Commenting on the critics with Simon Columb…
On Friday 27th January, John Dugdale commented on the movie industry’s heavy reliance on literature; writing for The Guardian, he mentions the Best Picture nominees not based on books, noting:
“Diehard believers in cinema’s creative autonomy will no doubt point in the Oscars list not only to The Artist, but also to two self-penned movies by publicity-averse veteran auteurs, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. They’d be unwise to do so, as these films are by no means pure of literary influences. Online commenters have begun to note echoes of DH Lawrence (as well as Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) in Malick’s Palme d’Or winner, and particularly The Rainbow’s portrayal of one family against a cosmic backdrop; while Midnight in Paris makes no secret of its bookish hankerings, magically granting its present-day protagonist encounters with Djuna Barnes, TS Eliot, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.”
Indeed what contemporary work of theatre or cinema is ever “pure of literary influence”? I can appreciate the highlighting of films exclusively based on the books – but Hollywood will always try and make films that have established audiences. For example, the reason The Da Vinci Code and the two (!!!) versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were made was because of the success of the book. I think the same could be said about the producers’ decision to greenlight the hugely successful novel-turned-play War Horse and international bestseller The Help. As I understand, in America Extremely Loud and Incredible Close is actually on the High School syllabus. Talk about an established audience to home-in on.
Then again, you always have the films which completely capitalise on the source material but reinterpret it. Do we ignore the unique and artistic quality of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet? The modern-day retelling of Coriolanus? What about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Casino Royale? Both from short stories and expanded upon to become feature-length films with much more depth, meaning and – in the case of 007 – action.
Dugdale clearly rates literature as a higher art-form to cinema, hence the ‘debt’ he believes cinema owes literature. Leonardo Da Vinci argued painting as the more noble art-form in comparison to sculpture, stating the broad range of skills required: “light, shade, colour, body, shape, position, distance, nearness, motion and rest”. In a similar way, cinema requires the combination of literature, theatre, music and art to truly become something incredible. With this in mind, maybe Dugdale cannot see the wood for the trees as cinema is a more noble art form through the way it develops and refines the literary word.