Does the adaptation destroy the concept of the author?

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.


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7 Responses to Does the adaptation destroy the concept of the author?

  1. amelia daly says:

    It is almost unfair to discuss The Godfather because it is extraordinary in its achievement of adaptation. Most adaptations do not thwart the criticism of their undertaking so wholly as does Coppola’s film. It is both a perfect analogy, in its ability to clearly present questions and arguments, and a challenging one because of its virtual perfection.
    I also think the example of Coppola’s genius as a director/film creator undermines the basic logic of authorship. Who is to say he would not have had the ability to create such a film using inspiration from a variety of news stories, verbal tales, or some combination of inspirations referencing the world of the mafia? There are of course generic story lines which underline this tale. For example, the son’s initial rejection of his father’s business, the wife’s power struggle, the royalty of Vito.

    Finally, I have to also politely disagree with the statement that ” 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.”

    I think if the masses and the critics were all unable for some odd reasons to see the beauty and timelessness of Coppola’s epic, it would not be any less epic.

  2. trevor11 says:

    I don’t think that despite how great or maybe even superior a film adaptation is, can it truly destroy the authors identity. Let us first remember that the film may not exist without the source material, sure Francis Ford Coppola could have maybe developed a similar story and similar characters but would it be the Godfather? No. Furthermore, characters are rarely (but at times they are) completely broken down and muddled to the point where they are unrecognizable. Take for instance the NUMEROUS adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. has given us one version, BBC and Benedict Cumberbatch and finally the newest iteration in NBC’s Elementary where Watson is played by Lucy Liu and Holmes by Johnny Lee Miller. Now the point here is that those familliar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, see Holmes, HIS Holmes in each of these characters, even in Liu’s Watson I can see HIS Watson. Mind you this is only 3 examples of actors playing Holmes, there are over 20 as far back as 1911. Source material is a powerful thing, if for no other reason than, its the source. Therefore the authors identity isn’t lost, we merely are seeing it through a different lens.

  3. Raj says:

    Like trevor11 I don’t feel that Coppola’s adaptation has sent (the author) Puzo to sleep with the fishes. I think Foucault may argue that Puzo caused himself to disappear in the act of writing; in creating a text which would be read (by others) he has opened his text to (other) readings (or adaptations). His voice/influence/authority has already been deferred in the act of writing. Coppola’s reading/adaptation/authorship into a film version is only a further deferral. Puzo remains not as an omnipotent Author(ity) who precedes the text, but rather serves (through these deferrals) as a system of limitation (an author function)–texts by Puzo are seen in high regard because his text inspired the film ‘The Godfather’. For Foucault, any system can be usurped, as may be the case here with Coppola’s work being seen as more important, but this paradigmatic substitution displaces Puzo rather than eliminating him altogether.

  4. This is a great post/comment thread!

  5. amelia daly says:

    I should clarify that I do not necessarily think that the authorship is lost, but I agree with Raj that the “authority” is lost. My point about other sources of inspiration for Coppola is that while he may not have made the Godfather, he could have made something equally spectacular and Puzo’s story would not even be a discussion piece. (This is my way of playing devils advocate by the way, ha ha) I am also enjoying this thread!

  6. I hope you don’t feel like you’re being attacked by all the disagreements – you did a great job at playing devil’s advocate, clearly! – but I’m jumping on the bandwagon here and adding my two cents. If Puzo’s novel didn’t exist, and Coppola came up with the entire story for the Godfather himself, then he would be credited with, perhaps not exactly being the “author”, I don’t think that word is ever used for screenwriters, but certainly with being the storyteller and creator, or some other sort of equivalent title. But the novel does exist, and so we credit Puzo with being the story creator and Coppola with bringing the story to life, making it into a film that can exist independently of the novel, etc. In either case, nothing is taken away from Puzo- in fact, it is quite the opposite. If Puzo’s book hadn’t been written, Coppola would have been given the credit that we give to Puzo now, but it would still be a role that exists. Does that make sense?

  7. Faye, to address the question you pose at the end, I do believe the audiences are authors. Like we discussed last class, authorship is collaborative. The creator (Director, writer, screenwriter) is not the only one who is solely responsible for a particular vision. Films just like literature, specifically novels, are not only art forms that allow escapism. We must remember that we are a part of a consumerist and capitalistic society. I believe our economic structure has a lot to with authorship because in reality, people are not making “art for art’s sake”- they are making it for a profit. Therefore what is produced is for the consumption of the audience. The creator of the film has the audience in mind and is manufacturing something that the audience will find acceptable. There is an exchange. If the audience is happy with the product, they will buy a movie ticket, enjoy what they see on the screen, people will make money, and hopefully just go home. That is not to say that the director/screenwriter has no voice. The challenge of the director/screenwriter is to present a film that is synthesis of their vision and what would satisfy the audience. I remembered someone in class seemed really stressed out about the word “author.” And while it does not bother me as much, I do understand where they are coming from because there are many influence and factors that come in to play when deciding who the author of a film is. I will say this- It’s quite difficult to use a term (like “author”) that you cannot truly define.

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