Friday, June 11, 2010

Film Adaptation: Auteurs and Authors. (Timothy Corrigan: Film and Literature)

Timothy Corrigan, "Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader" (Prentice Hall, 1999)

Corrigan recommends an essay by Jean Mitry, "Remarks on the Problem of Cinematic Adaptation"

Dudley Andrew, Concepts in Film Theory

Judith Mayne, Private Novels, Public Films


In most discussions of adaptation, a key term is fidelity, a notion that asks to what extent an adaptation is true to or faithful to the original text. common discussions about fidelity and adaptation presume five questions in determining how faithful the film adaptation is: (1) To what extent are the details of the settings and plot accurately retained or recreated? (2) To what extent do the nuance and complexity of the characters survive the adaptation? (3) To what extent are the themes and ideas of the source communicated in the adaptation? (4) to what extent has a different historical or cultural context altered the original? (5) To what extent has the change in the material or mode of communication (a printed page, a stage, 35 mm film) changed the meaning of the work for a reader or viewer?

Other ways to approach adaptation are to replace notions of fidelity with terms that allow for more creative exchanges between the original text and its adaptation. (20)

Corrigan Quoting Peter Wollen on auteurs who are inspired by literary texts:

What the auteur theory demonstrates is that the director is not simply in command of a performance of an existing text...Don Siegel was recently asked on television what he took from hemingway's short story for his film, The Killers. Siegel replied that 'the only thing taken from it was the catalyst that a man has been killed by somebody and he did not try to run away.' The word siegel chose -- 'catalyst' -- could not be better. incidents and episodes in the original screenplay or novel can act as catalysts; they are the agents which are introduced in the mind (conscious or unconscious) of the auteur and react there with the motifs and themes characteristic of his work. The director does not subordinate himself to another author; his source is only a pretext, which provides catalysts, scenes, which fuse with his own preoccupations to produce a radically new work. Thus the manifest process of performance, the treatment of a subject, conceals the latent production of a quite new text, the production of a director as an auteur. (Wollen 112-113; quoted in Corrigan, 51)

(From Wollen, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema. Revised Edition. Indiana, 1972)

Dudley Andrew, on "Adaptation":

The broader notion of adaptation has much in common with interpretation theory, for in a strong sense adaptation is the appropriation of a meaning from a prior text. The hermeneutic circle, central to interpretation theory, preaches that an explication of a text occurs only after a prior understanding of it, yet that prior understanding is justified by the careful explication it allows. In other words, before we can go about discussing an analyzing a text we must have a global conception of its meaning. Adaptation is similarly both a leap and a process. It can put into play the intricate mechanism of its signifiers only in response to a general understanding of the signified it aspires to have constructed at the end of its process. While all representational films function this way (as interpretations of a person, place, situation, event, and so forth), we reserve a special place for those films which foreground this relation by announcing themselves as versions of some standard whole. A standard whole can only be a text. A version of it is an adaptation in the narrow sense. (quoted in Corrigan, 263)

More Andrew:

The making of film out of an earlier text is virtually as old as the machinery of cinema itself. Well over half of all commercial films have come from literary originals--though by no means all of these originals are revered or respected. (quoted in Corrigan, 263-264)

In the opening pages of Film and Literature, Corrigan refers to literary adaptations from the very early years of cinema, including Cinderella (1900), Robinson Crusoe (1902), Gulliver's Travels (1902), Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903), and The Damnation of Faust (1904). [Corrigan 17]

Fidelity vs. Fertility with "generality of the original":

Here the main concern is the generality of the original, its potential for wide and varied appeal; in short, its existence as a continuing form or archetype in culture. This is especially true of that adapted material which, because of its frequent reappearance, claims the status of myth: Tristan and Isolde for certain, and A Midsummer Night's Dream possibly. The success of adaptations of this sort rests on the issue of their fertility not their fidelity. (quoted in Corrigan, 264)

Andrew has three concepts of adaptation -- Borrowing, Intersecting, and Transforming. Borrowing is in the paragraph quoted above.

Intersecting is a little different:

Here the uniqueness of the original is intentionally left unassimilated in adaptation. The cinema, as a separate mechanism, records its confrontation with an ultimately intransigent text. Undoubtedly the key film exhibiting this relation is Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest. Andre Bazin, championing this film and this mode [What is Cinema, 142-149], claimed that in this instance we are presented not with an adaptation so much as a refraction of the original. Because Bresson featured the writing of the diary and because he went out of his way to avoid 'opening up' or in any other way cinematizing the original, Bazine claims that the film is the novel as seen by cinema.

[...] in direct contrast to the manner scholars have treated the mode of 'borrowing,' such intersecting insists that the analyst attend to the specificity of the original within the specificity of the cinema. An original is allowed its life, its own life, in the cinema. (Quoted in Corrigna, 265)

When it comes to "transforming" the text on screen, Andrew gets into a fair amount of theory -- how written language creates meaning vs. how visual images create meaning: "It is at this point that the specificity of these two signifying systems is at stake" (266). Eventually, he comes around to saying that there is a fundamental similarity between signification in the two forms:

Narrative codes, then, always function at the level of implication or connotation. Hence they are potentially comparable in a novel and a film. The story can be the same if the narrative unites (characters, events, motivations, consequences, context, viewpoint, imagery, and so on) are produced equally in two works. Now this production is, by definition, a process of connotation and implication. the analysis of adatpation then must point to the achievement of equivalent narrative units in the absolutely different semiotic systems of film and language. Narrative itself is a semiotic system available to both and derivable from both.

[...]We have come round to the other side of the argument now to find once more that the study of adaptation is logically tantamount to the study of the cinema as a whole. The system by which film involves us in fictions and the history of that system are ultimately the questions we face even when starting with the simple observation of an equivalent tale told by novel and film. (268-269)

From the Judith Mayne excerpt:

David O. Selznick:

I have discovered that the public will forgive you for any number of omissions--particularly of subordinate material which is not directly connected with the main plot--but it won't forgive you for deliberate changes. For that reason I have found it best to make the bridging scenes which span the omissions as suggestive as possible. That is, by picking up dialogue and even phrases from other parts of the book and using such to construct the bridging scenes, the audience is given the illusion of seeing and hearing that with which they are already familiar. (quoted Corrigan, 274)

(Selznick cited in Margaret Farrand Thorp, America at the Movies. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939, 242-243.)

Mayne herself:

Spectatorship in the cinema evokes parallels between watching a film and reading a novel, and in this sense incorporates readership into the classical cinema. In a more general way, spectatorship in the cinema is structured by the relationship between private and public existence. The separation of private and public spheres to which the middle-class novel responds has, in the era of cinema, changed dimensions. Narratives of private and public life have been appropriated from one set of historical circumstances to another. (quoted in Corrigan 278)

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