Contributor Post Created with Sketch. ACF Critic Series #39: Novels & Cinema

 

Today, I’m joined by Jody Bottum and Armond White to talk about novels and cinema–movie adaptations, when they work, how they can improve on literature, and when they fail. We talk about why it’s never been the case that a great novel has been turned into a great movie. We also talk about the difficulties of turning narration into performance.

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  1. GFHandle Member

    Tom Jones? I had an 18th literature professor who thought the movie better than the book! (I forget his reasons–maybe the book is too long?)

    Then there’s this reviewer of a Dr. Syn novel from Amazon:

    For many childern of the 60’s (myself included), the Sunday evening TV episodes of “The World of Disney” exposed adolescents (as well as many “adult adolescents”) to a diverse catalouge of entertaining adventure tales. In 1965, a three-part episode entitled “Dr. Syn, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” first aired and enthralled all who watched it. The “robin hood” atmosphere that this work evoked drove many to want more of the “Scarecrow” to the extent that some of these “children” never got over that desire (me included again, of course). This interest was again recently peaked for me when I watched it on VHS with my own children and subsequently was driven to (happily) discover that the “Dr. Syn” story indeed had a long history.
    Russell Thorndyke (an English actor/playwrite of the early 20th century) was the impetus for the story, I discovered, and wrote a number of short novels that ultimately spawned the Disney film. While researching these works, I discovered this fairly new release and decided to indulge. When I received it, I found that this particular volume “Dr Syn, a Smuggler Tale of Romney Marsh” is a re-release of the original 1915 story that started the legend, so, with memories of the film in mind, I dove into reading it. Sadly, this initial telling of the story doesn’t nearly match the film or the legend that we’re all familiar with and is thus a disappoinment.

    • #1
    • July 31, 2020, at 6:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A great cast for this week’s show! 

    • #2
    • July 31, 2020, at 7:08 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Conservatism’s most decided literary critic & film critic respectively! Christianity & humanism!

    • #3
    • August 1, 2020, at 5:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Jim Beck Member

    Morning Titus,

    My picks are Lolita and Clockwork Orange. In Lolita, James Mason and Kubrick create a Humbert that makes the movie a more insightful analysis of man. James is attractive, soft, educated Humbert, not a character we can easily mock or feel superior to. His shows us a human, like us, but who takes a normal attraction, man to woman, and mis- applies it, and the object of his desire becomes an obsession, and he spends his life serving that obsession. We don’t see him as the child rapist, but as a driven man.

    In the Clockwork Orange, Kubrick, creates visuals which make the dystopian environment real. Also Kubrick and McDowell create a sociopath we like, unlike Eddy Haskel. One could argue that the novel is grittier and makes our choices clearer, evil or deprogrammed. The counter arguement is that the movie gives us an attractive sociopath who makes looking at evil with a pretty face more difficult. Like the Singing in the Rain scene in the movie, we get evil coupled with music which is purposefully inappropriate, the movie makes our choice, evil or deprogrammed, a bit more complex. What if the sociopath down the street doesn’t look like Jeffrey Dalmer, but more like the kid next door.

    • #4
    • August 1, 2020, at 6:31 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Hey, Jim!

    They’re of interest–Lolita is mostly about how pathetic American progressives are, trying not to be provincial, putting on sophisticated airs…, when perhaps all Europe has to offer them is decadence–, but neither the novels nor movies are great.

    But I think in the other case, the novel & movie have very different ideas. The movie’s of interest to conservatives: Tolerating the breakdown of law & order & being too cowardly to punish wicked deeds leads to worse cruelties than one easily imagines…

    • #5
    • August 1, 2020, at 12:17 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Agreed. I’m a Clockwork fan, but not a blind one. Burgess wrote a parable about free will and evil, and Kubrick always defended his choice of material on those grounds. To this day, it’s the preferred defense of the film. But I never believed it, frankly, not even in 1971.

    Stanley Kubrick was a doctor’s son–in the Thirties and Forties, a doctor was comparatively well off, though not to the degree of decade’s later. He was a typical mid-century New Yorker who was horrified by the street violence that began to overwhelm the city by the time he left America. Your reading, is, I think, the correct one: Clockwork is a bitter joke to the effect that sometimes innocence is punished and malevolence is rewarded. It is in essence a conservative lesson, as Malcolm McDowell declared in a NYT interview the month the film opened. “The liberals, they hate Clockwork”. He later clarified that by saying he wasn’t joyful about that, but despondent; it mean that the very people who should have learned from the film weren’t likely to understand it. 

    Its 50th anniversary is December 2021. Neither of the interpretations of the film listed above will be the prevailing line about it in the press. By next year, Clockwork will be treated as an appallingly flashy sci-fi rape comedy, nothing more. 

    • #6
    • August 1, 2020, at 12:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    but neither the novels nor movies are great.

    See, I spotted this trap. If you’re the arbiter of what is great and what is not, your proposition is un-falsifiable.

    • #7
    • August 1, 2020, at 12:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    but neither the novels nor movies are great.

    See, I spotted this trap. If you’re the arbiter of what is great and what is not, your proposition is un-falsifiable.

    Judge, I don’t go around telling people what’s great–or at any rate not people who aren’t interested in my opinion. So you’re safe, I’m not going to darken your doorway.

    • #8
    • August 1, 2020, at 2:06 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    but neither the novels nor movies are great.

    See, I spotted this trap. If you’re the arbiter of what is great and what is not, your proposition is un-falsifiable.

    Judge, I don’t go around telling people what’s great–or at any rate not people who aren’t interested in my opinion. So you’re safe, I’m not going to darken your doorway.

    Let’s test that theory. Frankenstein.

    • #9
    • August 1, 2020, at 2:10 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. Jim Beck Member

    Evening Gary and Titus,

    I think that if we think of the language of mental health and behavior in the 60’s and 70’s Clockwork Orange is a good counter point. Remember, we were beginning to become muddled about culpability, does a person even have free will or is his behavior determined by his environment, Skinner was pushing to describe everything as a result of conditioning, Szasz was saying that mental illness was a construct, the MMPI was the universal key to personality, there were even books like The Actuarial Ananlysis of the MMPI, to give us the analogs to typical responses of the different mental groups. This was a time where we were not using concepts of good and evil to imagine humans, we were complex organisms. Gary I do not know how the movie will be viewed in this age where history started last week, but at the time it came out psychology and psychiatry where going through changes leading to think of humans as more the organic machine and the movie was visually wonderfully strange almost like the Grand Budapest Hotel, and the folks I knew got the Skinner programming allusion. This is also the time when college kids were familiar with “1984” and Brave New World and “Sleeper” came along a couple of years later. I may have been generous to list Clockwork Orange as a great novel, I am more confident in considering the movie great. Concerning dystopian novels, my tops is Darkness at Noon, and all the rest are a fair ways below that.

    Concerning Lolita, I don’t think American audiences imagined the movie as having anything other that a more literal interpretation, Humbert was a man and not a symbolic piece of an international comparison.

     

    • #10
    • August 1, 2020, at 5:26 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Evening Gary and Titus,

    I think that if we think of the language of mental health and behavior in the 60’s and 70’s Clockwork Orange is a good counter point. Remember, we were beginning to become muddled about culpability, does a person even have free will or is his behavior determined by his environment, Skinner was pushing to describe everything as a result of conditioning, Szasz was saying that mental illness was a construct, the MMPI was the universal key to personality, there were even books like The Actuarial Ananlysis of the MMPI, to give us the analogs to typical responses of the different mental groups. This was a time where we were not using concepts of good and evil to imagine humans, we were complex organisms. Gary I do not know how the movie will be viewed in this age where history started last week, but at the time it came out psychology and psychiatry where going through changes leading to think of humans as more the organic machine and the movie was visually wonderfully strange almost like the Grand Budapest Hotel, and the folks I knew got the Skinner programming allusion. This is also the time when college kids were familiar with “1984” and Brave New World and “Sleeper” came along a couple of years later. I may have been generous to list Clockwork Orange as a great novel, I am more confident in considering the movie great. Concerning dystopian novels, my tops is Darkness at Noon, and all the rest are a fair ways below that.

    This strikes as correct. The American devil is Skinner, or the kind of man who treats human beings like rats… (Not that most Americans knew or cared about behaviorism. In America, people pay attention in a muddled way when it starts hurting them or tempting them, there’s no national spotlight for intellectuals &c.)

    Concerning Lolita, I don’t think American audiences imagined the movie as having anything other that a more literal interpretation, Humbert was a man and not a symbolic piece of an international comparison.

    This should go without saying. American audiences had no idea who Nabokov was; they don’t today either. You know, he was born into Russian aristocracy, a family old enough to trace its ancestry to bloodthirsty barbarians! In a way, what’s funnier is that the few people who did know of him would have been quite wrongheaded nevertheless. He was not the fan of his fans, so to speak, since he wasn’t entirely a fool… He did become somewhat famous in that strange post-war middlebrow America, lots of near misses with the National Book Award…, & the novel came out in ’55, so there was time… Indeed, by the time of the movie, he had left America behind.

    Still, the movie presents Mason as a foreigner–it wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

    • #11
    • August 2, 2020, at 5:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. colleenb Member
    colleenb Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Great discussion. It gave me a lot to thing about regarding less than top notch novels and movie making. And @gfhandle: I just adored the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh as so many other 60s Disney watchers did.

    • #12
    • August 4, 2020, at 12:09 PM PDT
    • 2 likes