Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Shooting books

On reflection, I think the reason why the books I mentioned made for such memorable films is that they are books which work in much the same way as a film does. I don’t mean that they are written with a particular emphasis on visual images -– in fact, the ones I listed aren't, for the most part – though that would often be true (of adaptations of graphic novels, most obviously).
Nor is it just that they are straightforward, pared-down, narratives which translate easily to the screen; lots of books seem simple, but Hemingway’s novels have not been supplanted by movies of his work.
And faithfulness alone does not usually make a film richer than the text. Films of Austen can stick pretty closely to the plot and even use much of the dialogue, but they never come close to displacing the novels; no one would take the film of Gatsby to a desert island rather than the book.
It is more as if books like Cool Hand Luke and The Man Who Fell To Earth seem almost to have been written to be filmed; that there is something kinetic about their narrative, and that they successfully create an atmosphere which can be realised most effectively on screen. Or at least if they’re well done. Richard Matheson’s books are like that; so are some of Robert Silverberg’s (The Book of Skulls and Dying Inside).
A book which has similar qualities that (as far as I know) has never been filmed is The Long Walk, which Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman. I suspect a faithful adaptation of it could be very scary and very moving. But it would probably be completely buggered up, as The Running Man was. As most of them have been. The Dead Zone was an honourable exception.
I saw A Scanner Darkly the other day. The first film of a Philip K Dick novel which is anything at all like the novel. But it doesn’t seem more substantial than the book, though I thought it was very good.

Today’s picks:
sf: Distraction, Bruce Sterling
crime: The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V Higgins
music: As You’d Expect, Douglas Lawrence
lunch: Thali at Quilom (Keralan restaurant)
dinner: Shepherd’s pie
confectionery: Matchmakers