MacFarlane and Fidelity

How important is fidelity to an adaptation, and is it more important that a film be a good film rather than a good adaptation?

In “Backgrounds, Issues, and a New Agenda” MacFarlane takes several opportunities to express his thoughts on the issue of fidelity in adaptation. Essentially, he is tired of the assumption that the only way a film adaptation can be good is if it is entirely faithful to the novel, and that if an adaptation makes a great deal of or some large changes to the source material, that makes it somehow abusive of the work from which it is drawn: “At every level from newspaper reviews to longer essays in critical anthologies and journals, the adducing of fidelity to the original novel as a major criterion for huding the film adaptation is pervasive. No critical line is in greater need of re-examination – and devaluation” (8). Furthermore, he points out that “one does not find filmmakers asserting a bold approach to their source material any more than announcing crude financial motives” in reference to the fact that many adapted films come to be made because there is a higher success rate among adaptations since, as we’ve discussed in class, they come with a built in audience, even if that audience is there to see the vision of a director that does not fit their own vision and to sort of hate-watch the film as a result.

MacFarlane goes on to quote Dudley Andrews later in his later, suggesting that if a film is adapted then it is “the effacement of the memory derived from reading the novel by another experience – an audio-visual-verbal one – which will seem, as little as possible, to jar with that collective memory” (21).

I’m planning to go a bit further into detail on this topic in my presentation on Thursday, so without spoiling all that fun, I’ll just suggest that perhaps we can all consider the differences between a good film and a good adaptation.

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3 Responses to MacFarlane and Fidelity

  1. Laura Callei says:

    Brigitte, I think you raise a really interesting question here. I think that when it comes to an adaptation, it is necessary that it stay faithful to the novel. But, I do not think that it has to stay 100% entirely like the novel because in some cases, the film may turn out horrible if it does. This argues your second question in which you raise a debate on whether it is more important that a film be a good film or stay fully true as an adaptation. In my opinion I think as a director and as a screenwriter creating an adaptation it is important to think about making a great film, even if this means you need to change some aspects to the novel or piece of literature . This should be in the mind of any film maker that wants to adapt a novel into a film. I think that this can be achieved. There are many great adaptation films out there that stay true to the novel and are spectacular.

  2. Darwin Eng says:

    Your post made me consider how McFarlane would feel about movies that are loosely based or adapted on an original text. (We mentioned it briefly in class, but) movies such as Easy A (based on The Scarlett Letter) or Clueless (based on Emma) are a far cry from the original text. The screenplay writer/director/producer obviously made a conscious decision to base the movie on a canonize text, but change nearly every single detail (time period, gender chance, etc). I beleive McFarlane would be happy with this shift away from attempting to trying to be a good adaptation, though I am not sure if he would consider Easy A or Clueless to be “good” films (what is a “good film” mean anyways?). On a personal note, I believe that Easy A and Clueless are good films insofar that they are creative and funny twists on classic story lines.

  3. Sara Tener says:

    I think that we need to keep in mind what McFarlane stressed about the fact that “there are many kinds of relations which may exist between film and literature, and fidelity is only one” (11). We need to consider the screenwriter’s and director’s intentions when they approach a source, and ask ourselves if they are accomplishing what they set out to do and not what we expect them to deliver. Is their intention transposition/fidelity of transformation/fidelity to the main thrust of the narrative, commentary/intersection/to retain the core with significant departures from the source, or analogy/borrowing/to regard the source simply as raw material for an original work (10-11)? If we always expect a director to transfer the source text to the screen, we are bound to be disappointed.

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