Shaping the Direction of Adaptations

Could the current theoretical aversion to fidelity discourse encourage filmmakers to shy away from attempting “literal,” or at least “close,” adaptations of sourcetexts?

In Leitch’s “Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads,” he makes a striking comment about Cahir’s Literature into Film: Theory and Practical Approaches. He asserts that her “rubric establishes traditional adaptation as a norm from which literal and radical adaptations depart at their peril” (71). Despite the fact that Leitch points out how the will to taxonomize should not be accompanied with value judgments, he unwittingly appears to do the same thing in “Twelve Fallacies of Contemporary Film Adaptation.” This is best indicated by his use of the phrase “servile transcriptions” (161). The connotations of the word “servile,” compounded with his discussion on the faults of employing fidelity as a criterion for the evaluation of adaptation, encourages one to conclude that he is equally against attempts to transcribe or transfer sourcetexts from book to screen. To him, it is impossible to for a film adaptation to compare to a source, so why bother?

Though these are just the views of two contemporary theorists, it seems possible that this disparagement of “literal” or “close” adaptations could spread to adapters themselves. Reviewers may subscribe to these opinions and similarly encourage filmmakers away from such. Furthermore, as is noted by Ray, some theorists, like Eisenstein, employ their films as vehicles for upholding their vision of film/ adaptation theory. If filmmakers ascribe to contemporary views on fidelity, their work may reflect this.

One could also say that theory and practice are entirely different animals. It is known that there is a demand for adaptations, and fidelity discourse continues to dominate discussions despite contemporary theorists’ eschewal of such. Filmmakers create their works with an eye to the marketability of their products, in a given society, with reference to a particular time. If there is a demand for “literal” or “close” adaptations, film theorists will not be able to prevent filmmakers from creating works that aspire to meet this demand.

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2 Responses to Shaping the Direction of Adaptations

  1. Raj says:

    I very much agree with your last paragraph. The market will drive what films are created for mass consumption and to date there is a great demand for films to respect (the text’s) authorial intent. Of course, what drives the market’s desires could on some level be derived from the work of theorists, in that if a sufficient number of the populace is educated and exposed to such theory their tastes may be altered. However without a more prominent and defined post-fidelity-adaptation theory a populace that looks beyond fidelity is unlikely.

    I also agree that Leitch’s scorn of fidelity causes him to look at attempts at transcribing text to film, or perhaps as reading adaptations as mere transcription from text to film, as besides the point. His use of ‘servile’ (indeed a value judgement) is used to compare rote transcription with the sort of adaptation that creatively employs the use of narrative gaps, but I don’t think to condemn the entire field of adaptation. He argues that one should not bother with (or be bothered by) fidelity since one is at all times bothered with adaptation–his sense of intertextuality seems to imply that if there are no originals everything must be an adaptation.

    • Like Raj, I was thinking about the idea in your last paragraph: questioning the relationship between theory and practice. You remind me of an NY Times article that I just read. I’ll post a link to it.

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