McFarlane and Andrew; Different Names for the same things?

Through the process of adaptation, is it possible for the adapter to “preserve the major cardinal functions” without adhering to the strict order and sequence of its source material? On pages 13-15, McFarlane heavily discusses a filmmaker’s utilization of “cardinal functions,” and how he or she must adhere strictly to these in order maintain the chronology and logic of the original work.

This rigid construction denotes adaptation as being nearly if not entirely impossible.  McFarlane states that a true adaptation must keep the cardinal functions in tact; however, even if the functions are kept in tact, the adaptation can suffer deformity due to situations surrounding the functions (14). Though he does outline the constitutions of how deformations may form, the tone of his writing seems to lead to the idea that adapting a novel both truly and fully is impossible.

In strict comparison to this rigidness are Dudley Andrew’s three modes (covered in last weeks readings). Andrew’s modes seem to suggest that in order to truly adapt the novel this holistic and all-inclusive mentality is not the only avenue (Fidelity of transformation mode and the intersection modes). Though these modes support different avenues of approaching adaptation, McFarlane seems to ignore these modes. Instead, he offers a different solution.

While he does address that even exact translations do not/cannot adapt a novel correctly (14), he moves to combat the points of lengthiness in an adaptation. Shortly after his rigid defining, McFarlane’s discussion of “distributional and integrational functions” offers a way in which the filmmakers can utilize metaphor through characterization. This ultimately allows more freedom in cardinal functions and their inherent link to chronology and logic. Though this does not exactly incite the modes, if offers a different means to an end in adaptation.

McFarlane’s piece offers some interesting points that ask a lot of questions. Though he seems to present both sides of an argument, it ultimately seems as though he does not believe is accurate adaption from film to literature. Yes, he does offer different techniques and methodologies, but ultimately his tone seems pessimistic.

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One Response to McFarlane and Andrew; Different Names for the same things?

  1. Marie Mosot says:

    I don’t think McFarlane goes so far as to assert that filmmakers pursuing adaptations “must adhere strictly” to a novel’s cardinal functions. He merely notes that failure to do so often incites outrage – he does not legitimize such a reaction, and in fact, states numerous times that the premium placed on fidelity ought to be devalued (8). Read again: “When a major cardinal function is deleted or altered in the film version of a novel… this is apt to occasion critical outrage and popular disaffection. The film-maker bent on ‘faithful’ adaptation must, as a basis for such an enterprise, seek to preserve the major cardinal function” (14). That “faithful” appears in scare quotes presents the possibility of unfaithful adaptations, which he also doesn’t deny nor affirm. The rest of that section (pp.13-15) merely outlines the various elements of narrative, which McFarlane makes clear to distinguish from enunciation. Narrative is what links film and novel; enunciation separates them. McFarlane’s points about narrative are not meant to exclude the possibility of adaptation altogether – he is establishing a more general basis on which to approach adaptations, one that forgoes imprecise notions of fidelity in favor of more concrete narrative and formalistic elements that could be applied equally to literature and film. Cardinal functions must be maintained, yes, if one aims for fidelity, which McFarlane points is only one and by no means the best aim of adaptation – he does not omit the possibility of successfully diverging from the cardinal functions (the rest of his book may bear this out).

    Put another way: McFarlane reads pessimistically if one ascribes to notions of fidelity and its attendant assumptions of literature’s superiority and inviolability. I certainly didn’t read him pessimistically; in fact, I’d say this is the piece of criticism I’ve been waiting for, one that abandons negative ways of viewing film for more constructive ones.

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