Tristram Shandy

Remember our course’s third learning objective?

« to be able to describe historical or industrial changes in cinematic adaptation.

Here are some quotations where we’ve seen this issue argued:

“Since at least 1907 narrative has been the dominant mode of filmmaking as well as the principal source of examples for writers exploring the ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, and ideology of film” (Branigan xi).

There were “crucial changes in the (mainly English) novel towards the end of the nineteenth century; changes which led to a stress on showing rather than on telling and which, as a result, reduced the element of authorial intervention in its more overt manifestations” (McFarlane 4).

“One effect of this stress on the physical surfaces and behaviours of objects and figures is to de-emphasize the author’s personal narrating voice so that we learn to read the ostensibly unmediated visual language of the later nineteenth-century novel in a way that anticipates the viewer’s experience of film which necessarily presents those physical surfaces” (McFarlane 5).

“[S]ince the implicative power of literary language and of cinematic signs is a function of use as well as of a system, adaptation analysis ultimately leads to an investigation of film styles and periods in relation to literary styles of different periods. . . . It is time for adaptation studies to take a sociological turn” (Andrew 14).

“Film tells us continuous stories; it ‘says’ things that could be conveyed also in the language of words; yet it says them differently. There is a reason for the possibility as well as for the necessity of adaptations.” The demand for feature-length fiction films “which was only one of the many conceivable genres” has dominated film production. “The basic formula, which has never changed, is the one that consists in making a large continuous unit that tells a story and calling it a ‘movie.’ ‘Going to the movies’ is going to see this type of story” (Christian Metz, qtd. in McFarlane, 12).

“We know from whence the cinema appeared first as a worldwide phenomenon. Wer know the inseparable link between the cinema and the industrial development of America. We know how production, art and literature reflect the capitalist breadth and construction of the United States of America. And we also know that American capitalism finds its sharpest and most expressive reflection in the American cinema. But what possible identity is there between this Moloch of modern industry . . . and the peaceful, patriarchal Victorian London of Dickens’s novels?” (Eisenstein 195-6).

“For a strange thing has happened–while all the other arts were born naked, this, the youngest, has been born fully clothed. It can say everything before it has anything to say. It is as if the savage tribe, instead of finding two bars of iron to play with, had found, scattering the seashore, fiddles, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, grand pianos by Erard and Bechstein, and had begun with incredible energy, but without knowing a note of music, to hammer and thump upon them all at the same time” (Woolf 91).

“The film script is an entirely new literary form, newer even than the film itself . . . . The film is fifty years old, the script as a literary form only twenty-five at most. . . . The film script was born when the film had already developed into an independent new art and it was no longer possible to improvise its new subtle visual effects in front of the camera; these had to be planned carefully in advance” (Balázs, 216).

“The ferocious defense of literary works is, to a certain extent, aesthetically justified; but we must also be aware that it rests on a rather recent, individualistic conception of the ‘author’ and of the ‘work,’ a conception that was far from being ethically rigorous in the seventeenth century and that started to become legally defined only at the end of the eighteenth.” (Bazin, “Adaptation,” 23).

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About Kevin L. Ferguson

Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing at Queens
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