This post might be a little off topic but I couldn’t resist commenting on something I found very interesting in the reading for this week.
In “Background, Issues, and a New Agenda,” McFarlane discusses audiences’ desires to see their favorite works of literature turned into film, to see if their mental images match those “created by the film-maker” (7). Even if some people walk into the theater to watch an adaptation of a novel they love, with the preconceived notion that they’ll hate it, there is the attraction, much like watching a car accident, of seeing “somebody else’s phantasy” live on screen (7). Are modern audiences today clamoring for films to be made of popular novels? How often do we hear the comment “this would make a GREAT movie!”?
McFarlane continues to mention the theoretical notion that a novel is just one presentation of a narrative and that film is just another means by which this narrative can exist. Anthony Burgess cynically comments on this idea by stating that “every best-selling novel has to be turned into a film, the assumption being that the book itself whets an appetite for the true fulfillment” (7).
In his 1972 article “Juice from A Clockwork Orange,” Burgess comments further on this issue. Although very pleased with the film adaptation of his A Clockwork Orange (Burgess was very pleased with the choice of Kubrick to direct the film and called the work a ‘brilliant transference’ from page to screen (1)), Burgess laments the fact that although man’s greatest achievement is language, his greatest linguistic achievements are ‘invariably ignored by all but a few. Spell a thing to the eye, that most crass and obvious of organs, and behold – a revelation” (1).
Burgess ends this part of his article by confiding in his readers a fear that the ‘film may supersede the novel” (1). Although very pleased with Kubrick’s adaptation, he calls his novel an essentially “literary experience” (1). He ends by consoling himself and states that A Clockwork Orange is not his favorite work, and that his favorite works “are so essentially literary that no film could be made out of them” (1).
A few questions arise from reading Burgess’ thoughts:
1. To what extent is it ‘OK’ for a film to supersede its source text?
2. Does this devalue the original work?
3. If an adaptation can be a ‘brilliant transference’ of the original work, is it really so terrible that the adaptation will draw people to the original novel after seeing the film?
4. How important is it to ‘read the book first, then see the movie?’
Apologies again if this is off topic. I felt compelled to comment on something that jumped out at me in the reading for this week.
OH, on a sidenote: Having only seen the film of A Clockwork Orange (I know, I know, shame on me…), I was wondering if anybody that has seen the film AND read the novel can share why they think Burgess calls the film a ‘brilliant transference’? He articulates his thoughts in “Juice from A Clockwork Orange,” but I was wondering what my colleagues think? Or if you even agree with the author himself?