Adaptation Studies

Quote of the day: 

"Incidentally, the long-drawn-out discussion on fidelity has become rather tedious in my view, in that practically every recent book on adaptation pretends it has revolutionized adaptation studies by deconstructing fidelity and the supremacy of the original."

That's by Thomas Van Parys in a 2007 review of Thomas Leitch's Film Adaptation and Its Discontents.  For my part I have a contrarian interest in grappling with adaptation precisely as a matter of fidelity - or at least as historically shifting markers of fidelity. To my eye, Classic Hollywood seemed to take four approaches:

- subservience of source literary material by the film: in which studios/producers/etc valued the source material as pre-sold property with some audience recognition, or for the basis of stronger dialogue and narrative construction than could be done in-house, yet made a film that exhibits maximum narrative autarky, to use a Noel Burch term. That is, one can easily watch films of this category without being aware of the existence of a literary source. (ex. Rebecca)

- the citational prestige film: in which studios/producers hew as close as they can to the above model while conveying some promise of high-literary substitute-experience (i.e. Arrowsmith)

- the novelistic: in which the substitute-experience is foregrounded stylistically, especially with voiceover, flashback, titles, pictures of books, narrational tone, etc. (ex. I Remember Mama)

- the radical experiment: in which studios radically change film language to better match literary form. (ex. Mourning Becomes Electra).

What interests me, of course, is that the mix of these approaches seems to change over time. In all of these, "literature" may still hold a primacy over "film" but the terms of that primacy change for each. 

ADDENDUM: I should mention in this connection Kyle Edward's terrific article on Selznick's adaptation of Rebecca. (Cinema Journal 45.3). "Despite the predominance of this practice [adaptation of novels]," he writes, "scholarly examinations of the approaches Hollywood filmmaking corporations adopted in the acquisition and adaptation of literary properties are scarce."


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