The news has reached us that the final instalment of the Harry Potter franchise, The Deathly Hallows, will be split into two different films. The cynics among us will shake our heads; obviously this is simply an attempt to squeeze a few extra million pounds/dollars out of our apparently bottomless pockets. Not so, say the creative money managers behind the production. The story requires screen time to be increased to include all the nuances of the plot and to allow all the loose ends to be tied up. One of the commonest pro-book arguments is that film adaptations frequently revise the written word form of the story. This could take the form of altering what was in the book or omitting large chunks of text.
"Yep. I think we can turn these into ten minute, black n' white shorts!"
Today I want to have a quick glance at an area of literature and a section of filmmaking that does not have to deal with this problem; in fact, we can see quite the opposite happening. When it comes to short stories critics and authors appear to be happier and directors and actors are allowed to express their creativity with a little more freedom.
A short story is exactly that. It is short. In can range from 500 to 15,000 words, as opposed to the standard 70,000 to 100,000 words of a novel (the later instalments of the aforementioned Potter regularly get wordage up to 250,000). Writers focus on short stories for many reasons. They can be used to hone and perfect skills. They are more accessible, meaning that magazines, literary publications and creative competitions will often use the medium to showcase talent. And of course they can be used to explore an
idea that may one day evolve into a novel. On the flip side filmmakers turn to short stories for exactly the same reasons they may want to steer clear of a novel. There is less content to get on the screen and the freedom to expand the back story, extend the plot and develop the characters prove to be understandably appealing. Furthermore, when it can be obvious that the film was once originally a book, usually because they may have either read it, or seen it in a bookshop - a short story inspired film may be more of a mystery.
2001: An Arthur C. Kubrick Odyssey
This is by no means a new phenomenon. Considering the level of output that was at first something bookish, the short story is no exception. The Marlon Brando vehicle; THE WILD ONE was originally an experimental piece called 'Cyclist's Raid' by Frank Rooney. Not many can deny that at the time THE WILD ONE did no harm to Brando's reputation, cementing his claim as one of Hollywood's most bankable actors.
As I have already stated, the short story, for many authors is a means of practising the art of writing. In some instances this process creates timeless stories. 'It Had To Be Murder' by Cornell Woolrich was re-jigged to become Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW. A story that has been re-made several times, either as a teen horror movie or in numerous TV shows. Unfortunately sometimes the viewer may notice the homage in the re-makes and tip their hat to Hitchcock, oblivious to source.
Already you can see a pattern forming. Many of the titles of short stories are radically different once they make it to celluloid. The most amusing example of this
is Costner's little baby, FIELD OF DREAMS began life as 'Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes To Iowa', a title like that conjures up a different set of events in my head! This is possibly the most encouraging aspect of this situation. The short story itself is allowed to grow in the hands of a director or production company. It could merely be an inspiration or form a part of the finished film. Thus the creative process is encouraged for a broader range of visionaries. ALL ABOUT EVE ('The Wisdom Of Eve'), MINORITY REPORT, STAGECOACH ('Stage To Lordsburg') and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN are just a few of the pleasing examples of this.
Possibly the best example of a successful collaboration between writer and director is that of 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY. Its first incarnation was a story called 'The Sentinel' by Arthur C. Clarke. Once Kubrick had secured the rights to make the movie the two of them conspired to create the film and updated novel together. Like it or not I am sure most of you would agree that it is a Sci-Fi classic.
Delving into this subject matter has been fun and rewarding. Over the past month and a bit I have been reading all these little gems and chasing up the movies. Something that I would still be working on if all the stories were full blown novels. It has been a positive exercise in examining the relationship between words and pictures. It has also become apparent that what I thought I knew was just a tip of the Iceberg. I was aware that 2001, GHOST WORLD (OK, strictly a graphic novel, but the film is based largely on one chapter, which I forget. Remind me
to ask Craig) and THE FLY all started out as embryonic novels. I was however, quite surprised to learn that SMOKE ('Auggie Wren's Christmas Story' by Paul Auster - It is very, very good btw), RE-ANIMATOR ('Herbert West - Reanimator: Six Shots By Moonlight') and MEMENTO ('Memento Mori') all started out in the same way. When re-watching the latter two it does clearly state in the credits their beginnings, which completely washed over me previously.
Jimmy B. Consistent.
This is all very well and good. On many levels. Anyone can go back and see this for themselves for very little cost and immense enjoyment. Alternatively let me point you in the direction of the next James Bond adventure, QUANTUM OF SOLACE. 'A Quantum Of Solace' can be found in the collection of short stories 'For Your Eyes Only' by Ian Fleming. It largely comprises of mini adventures and character studies which, in my humble opinion, are consistent with the new interpretation of the mythology. I am looking forward to seeing what elements are translated to the screen and what aspects of the story are enhanced by the film. If any.
I'll say it again, this has been very rewarding. I would like to encourage you to dig out some of the short stories that seeded some of your favourite films. At the same time you may even find yourself being somewhat inspired - I am currently up to my ears in short stories of my own, who knows, in the hands of a far superior person they could even make it to your cinema one day.
As always, thanks for reading.
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|Xavier's Book Club|
Every other Saturday
Xavier analyses film, literary. A bizarre melding of books and movies.
Xavier lives in Scotland where it is very cold. He spends his time writing about live bands and people dreamt up in his bizarre imagination. Quite huggable .|
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