What is the job of the adapter if not to adapt?
Can fidelity be divorced from moralizing judgements?
Connor notes that one of the criticisms leveled at fidelity as used in adaptation studies is that it must fall back on a hierarchy between the adaptation and its source. That is, per critics such as Ray, fidelity criticism ultimately boils down to the boring discussion of whether or not the adaptation is better than the original–producing the unproductive question, “how does the film compare to the book” (2)? Connor holds that “fidelity debates provide a way of avoiding questions of quality” (2).
This avoidance is enabled by the ease of comparing two things (e.g. determining faithfulness or matching) as opposed to determining which of two different things is better (e.g. the question of quality or merits). What fidelity discourse can do when not avoiding questions of quality is highlight a reader’s judgements and ultimately the basis for those judgments. An adaptation provides an alternative text on which one can judge their judgements about the original text. Connor notes that he’d rather refer to a ‘prior’ rather than ‘original’ text since there is something about the first text one encounters (be it the original or adaptation) that causes some sort of firm allegiance to it. And so fidelity discourse is important not for determining faithfulness between source and adaptation but between prior text and reader. The degree to which a reader wishes to challenge or support a particular adaptation implies a link between reader and text and the reasons for that link are what should be addressed: “Questions of matching or mis-matching address the viewer’s ability to recognize the systematicity of the differences between source and adaptation; question of judgment speak to the perceptiveness of the viewer in recognizing both the systematicity of the individual works and the grounds for her own judgements” (3).
Can the Hutcheon’s notion of the adaptation as “the other” be applied to an individual who experiences both the novel and the film, regardless of order?
In paragraphs 14 and 15 Hutcheon tackles the order in which one reads the book and/or watches the film. What if you read the book first, and then go see the film? Or vice versa? How does this affect your experience or understanding? In paragraph 14, she notes the (re)launch of a book’s popularity with a film adaptation often comes with a fresh new cover with images from the film. She writes, “if I buy and read the book after seeing the movie, I read it differently than I would have before I had seen the film: in effect the book, not the adaptation, has become the second and even secondary text for me. And as I read I can only ‘see’ characters as imagined by the director”. This has always been my personal reason for choosing to read the book first- to get an “untainted” personal experience with the literary text. In reading any text after experiencing the film, the images created in my mind are indeed heavily influenced by the film, yet differences still exist. However, after going through the motion of the course, I began to wonder, does that matter?
The question of fidelity that is so often explored compares the film adaptation to the text, and in that comparison, differences clearly exist. We have talked of “the spirit” of original being present in an adaptation, yet whether this “spirit” is considered alive and well or not, differences are still there. Endings may change, or characters fused together, but the adaptation can still provide a new and different experience. I find that often, whether seeing the film first or reading the book first, I infuse both experiences together. It is the differences, not the similarities that allow me to create this infusion and my own take on the meaning of the experiences. This seems to speak to what Hutcheon writes in paragraph 15 of “fill[ing] in the blank” during “The Dead” Irish song scene. Having read the novel, she fills in the blank with what is in the book, however, others, may fill in the blank with a completely different idea of what is going on having not read the book prior to going to see the film. Who’s to say that this concept is not communicated for the audience already without words- that it’s simply hard to grasp having already been exposed to the idea? Even with prior knowledge of the novel, it is not blatantly clear that the intention of the director is to communicate this aspect of the novel “without words” or to provide a completely different take on that moment. I haven’t read the book or seen the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close yet, but I heard somewhere that the main protagonist, a little boy, in the film version is said to likely belong on the Autism Spectrum. The author of the novel, Jonathan Safran Foer, responded that he had never thought of this character as autistic, but that “ it is not to say he isn’t – it’s really up for readers to decide. It’s not to say that plenty of descriptions of him wouldn’t be fitting, only that I didn’t have them in mind at the time”. The film adaptation clearly decided to interpret the character in that specific way, though never getting this diagnosis or even mention of it in the novel. Does this take away from the film at all? Or the novel at all? I would say no. Hutcheon later writes in paragraph 25, “Literary adaptations are their own thing…something different, something other”. I think this can speak to both the adaptations themselves, but also the experience of an individual who becomes involved in both the book and film.
Linda Hutcheon articulated, momentarily, the matter of music with literature that I have never been able to settle in my mind. Sections 28-33 talk about the way in which the literature is changed for the opera adaptation of Clarke’s Beatrice Chancy. She says that the language “was never sacrificed,” that the music “increases the impact of the literary text when performed.” (28) I do not agree. I am very passionate about music but I have a bias toward words. Her practical explanations for cuts and changes in the text are believable, however, the literature is shorted, the “power [does] get lost.” That is, the impact of the text is cut and the burden of impact is shared with the music. So the drama and impact as a whole are not lost, but again, the words lose substance and poetic strength. She gives the comparison of the two and my argument is in the lines:
“I’m perfumed, ruddied/ Carrion. Assassinated./Screams of mucking juncos scrawled/ Over the chapel and my nerves,”
” I’m perfumed, bleeding carrion,/ My eyes weep pus, my womb’s sopping/ With tears; I can hardly walk: the floors”
In the opera adaptation, the words “bleeding,” and “sopping” are not as impactful as “ruddied” or the image of the “mucking juncos.” I especially was thrown out by the use of “womb.” It is too literal and “sopping with tears,” is outright cliche. Still, I’m sure the music picked up the slack.
This has always been my pet peeve, although I haven’t convinced myself of its justification. I certainly do not think that music needs words, I just feel that often the poetry has opportunity to slack off. Think of the mountain of lyrical cliches in love songs, I do not ever expect progress there.
To bring it back to film, I am wondering if there is argument that music is doing the same to adaptations. Is it picking up the slack for film? Filling in for impact when the film struggles to adapt the impact of the text on screen? Music is arguably auditory poetry and maybe deserves more attention for its role creating impact in adaptations. Too clarify (maybe), I am struggling with the use of music as an excuse to slacken the writing in songs, operas, films, all of it. I also realize it may be a necessity. Maybe rich text with rich music equals mud?
In Linda Hutcheon’s “In Defence of Literary Adaptation as Cultural Production,” she talks about how texts are transformed by being adapted. In paragraph 15, she talks about watching the film adaptation of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” She discusses a scene in the movie in which the character is watching his wife listen to an Irish song. Although there is no dialogue in the scene to reflect his thoughts, she says that she knows exactly what he is thinking because it is in the book.
Now, this is actually something I’ve thought about before, which is why it immediately stood out to me as something to write about. It is entirely possible that the director showed the actor that portion of the text and told him to have it inform his acting in that scene. And if that’s the case, then that written thought would be as much a part of the movie as it is in the book.
But in many cases, that’s simply not what happens. Sometimes, actors don’t even read the source material. Or maybe the director just doesn’t find it important to convey every detail like that. Hutcheon subsequently makes the point that although she is supplementing the film’s silence with the “literary text’s inner knowledge,” if she had not read the book, she would be substituting her own ideas. In this way, films are these very precarious creatures, with a hidden world that is malleable and constantly subject to change.
I’ve tried to put my knowledge of the text into a movie like this before, but honestly, unless it’s really obvious that the text was taken into account, I just can’t fool myself into thinking it’s part of it. For me, movie’s are shaped by the intent. I can interpret someone’s acting any way I want, but once I find out their intentions, that’s it. I just can’t look at them and pretend they’re feeling or thinking what I want them to because it feels disingenuous. That can happen with books, but it’s not as absolute, and words are easier to put unintended meaning into.
This also got me thinking about what’s canon when it comes to source material and adaptations. Hutcheon talks about reading a book after seeing the movie that adapted it in chapter 14, and how she can only read the book as informed by the movie, even though the book is the original. This would lead one to believe that the movie, once watched, becomes canon. What about a book that is adapted twice? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was adapted twice, with the first adaptation being totally iconic, and the second being the recent one by Tim Burton. I remember reading that Burton did not watch the original movie, since he didn’t want to be affected by it. In a sense, he’s creating his own canon, but that doesn’t negate the existence of the other one. And although I had read the book and seen the first movie, when I saw Burton’s film, I related it only to the book.
Personally, I have my own characters in mind when I read that book and always will, but generally speaking, I’m a pretty impressionable person and I’ll be informed by whatever the most widely accepted canonical movie is for a book. It’s kind of a weird experience to accept two different canon’s simultaneously, and not only that, have a hierarchy for them.
Is fidelity discourse just a way of avoiding judgment, or is it a legitimate transformation of the process of adapting literature to film?
Connor presents a defense that borrows a little bit from everyone. Yet amongst these borrowings is a somewhat pessimistic outlook that indicates fidelity as being both a mere excuse, or scapegoat, as well as a legitimate adaptive mean for filmic adaptations of literature. While Connor combats both ideas, it ultimately makes me wonder if he remains tied to one of them. While quoting Andrew, “’the task of adaption is the reproduction in cinema of something essential about an original text,” Connor denounces the validity of this claim. In turn this makes more room for fidelity to navigate amongst adaptation. As Connor denotes film’s strict following of text, fidelity is given more room to capture the essence instead of recreate.
Connor presents both sides of this coin with thorough exploration of each; however, the further he dissects, the more his perspective seems tinted with a little bias. Connor states that even those who move to write beyond fidelity stumble through it. “the content of a story cannot be separated from its form.”(21) This idea should break skepticism from fidelity as fidelity adheres to form and story, but in a different way.
Fidelity discourse may be a way for filmmakers and critics to disassociate film and literature; however, it also transforms the adaptation process. It creates a broader scope of how to adapt literature to film and maintain its integrity. Connor seems a little partial to the fidelity discourse, as he seemingly deems it a transformation of practice. Yet, in doing this he combats other ideas that seek to align fidelity with a scapegoat.
Ultimately, Connor’s work comes off as a bit schizophrenic to me. As he attacks all sides of the argument with ample critical support, its hard to get a read on his actual stance. Though I believe it to ultimately fall in line with fidelity as a legitimate adaptive process, it is just as easy to dispute this as he references authors that combat and look past the discourse.
12 Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory
- There is such a thing as contemporary adaptation theory.
- Differences between literary and cinematic texts are rooted in essential properties of their respective media.
- Literary texts are verbal, films visual.
- Novels are better than films.
- Novels deal in concepts, films in percepts.
- Novels create more complex characters than movies because they offer more immediate and complete access to characters’ psychological states.
- Cinema’s visual specification usurps its audience’s imagination.
- Fidelity is the most appropriate criterion to use in analyzing adaptations.
- Source texts are more original than adaptations.
- Adaptations are adapting exactly one text apiece.
- Adaptations are inter texts, their precursor texts simply texts.
- Adaptation study is a marginal enterprise.
Leading Questions from 5 Collections on Adaptation
(ordered “from least to most interesting”)
- Does the movie in question betray its literary source?
- Does a given adaptation seek to establish itself as a transcription or an interpretation of its source?
- Does the film depart from its literary source because of new cultural or historical contexts it addresses?
- If the movie transcends its original literary source, does that source, however fairly eclipsed by the movie, deserve closer consideration as interesting in its own right?
- Is it possible for a film to recreate what might be assumed to be specifically literary aspects of its source that challenge medium-specific models of adaptation by indicating unexpected resources the cinema brings to matters once thought the exclusive province of literature?
- Is the movie as well as its source subject to cultural and historical contextualization?
- What questions about different kinds of fidelity do adaptations of other sorts of texts than canonical literary works raise?
- How do television adaptations challenge assumptions about the formal and institutional differences between verbal and audio-visual texts that might be overlooked in discussions that restricted themselves to literature and cinema?
- How do adaptations based on non-literary or non-fictional sourcetexts similarly enlarge the range of adaptation studies by revealing the parochialism of theories that restrict their examples to films based on fictional texts?
- How are models of adaptation that assume the primacy of literary texts challenged by the phenomenon of novelizations based on cinematic sourcetexts?
- How must models of adaptation be modified to account for movies that demonstrably draw on other sources than their putative sourcetexts, some of them perhaps even more important in determining its textual strategies?
- When films self-consciously raise questions about their own status as adaptation, what general implications do they offer adaptation studies?
- What implications do characteristic features frequently found in adaptations carry for more general theories of intertextuality?
- How do concepts commonly treated by adaptation theorists as universal change when they cross national and cultural borders?
- How must models of adaptation change to accommodate novels that formally and economically usurp the place traditionally accorded movies?
How can we call into question the validity of an adaptations faithfulness to its source material when discussing adaptation theory?
Leitch says that, like the title of his essay, “adaptation is at a crossroads.” He discuss the various schools of thought and transitions that have taken place throughout the film critiquing era, however one I still am curious has to how this can even be viewed as a legitimate or sound question. It makes me wonder what an adaptation is if not some fleeting or faintly familiar recreation of an idea from one medium to another. If we are no longer concerned with the faithfulness of the adaptation when what are we basing the idea of the adaptation itself on? Is it an adaptation if I am no longer concerned with its relation to the original? This somewhat perplexes me. Bazin was concerned with fidelity and how much of the original spirit is maintained in the adaptation. Now while these could be considered immeasurable units of assessment, I still believe that if one is to address or partake in adaptation studies then faithfulness must be addressed in some shape or form and I am not sure that placing that particular question in the realm of a crossroads discussion about the study at all is viable. However Leitch does acknowledge the contradictions of all schools of thought and discussion on the topic of changing film adaptation studies (which in my opinion should and does include his own theory): “These contradictions between the desire to break new ground in adaptation studies and the constraints of a vocabulary that severely limits the scope and originality of new contributions are often frustrating, especially to readers who think that they are encountering the same essay over and over and over with only the names of novels and their ﬁ lm adaptations changed. Increasingly, however, the very same contradictions have generated productive debate.” I suppose to that being a “wordy” person myself I get caught up on the literal words themselves and perhaps thats what is happening here.
I found the third fallacy of Thomas Leitch’s “Twelve fallacies of contemporary Adaptation Theory” very interesting. The claim “Literary texts are verbal, films visual” seems to be a very true statement, and I wondered what the discrepancy would be in it. Leitch writes, “Films since the coming of synchronized sound, and perhaps even before, have been audio-visual not visual, depending as they do on soundtracks as well as image tracks for their effects.” Leitch’s statement seems so “obvious”, that I didn’t even think about it, but it is true. The power of music can emphasize the plot of the movie, not only instrumentally, but lyrically. I think of a movie like Peter and the Wolf, where particular instruments are represent certain animals. There aren’t any lyrics in the movie, but the music participates in the story telling process.
The movie “Once” also comes to mind, where the performers of the movie are also singing the soundtrack of the movie. Although this movie is not an adaptation, I think intertextuality of this sort works really well. “The script is a performance text- a text that requires interpretation first by its performers and then by its audience for completion- whereas a literary text requires only interpretation by its readers”, argues Leitch. In the case of Once, the actors and actresses are interpreting the screenplay, and the songs on the soundtrack are interpretations of the performance in a particular scene.
Thomas Leitch’s “Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads,” does a thorough job at explaining and summarizing the main questions that fuel film adaptation theorists and critics. Leitch expresses a lot of the frustration that I have when it comes to discussing adaptation – it seems as if the same questions are being asked over and over, leading to the same conversations taking place over and over. For example, the first few questions listed involve the film betraying its source novel, the mission of transcription or interpretation, the question of how cultural or historical shifts impact adaptation, and the possibility of what would happen if the film adaptation is better than the source novel. All of these questions have been explored in our class…
The fifth question listed, however, is VERY similar to my investigative proposal. The question is, “Is it possible for a film to recreate what might be assumed to be specifically literary aspects of its source that challenge medium-specific models of adaptation by indicating unexpected resources the cinema brings to matters once thought the exclusive province of literature?” My investigative proposal relates to this because it questions if the 1974 Film Adaptation of The Great Gatsby can successfully represent the same themes and symbols found in its source novel. In general, to answer this question, I would say yes – but film represents these two literary elements in a very different way than novels do.
For example, novels can convey symbolism by repetition. Readers are forced to read every word on a page, which guarantees that they will not miss a symbol’s importance when their attention is constantly being called to it. When symbolism is being conveyed in a film, it cannot be casually displayed in the background, it has to be blatantly shown to the audience if the director wants them to pick up on the symbolism. On the other hand, theme is not as difficult to convey. In fact, due to the added elements of film (sounds, visuals, etc.), theme might be more easily conveyed via film than novels.
In conclusion, this question is more interesting to me because it is not a “stale” type of research. It is very relevant to people researching and studying film adaptation today.