to the last series of Batman films (sorry for another comic reference). The filmmakers acknowledged themes, stories, characters, and settings, but took many creative liberties (origin, villains, relationships, etc.) The result? Three of the most critically acclaimed, widely received, and highest grossing films of all time.

    It is important to capture the essence of the original work; however, it is just as important to reinterpret, or ADAPT, it.

    I think this formula yields the greatest results. Though not everything audiences want will be fully presented, and this will undoubtedly create negative reception, the film becomes an adaptation instead of a copy.

    Back to the original point of qualifying vision, a filmmaker must determine what they wish to display to an audience and do so through their own lens. More often than not reinterpretations, reboots, adaptations, etc. take the broad strokes and presents them as being ‘faithful’ though they lack the both substance of the original and identity of an adaptation.

  2. I feel like reading Bazin keeps bringing me back to the same fundamental two part argument. 1) People who enjoy a book feel like they have some sort of personal connection to the book, maybe because the process of reading is something that one must undertake alone, whereas the process of watching a film can be shared (as in, hundreds of people can watch the same movie at the exact same time, but reading a book is something usually done alone and at one’s own pace). Therefore, they feel protective of the source work and think that a film that uses some part of this book they love without remaining faithful to it is not being fair to the book and to them. 2) The quote you cited, in which Bazin suggests that the “style” is what is most essential to making a good adaptation, and that a critic must be able to discern the style of the filmmaker, brings to mind, once again, the oft-discussed in class upcoming film version of The Great Gatsby. To me, that book is a tragedy through-and-through, and every film version inevitably fails because it will always focus too much on the glamorous aspects of the beginning of the novel, and cannot capture the horror that goes with, for example, a recognition of the echo of the “fresh green breast of the new world” in Myrtle’s death scene, where her left breast is literally torn away from her body. That is something that I’m just not sure a film can capture. Not every adaptation has these issues, but a great many of them do, and Bazin, in his flippant quote, seems to be giving those concerns a brush off without enough thought.

    • Dana Choit says:

      While I definitely agree with part one of your statement, I have to disagree somewhat with part two. I kind of felt that within Bazin’s quote about the style of the film and the essence of the work coming forth through the adaptation he was actually not “brushing off” these concerns but acknowledging that they indeed exist. I think as you bring up your own difficulties with The Great Gatsby, it seems to me that you have indeed just not seen an adaptation that meets that criteria- whether someone can make that happen we’ll have to wait and see.

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