Thursday, January 05, 2006


Here's a good article that A&LD linked to the other day about the differences and similarities between movies and the novels from which they are adapted. Excerpts:

Yet, the film version may offer its own virtues. Indeed, many films have outshone the books that inspired them. "The Godfather" and "Gone With the Wind" come to mind. The fact is, novels and films are entirely different storytelling experiences. When it comes to making a movie based on a book — or ultimately watching that movie — being too invested in the integrity of the novel is probably a bad idea... ...Ultimately, feature films cannot replicate the experience of reading, nor can everything about a novel end up being adapted — nor should it be. Filmmaking is about compromise and concession. It's a miracle they don't toss the book right out the window.

I think this is quite true. A good example, IMHO, of the book experience and film experience working in synergy is L.A. Confidential. The movie? Just plain great. The book? Just plain great. This is true even though the plots of the book and movie diverged greatly from each other. (For instance, the Kevin Spacey character, Jack Vincennes, meets his fate in an entirely different manner in the book than in the movie. I'm going to keep this relatively spoilers-free, so forgive my vagueness.) It didn't matter that the film digressed from the book's plot, because the experience of having both stories (book and film) in effect gave us one great story and then another great story with the same characters. (Kind of a do-over like those in Marvel's "What If?" or DC's "Elseworlds.")

James Ellroy's LAC novel, like his other excellent crime novels, was an epic tale of corruption, celebrity, sin, lust, amoral tough guys, racist anti-heroes, celebrity mobsters, thinly disguised American icons behaving badly, and a bunch of other nostalgic tawdriness. As with the works of authors like William Faulkner and Stephen King, many of Ellroy's novels exist in the same universe, so that bit players from one novel are key figures in another, and vice-versa, even though the different novels aren't really sequels or prequels to one another.

(BTW, here's an excellent documentary on Ellroy that you ought to watch if you have half a chance.)

The film version of LAC [which, through an act of criminal sappiness lost the '97 B.P. Oscar to a certain suck-ass big ship movie (not even the best big-ship movie of that year, I might add)] was just as enjoyable an experience as the novel was, despite its aforementioned divergence from the novel's plot. A novel about classic Hollywood can go into a lot of salacious detail, but you know what it can't do? Use a bunch of conventions and gimmicks from the medium it celebrates to actually help tell its own story. ("You've got to acc-cent-uate the positive...") They have a great subplot about a call girl ring with prostitutes who have had plastic surgery to look like 40s movie stars. At one point one of the cops insults a Lana Turner lookalike on a date with a mob enforcer, and after making his opinion of her morals sufficiently known, the other cop informs him that the woman in question really is Lana Turner. For a while, I thought that was a gimmicky throwaway scene of the sort used as padding in buddy cop movies, until I later learned that Lana Turner really was involved with mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato, and not only that, but that her 14-year-old daughter stabbed him to death in 1958.

Here's an Ellroy fansite, a James Ellroy quiz, an Identity Theory interview, and a National Review Q&A after Ellroy got the Jack Webb Award. This seems to be becoming my tagline, but if you haven't seen and read L.A. Confidential yet, you're cheating yourself.


Post a Comment

<< Home