[jahsonic.com] - [Next >>]

Film adaptation

Related: adaptation - film

Essays: film and literature: The case of crime fiction

Films on film adaptation: Adaptation (2002) - Spike Jonze

Sergei Eisenstein noted that the novels of Charles Dickens were filmed more often than any material except the Bible, and he explained this by Dickens's style. According to Eisenstein, a good source novel contains a great deal of action and extensive physical description. Novels that feature internal struggles and intellectual debate are difficult to film, but novels that offer descriptions of scenery and which posit their debates in plotting are easy to film. Since Eisenstein's time, film theorists have pointed out that film's tools and fiction's tools are radically different. While film can achieve metaphor, it is difficult and time consuming to do so (with symbolism being more common). Additionally, stream of consciousness and internal monologues can only be filmed by means of intrusive and illusion-breaking techniques (such as voice overs). Therefore, novelists such as Stephen King and Michael Crichton, who concentrate on action and externals, are readier for film than Graham Swift or James Joyce would be. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_adaptation [Sept 2005]

Hollywood occasionally attempts to turn supposedly 'unfilmable' novels into blockbusters. The Hours, Fight Club, American Psycho, and even Adaptation, were all based on what were said to be unfilmable books; although all were adapted into critically-acclaimed films.


After reading that Winterbottom had made a film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1895 novel Jude the Obscure I encountered the term unfilmable and its noun unfilmability. I had already been confronted with the term unwatchable in relation to films which are considered anti-films because of their unwatchability (think Warhol's Empire, Sleep and Debord's Hurlements en faveur de Sade.)

Apparently, there is a site named Unfilmable.com which deals with film adaptations of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. A quote by Lovecraft greets us:

"It is not likely that any really finely wrought weird story - where so much depends upon mood, and on nuances of description - could be changed to a drama without irreparable cheapening and the loss of all that gave it power." --Lovecraft

Other novels or novelists which have been said to be unfilmable include Jim Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (adapted by Terry Gilliam), Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure (adapted by Winterbottom), Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (adapted by Winterbottom), In Search of Lost Time (adapted by Raoul Ruiz) and Burroughs's Naked Lunch (adapted by Cronenberg). The apparent paradox being that novels are only considered unfilmable after they have been through a film adaptation.

Some quotes on unfilmability with regards to this post

David Cronenberg: After adapting J. G. Ballard's Crash and William Burrough's Naked Lunch, Spider yet again supports his reputation as the director who films "unfilmable novels"

    Michael Winterbottom

    Michael Winterbottom adapts the best book you've never finished ... Winterbottom takes the source material's essential unfilmability as a given. ...

    Winterbottom has thought long and hard about Shandy’s “unfilmability”. The book worries away at unrepresentability

    Indeed, the publicity material makes a great deal of the book's "unfilmability", and the finished product lives up to all that Winterbottom, the audience or ...

Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past would certainly seem to stand out at the head of that notorious literary genre known as the "unfilmable novel."

Don Quixote: Gilliam and his co-writer, Tony Grisoni, solved the "unfilmability" problem of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by taking the bits they liked and weaving a quixotic story around them that "maybe even Cervantes would be pleased with".

See also: film - novel - adaptation

From filming the unwatchable to filming the unfilmable

Very good article by John Patterson on film adaptations of 'unwieldy' novels
Some directors take a novel's perceived resistance to adaptation as a challenge. Take David Cronenberg, who went from filming the unwatchable in his early horror masterpieces of the 1970s to filming the unfilmable, with immensely approachable, albeit free-form versions of Burrough's The Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash, the twin gold-standards of unfilmability - until they were filmed (he didn't attempt to visualise Ballard's image of a woman whose breasts spurted liquid faeces, but you can't win 'em all). Michael Cunningham's The Hours was another succès d'estime long deemed impossible to render on film, and yet it has been done, as have Philip Roth's The Human Stain (very badly) and Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Indeed, the supposedly unfilmable Palahniuk currently has no fewer than four of his other novels in development. Even such aggressive formalists as Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, avatars of the French nouveau roman in the 1950s, have reached the screen - though often only with screenplays, such as Last Year At Marienbad or Le Camion, as baffling and alienating as their novels. -- John Patterson via http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguide/film/story/0,14678,1542304,00.html [Jan 2007]

your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

Managed Hosting by NG Communications