The debate on cinematic adaptations of literary works was for many years dominated by the questions of fidelity to the source and by the tendencies to prioritize the literary originals over their film versions. (Whelehan:2006) Adaptations were seen by most critics as inferior to the adapted texts, as “minor”, “subsidiary”, “derivative” or “secondary” products, lacking the symbolic richness of the books and missing their “spirit”. (Hutcheon:2006) Critics could not forgive what was seen as the major fault of adaptations: the impoverishment of the book’s content due to necessary omissions in the plot and the inability of the filmmakers to read out and represent the deeper meanings of the text.
Every time a film gets visualised it changes the open-endedness of the characters, landscape or objects in the readers mind. Your own imagination fills in the blanks and imagines what you would perceive as concrete and defined ideas or images. The verbally transmitted characteristics of the heroes, places and the spatial relations between them, open to various decoding possibilities in the process of imagining, were in the grip of flattening pictures. Visualization was therefore regarded as destroying many of the subtleties with which the printed word could shape the internal world of a literary work only in the interaction with the reader’s response. (Marciniak:2007) In order to be seen as a good adaptation, a film had to come to terms with what was considered as the “spirit” of the book and to take into account all layers of the book’s complexity. But who could guarantee that the image of the work that a particular reader had created in his or her mind was better than somebody else’s? Who could define exactly the elements of the literary work that formed its “spirit” and were indispensable to its recognition in another medium? Who could prove that only a literary approach was capable to reveal finite and eventual truths about a book’s identity and provide us with exact models of understanding it? Seeing adaptations from the perspective of fidelity revealed it as too limiting. More and more critics started to believe that literature as art did not desire closure, that it did not satisfy itself with one approach only and did not take refuge behind a virtually constructed order of well-established interpretative procedures. Literature, like other arts, suggested a vast area of communicative possibilities through which it could speak to the audience. (Verstraten:2007) According to the theories of an open work of art and to some conclusions of the reader-response criticism, meanings could be seen as events that took place in the reader’s time and imagination. It was therefore necessary to place the emphasis differently, not on the source, but on the way its meanings were reconstructed in the pro cess of reception. Filmmakers had to be seen as readers with their own rights, and each adaptation – as a result of individual reading processes. COLLABORATIONS IN FILMMAKING SKILLS
SELF-RELIANT BUT RELATED AESTHETIC OFFSPRING
In the movie Water for Elephants the narrative of the novel by Sara Gruen and the movie are relative simple ones. They correspond and extend into each other but at the same time the movie is self-reliant as an aesthetic offspring of the novel. Cinematic adaptations from literature create a blurry perspective of boundaries of the filmmaker’s interpretation of the written text. The mixed media accentuates the difference between what lies beneath the main storyline of the book and the visual perception of the movie. Director Francis Lawrence went to great lengths to create visual authenticity. We experienced not only magic of the circus, but also the day to day realities of circus life during the depression. The story stuck closely to the book plot, with no obviously missing story lines. What makes this a challenging book to adapt to the big screen is that it is set in a travelling circus in 1931. The sets and props have to be fully detailed enough to transport the audience to that experience and that era. Although in my opinion I thought the sets under the big top were a little sparse, I was very impressed with the overall look and feel of the movie. The train, the rail cars, the various tents, the menagerie cages were all beautifully done. The movie manages to uphold the image created in the book, but because of interpretational creative licences it stands alone as a film. We are interested in the way the author of the film respond to the significant parts of the literary work, how they transform the relations between the characters, structures and objects, how they mould the characters, how they add richness to their portrait, how they reconstruct the latent subtexts and how they shape visually and aurally all that lies beneath the surface of the verbally articulated work. The way the filmmakers link the details of the meanings into new meanings tells us a lot about how they see the world. The cinematic version of Water for Elephants for example, comes close to the book, but lacks the grittiness, violence, and passion that the book has within it. One of the first things I noticed is that the character of Uncle Al was eliminated and his role as boss in the circus was given to August, who was just the animal trainer in the book. These kinds of subtle changes allow the movie to stand as a world apart from that of the film. It creates similarities but also parallel identities for the reader and viewer. Another source of pleasure lies in observing the unity of the artistic communication across media. Films contextualize books in a visible and audible atmosphere and invite us to discover the unsuspected ways of seeing and hearing things. A specific combination of images and sounds can provide insights into the nature of the deep-seated meanings that do not lend themselves easily to verbal exploration. The ideas mystified in symbols and the veiled references to different aspects of life that we once decoded in a particular way speak to us from a new perspective and we learn to appreciate a literary text on a different level, we begin to notice that many of its elements gain a new life when interpreted in the context of the new medium’s specificity. This oscillation between the different media is of great importance to our perception of the world, for it locates works of art in the energetic field between different modes of communication and beyond the limits of a particular medium.
TOO FAR FROM THE NOVEL
People frequently complain, “The book was so much better than the movie!” In fact, many beloved books never make the successful jump to the big screen. There are several reasons for this. Obviously, turning a several hundred page book into a two hour movie means that things are going to get cut or changed. Another reason has to do with the readers themselves. When a reader envisions the book in their mind, the story becomes intensely personal. This means every variation between the book as they pictured it and the finished movie is a chance for the reader to feel a loss. The complexity of a literary work represents a great challenge to every reader because the world it evokes is an open-ended world that is left to be completed in the process of reading. The readers create their own sequestered ideas about this world by piecing together fragmentary visions of both the directly articulated and indirectly suggested parts.(Marciniak:2007) An adaptation invites the viewers to discuss not only the film itself but also their isolated readings of the adapted text, for it gives them an opportunity to see how the cinematically active readers have responded to the book. If the storyline of the book is not upheld and the “spirit” of the literature is lost through the cinematography and filmmaking process the movie could potentially lose credibility. Marciniak states that we watch the film, our secluded form of filling in the gaps is revitalized by the confrontation with the way another creative mind has filled in the same gaps. We become part of an interpersonal artistic communication which is very rewarding because it allows us to get insight into an artist’s creative mind and through this creative mind to the literary work. Deviating too far from the book can rob the viewer of the pleasure in exploring the literary text through the lenses of an artist with the pleasure in participating in the inner world of that artist. There are plenty of reasons to consider a book unadaptable for the big screen ie; too long, too divisive, too internal, difficult content, etc. Successful adaptations generally find unique, innovative ways of tackling difficult subject matters. Unsuccessful ones, on the other hand, often just throw out everything idiosyncratic or complicated and sandwich a few of the book’s signifiers into a more familiar plot and structure. For instance, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, a 550-page-plus graphic novel exploring the Jack The Ripper murders in depth, is impossible to summarize neatly. Moore lays out the theory that royal physician William Gull performed the killings to silence a group of women attempting to blackmail the crown with information about an illegitimate royal baby. But he also stretches into an occult history of London landmarks, a series of psychic visions, and a vast network of mystical ideas about Victorian society and the past and future, covering everything from attempts to quash feminism via ritual sacrifice to the conception of Adolf Hitler. The book is a gigantic bird’s-nest of intoxicating concepts, many of them laid out in vast, research-augmented detail by a character who’s noticeably insane—and by an author who styles himself as insane. The Hughes brothers dumped virtually all of this content for their adaptation, turning the story into a frustratingly familiar murder mystery being solved by psychic detective played by Johnny Depp. For a little extra touch of conventionality, Depp naturally falls in love with the Ripper’s final victim-to-be, Mary Kelly (played by Heather Graham).
1.The economic aspect of financial gain, made possible by joining in the stream of great popularity that a best-seller can generate, is left aside. Hutcheon discusses this issue together with some legal problems that may arise by undertaking an adaptation (Hutcheon 2006: 86-91).