Literature into Film

I recently just watched The Hobbit trilogy and had also just finished reading the book a week ago, and it reminded me of a class I took while I was in college. The class in question was called literature into film, and in that class we explored adaptations of novels, plays, poems, and short stories into films.

It is just a common truth that if a piece of literature is being adapted into a film that there will be some differences, sometimes major, between the two. Film is very different from literature. I believe that at their core they are the same, but film needs to be presented very differently. At least, the common film does. I believe that film has the ability to be complex, but very rarely do we see this in adaptations. Just imagine how many books, if faithfully adapted to film in their entirety, would span over five hours long in movie form!

The fact of the matter is that production companies want films under three hours long so they can make as much money off of them as possible. If there isn’t a love story then they try to add one anyway they can. I will speak of The Hobbit since it is still very fresh in mind. This is a situation of a single book being stretched way beyond its limit in its visual counterpart. The book is under 400 pages, yet is stretched to three 2 ½ hour films. Not only that, but they give characters that were in the book little to no screen time, and they instead invent characters, and completely rewrite parts of the narrative to include a silly love story, that get much more screen time. That is one thing I shall never understand fully.

Let’s call it what it is; a business.  I don’t mind if a filmmaker cuts stuff from a novel, that’s to be expected. You can’t possibly fit every little part of a book into under three hours. I also don’t mind when they flesh out certain bits of a novel. Sometimes events in books are said in a just few lines, but visually could take thirty minutes or longer to fully show. I’m fine with that. I really don’t mind changes to the source material. It’s a little annoying at first, but I recognize that film is completely different from literature. The only thing I could never understand with adaptations is when they essentially rewrite the narrative to fit their own agenda. When they make up entirely new characters that were never in the book, and who also get a ton of screen time. You want to make up a couple extremely minor characters to help push the visual story forward? Fine. You want to create a new supporting character that has major plot implications? What in the world are you doing?

I’ve seen this done in many films, not just “The Hobbit”. For the record, I enjoyed The Hobbit films for what they were. I was a little disappointed at some aspects (like my favorite character getting regulated to about 5 minutes cumulative screen time over two films!). Some of my favorite scenes from the book were cut in the film, or rewritten entirely, but for what they were, the films were enjoyable. I would watch all three films again. They may not be very faithful to the book, but enough of the original material is there for me to enjoy it. That being said, some film adaptions stray so far away from the source material that it can be difficult to watch them at all. I especially dislike when filmmakers decide to change the time period of a piece of literature. I don’t mind if they slightly alter it as long it stays in the past, but when they completely change the setting to the present day and add modern music over it? I want to shut it off and go play Frisbee.

I do, however, understand, to an extent, why filmmakers do what they do. I understand it’s a business and that some filmmakers just have really crazy artistic visions. Some things are harder to wrap my head around though. The way I see it, even if you cut a bunch of material out, as long as what you do keep is faithful to the book for the most part, with only minor changes, then it will probably be a good adaptation.



First Prize for Cello (1907)

Every once in a while I come across a film that is often forgotten. I remember many years ago when I stumbled upon this little film from France. I had never come across it before in all my film research, (i.e. searching like a maniac for any film I could find from the beginning of film), but once I found it I have never forgotten it.

As you can see from the link above, this is a clever little film. A film that you cannot help but smile at. It’s a very simple story. A man plays a cello in a town square, but everyone hates his playing except for one little girl who gives him flowers. There is something profound about it. I am sure it has to do with the innocence of a child and how they can see the beauty in things when others cannot. Of course, one could look at this film and say the girl just gave him flowers to shut him up, but I like to think she actually liked his music.

It’s a comedy film employing physical comedy to the max. Those actors were really throwing all those things at the cellist, and while some things obviously fell behind him, there was always a risk for those things actually smacking him right in the head! So there is something special about this film because of that. A sense of reality, even if the film itself is absolutely absurd.

Yet why was it forgotten? I have never seen this film listed in any list or book about the first two decades of film. Information on the film is scarce. We don’t even know who directed the thing! I will say, however, that this is a charming little film. Perhaps it doesn’t deserve a place on a greatest films list, but it does deserve a place in film history books. Most early films played out like a filmed stage play, so this film is no different than other popular films of the early 1900s in that regard.

Have you ever created something that people didn’t understand? You wait for people to get it but they just don’t? You think all your hard work was in vain until that one person comes along who just gets what you were doing? I think that’s what this film is about. The cellist may not have won over the townspeople, but he was able to win over one heart, and in the end that’s all that mattered.

Roundhay Garden Scene

Cinema had to start somewhere and this little scene from 1888 would be where. This short little film is considered the oldest surviving film in existence. It was made by Louis Le Prince in October, 1888. The scene itself is a very simple one. It simply shows, for about 2 seconds, several people walking in a circle. That’s it. Nothing more. With these couple of seconds, however, we are transported to the beginning of an art form. I will include the video, which is posted on Youtube, at the end of this article for you to view.

Now of course there were major developments that took place before this film, but this is where it all came together for the first time in the format that we know now. I love films from the 19th century because it is a glimpse into a different world. It could be because that I love history and I always seem to feel nostalgia for time periods I never lived in, but I think a lot of people could get something different from Roundhay Garden. Just look at how far we have come since this film was made. Now we’re incorporating computer visual effects, and are now at the point where 4k resolution isn’t enough!

Film is a window into the past. The reason that films from the 19th century intrigue me so much is because they were nothing more than actuality films. Films that just showed little snippets of life, even if they were staged. There was rarely any story, (of course there were exceptions to this rule), and they were novelty items made to show people of the time moving pictures. Every time I see one of these films I find myself wishing that cinema, or at least photography, existed a couple hundred years earlier! How I wish I could see photographs or moving pictures from the 1700s or 1600s. How strange and delightful it would be. However, as far as cinema is concerned, I can only journey back to October, 1888. Photography I can journey back as far as the 1830s! Either way, these early films always make me wonder how life was back then, and give me a little glimpse into the past.