Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Full Treatment

From: DIY Gadgets

"The news last week that HBO had optioned the works of William Faulkner for adaptation by Deadwood creator David Milch was treated in some press reports as incongruous. It shouldn’t have been. The mindless take on Deadwood is that it had a lot of swearing in it (which it did, but so what? — get over it, for cryin’ out loud!), yet viewers not mesmerized by the four-letter words noticed the Shakespearean and King Jamesian cadences of Milch’s dialogue from the start. Those influences are evident in Faulkner’s fiction, as well. (Also, let’s not forget we’re talking about a man who wrote a novel in which a woman is raped with a corncob — this isn’t Merchant-Ivory territory.) Milch and Faulkner is, in fact, an inspired pairing. [...]
     Television and the novel, while not exactly soul mates, have a lot more in common than the novel and theatrical film. Yet any novelist can testify that the second most common question he or she hears from readers (after 'Where do you get your ideas?') is 'Who would you like to see playing [main character] in the movie?' Fantasizing about the film version of a favorite book seems to be very common, but you have to wonder why. Rarely are a book’s most devoted admirers satisfied by the film, although when they are — as with the Harry Potter, Twilight and The Lord of the Rings franchises — popular enthusiasm can certainly be enormous.
     Far more often, however, the results are disappointing — let the recent adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go stand as a case in point. Much of a novel has to be cut to fit a 90- to 120-minute dramatization, and this can mean more than just the loss of supporting characters or scenes. Most movies conform to a three-act structure (some screenwriters will insist that it’s actually a four-act structure), a form with a proven ability to hold audiences’ interest through a single viewing. Novels, meant to be read over multiple sittings, have more freedom. Trimming a novel like Bleak House to fit the three-act format alters the fundamental shape of the work, often subtracting from the novel the very roominess and complication that made you love it in the first place.
     A television series, however, has the time to spread out and explore the byways and textures of a novel’s imagined world. Furthermore, while theatrical film is a medium in which the director reigns, in television, as Rushdie told the Observer, 'the writer is the primary creative artist. You have control in a way that you never have in the cinema. The Sopranos was David Chase, The West Wing was Aaron Sorkin.' "
— Laura Miller, Salon

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