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Resources on the transformation of books to movies
March 13, 2006 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Looking for books, essays, articles, any resources at all about film's relationship to literature.

I'm working on a PhD chapter about film's relationship to literature and vice versa. I know very little about film so have picked up James Monaco's How to Read a Film and Bordwell/Thompson's Film Art: An Introduction. But I'm really looking for information on how the two mediums relate - in particular, what happens when books are turned into films. (Walter Murch & Michael Ondaatje's The Conversations has been somewhat helpful.) I also need resources on the function of documentary films.

So MeFites, whose knowledge base constantly blows my mind, any suggestions? Anything in regard to any of this would be immensely helpful as I'm really starting from scratch here. Thanks!
posted by meerkatty to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've adapted several books to screenplays, including Margaret Atwood's ALIAS GRACE (not been made yet, hmph). I also made documentaries for a decade, and produced/directed a dozen for British TV. Ask specifics, or email is in profile.
posted by unSane at 7:47 AM on March 13, 2006


> in particular, what happens when books are turned into films.

That's a pretty vague question, unless you're asking how a book might be optioned and adapted into a screenplay, although even then there's no set way, no single approach to how a screenwriter takes the raw material of the book and changes its form and content so it works in a different medium.

Here's a review of Cold Mountain you should read.
posted by blueshammer at 8:17 AM on March 13, 2006


Without knowing anything about your thesis at all, I'd guess that a broad approach is the best if you are starting from scratch. If you're focusing on the 20th century, then you ought to take a look at Jonathan Crary's newer book, Suspensions of Perception, which is, broadly, about visual art and the modern visual world. It doesn't talk directly about literature, but it does provide a capsule history of the way that visual culture, including film, changed in the early 20th century. It's amazing.

Another broad suggestion is Susan Sontag, who wrote extensively on both film and literature. You'll find a lot of interesting essays in Against Interpretation that, when juxtaposed, treat the relationship between the two media.

As for books being turned into films--perhaps it would be worthwhile, depending on your focus, to investigate those writers who tried to write for the screen (William Faulkner, for example), or to look at examples of mostly short fiction that are obviously inspired by film and have been adapted several times (such as Hemingway's "The Killers" or the novels of Graham Greene). I'm sure that there must be a huge amount of literature on these types of authors and stories that will be of interest.
posted by josh at 8:18 AM on March 13, 2006


The DVD commentary tracks for films might be more useful in your case than books that are about films.

Specifically, listen to Mark Bowden's commentary track on the three-disc edition of Black Hawk Down for information on the process of how his non-fiction book was adapted as a fiction film. And there's another scene-specific commentary track on that same disc featuring the Rangers whose lives were dramatized in the movie.

If you're interested in documentary films, listen to Peter Cowie's commentary track on the Criterion Collection edition of Tokyo Olympiad.
posted by Prospero at 8:34 AM on March 13, 2006


Actually, there's an anthology called Film and/as literature by John Harrington that deals with issues of relations and includes an interesting symposium transcript where Arthur Miller and Dylan Thomas verbally shut down Maya Deren in a way that, given the nature of transcripts, is hard to categorize as either male chauvinism or unpretentious discussion.
posted by kensanway at 9:37 AM on March 13, 2006


Cambridge University Press has a series of books devoted to X and sundry film adaptations (e.g., Hardy on Screen).
posted by thomas j wise at 10:48 AM on March 13, 2006


Go over to your library/borders. William Goldman (as I recall) talks about adapting some of his works (or others works) to screenplays in some of his books. I can't recall which one off the top of my head...but it's worth a quick flip through.
posted by filmgeek at 1:43 PM on March 13, 2006


I'm working on a PhD chapter about film's relationship to literature and vice versa. I know very little about film...

Not trying to be snarky, but is the chapter absolutely necessary to what you want to accomplish? Seems like a strange time to start learning a new subject for inclusion in a dissertation (although I'm sure it's been done). Whole dissertations have been done just on this question about one particular film; without more details about what you're attempting, it's hard to recommend anything. Maybe check out journals like Literature Film Quarterly, or dig into the relationship between Arthur C. Clarke's story "The Sentinel" and the collaboration with Kubrick that eventually resulted in the book and movie 2001 might be worth a look; it's fairly unique.
posted by mediareport at 5:17 PM on March 13, 2006


Novel to Film: an Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation (Oxford, 1996) by Brian McFarlane will probably be useful.
posted by Holly at 7:03 PM on March 13, 2006


Yeah, maybe it would help if you told us more about the overall topic of your dissertation? You're getting a variety of responses here (i.e., trade books and academic anthologies), partly due to the nature of film as a popular medium.
posted by kensanway at 8:36 AM on March 14, 2006


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