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Friday, December 30, 2005

You ain't seen nothing yet

In an essay titled "Yeah, but the Book Is Better," talking about novels and films as art forms, Thane Rosenbaum writes:
As Chekhov famously once instructed, if there is a gun in Act I, it needs to be fired in Act II, and the same holds true with films (though the aphorism is tweaked slightly to also make sure that a gun is never inserted into a scene unless it makes a loud noise). Certain things have to happen at various markers of a movie, otherwise audiences, expecting such contrivances, will simply walk out.

Yet, in novels, all kinds of props are abandoned on the page. Not everything needs to be resolved, not every loose end must be tied up for the novel to be satisfying. Ambiguity is tolerated much more readily; the impulse toward linearity — the beginning, middle and end of a story — is almost nonexistent in modern fiction.

It is for this reason that Franz Kafka has never received a cinematically successful treatment of his fiction, even though he has been arguably the most important literary figure of the past century. Magical realism doesn't translate well into films. Similarly, dark psychological complexity is not particularly well suited to cinema, which is why Fyodor Dostoevsky's novels have not been successfully adapted, either.
Rosenbaum is right, of course, but I think that cinema as an artistic medium is where novels were 100 years ago, dealing essentially with straight narrative. Cinema hasn't yet had its Kafka or Joyce, and I think exciting things will happen in that medium in this century, developments that we, but naturally, can't come remotely close to foretelling. Watch that space.

(Link via Arts and Letters Daily.)
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