McFarlane breaks it down for us :)

This essay is a great summary of what we have read thus far!  I also enjoyed his kind of flippant commentary on the short comings of film adaptation criticism.

As in the Chatman reading, McFarlane takes a formalistic approach to his criticism noting the signifying process, codes, the novels linearity and the films spatiality.  My question is, why does this discussion seem to further drive the mediums apart?  Rather than a this versus that discussion, could we not elevate the value of film adaptation by showing that formalist criticism applies as thoroughly to film as it does to literature?

When McFarlane discusses the “gradual accretion of information” in the novel and differentiates it from the “frame-following-frame” viewing of the film, I begin to disagree.  Maybe it is that I do not understand.  (28) Why is there opposition to this specific, what I see as, similarity?  I may have commented on this last week too.  We can read novels word by word, re reading and reconsidering, and we can watch movies frame by frame, dissecting and analyzing.  Think of that exciting novel that you cannot put down, that you read in one night.  Are you going to digest all of the minute details in that first read?  Of course not.  A first viewing of a film is similar.  If you love a film and are intrigued by it, you will reconsider it.

Also when he says, “the novels reliance on the written representation of language codes has been a key element in accounting for the fuzzy impressionism of so much writing about adaptation,” (29) he suggests that there is an inherent limit to language codes.  A limit not of concern for film which has several sensory/signifying codes, such as “non-linguistic sound codes.”  I am not sure I agree here either.  While the novels rely solely on linguistics, that code is immensely more trans formative and influential than say an audible musical code which is singular in its noise and whose interpretation is also limited.  Again, why does this approach separate the two mediums?

Lastly, I was pleased to see such candid remarks regarding fidelity to source.  While I feel there is a lot of value in psychological/emotional integrity, I enjoyed the disposal of fidelity’s overall importance.


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2 Responses to McFarlane breaks it down for us :)

  1. Mike Ketive says:

    In attempt to answer your question, I think the reason McFarlane is trying to set apart both forms of media is that he’s trying to establish ground for film to succeed on it’s own merits rather than be chained to it’s source material. It would be imprudent to drag down the entire story across different media, so I would imagine that he’s driving the two mediums further apart so that they can stand out as individual achievements rather than one existing in the shadow of another for arguably semantic reasons (“the book came first, so it’s automatically better” or “they didn’t include that guy from page 167, I want my money back”). Ultimately, I think McFarlane’s division between film and literature exists as a way to embrace each of their merits as individual forms of media rather than to set them apart and claim one is better than the other.

  2. Marie Mosot says:

    I agree with you on this very happy divergence from the model of fidelity. Though McFarlane doesn’t completely abandon it, I think its diminished role can now finally allow for a consideration of adaptations as an equal relationship between literature and film and not as parasites.

    As for the “frame-following-frame” note: We don’t experience a film frame by frame, or rather shot by shot, especially if good editors can help it. More often than not, we experience it scene by scene. This is a semantic difference, but it might help: a frame or a shot is essentially a take, an unedited piece of action (originally, the exposed celluloid between the director’s calls for “action” and “cut”); a scene is a string of shots grounded in one location (this is why screenplays denote scenes according to setting); and a sequence is a string of scenes unified by an overarching theme or device (e.g., a chase sequence that kills off characters and ends several miles away). To extend the analogy, a shot is a word; a scene is a sentence or paragraph; and a sequence is a paragraph or chapter. The problem is that a shot contains more than a word or even a sentence; or rather, a shot transmits or conveys more than a word or sentence. A shot contains actors as characters who both speak and are seen; set pieces that are affected by lighting and camera angle, which in turn affect mood; music both diegetic and non-diegetic, which also affect mood – the most basic unit in films, the shot, is more complex than the basic unit in literature or language, words. That’s where the equivalence between the two media starts to fall apart; their structures or enunciations are different.

    “While the novels rely solely on linguistics, that code is immensely more transformative and influential than say an audible musical code which is singular in its noise and whose interpretation is also limited.” In fact, I’d argue that interpretation is always limited, but I think you could also make an argument for the “transformative” and “influential” aspects of film, its use of audio and visual cues (which can transcend written and spoken language, by the way; a smile or drums is happiness or a heartbeat whatever language you read or speak) to evoke emotions. I think this is where the conceptual vs. perceptional distinction comes into play. Novels start inward and work out, building a world on ideas, while films start outward and work in, building a story and an internal landscape from the world. It’s a difference in experience, which must phenomenologically, ontologically affect interpretation.

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