In Bazin’s “Adaptation, or the Cinema of Digest,” he says, “It is possible to imagine we are moving toward a reign of the adaptation in which the notion of the unity of the work of art, if not the very notion of the author himself, will be destroyed.”
This concept of “a single work reflected through three art forms” dismisses the original work’s importance. Bazin says, “Malraux made his film of Man’s Hope before he wrote the novel of the same title, but he was carrying the work inside himself all along.”
Interestingly, in that example, it is his film and his novel, so the idea that both iterations of that work existed within him is not hard to comprehend. But what about works that are adapted by others who have no relation to the original work? Bazin likens the chronological order as irrelevant in the same way it is with siblings – chronological order doesn’t make one more of a daughter or son than the other.
In the case of original works and adaptations, chronological order is extremely relevant. One thing came before the other because it was created by one person, and then later adapted by the other. It’s basic logic – clearly, one had to chronologically precede the other.
Yet, still, there is the question of audience. In many cases, the audience of an adaptation may regard the author as some far off, nebulous concept, if they even regard the original author at all. And sometimes, the adaptation far exceeds the original creation, so much so that even though the story and characters were created by someone else, it is the author of the adaptation to whom the credit must go to for creating that extra something that elevated the work.
One such work that comes to mind is Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Since I say it is Francis Ford Coppola’s, that makes it evident that I am talking about the movie. But reading that, you most likely wouldn’t think to yourself, oh, okay, so we’re talking about the movie, not the book. It’s just The Godfather, not The Godfather – The Movie Version. Coppola’s movie is the story of Vito and Michael Corleone, not an adaptation. Not to audiences anyway. The book by Mario Puzo, while a pretty good read, doesn’t really come close to the movie. The dialogue is all there, the character, the plot, yes – and for these reasons, the book is very good. But the adaptation transforms it in such a way that made it resonate strongly with audiences, so when we think of Vito Corleone, we think Marlon Brando, because it’s inconceivable that the movie is merely just an interpretation – it just is.
This also ties in to Bazin’s idea that cinema is created for audiences, that it extrapolates from a literary source in order to evoke the same emotion for the audience.
Are the audiences then the authors? It is the audience reaction, as well as the critical response, that makes Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather eclipse Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.
At the same time, if you go into niche circles of people who are obsessed with mafia books and movies, you might find a different reception. At the very least, the book is not as irrelevant as it is amongst the mainstream audience.
So did the adaptation destroy Mario Puzo’s identity as the author? What is his relation to the movie? The movie would not be without Mario Puzo, but we don’t credit its unique genius to him. And although the movie came after the book, the movie is considered to be the representation of that story.