The 2009 Oscar nominees for best adapted screenplay were…
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Slumdog was the winner, but what I find more interesting is the diverse original material that begat this year’s nominees.
Doubt was first a play. Frost/Nixon was first broadcast on television; later, the TV interviews were worked into a play and finally to the movie. Only The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire were books originally, while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
For those of you helping us develop the material for the forthcoming Levenger Press boovie book, our quest is to see the movie first and then read the original material (when it started as a book or short story), in order to experiment with this uncustomary approach.
The first reason we might want to read the book after seeing the movie is to gain more detail and perspective. As we read for the eight or ten hours we can take in the richness that the typical 100-page screenplay must leave out. But what about for a short story? They often aren’t any longer than scripts. Is there any benefit to be had from reading them after the movie?
Should we bother reading original short stories?
For the 2008 Oscar nominees, two were adapted from short stories. I’d like now to report on my own experience of reading these short stories after seeing the movies.
I found reading “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” unrewarding. For those who saw the powerful movie, you know how hard it was to watch as this man in the prime of his life is reduced to a vegetative state and forced to communicate by blinking one eye.
The movie is stronger than the written form for its remarkably imagery. Reading the short story did reinforce the gratitude I feel for my physical self, and my admiration for Jean-Dominique Bauby for his nobility of spirit. That said, the movie was not only more powerful, but sufficient, at least in my opinion.
The movie Away from Her was originally a short story titled “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. Here too, the movie captured nearly all the material in the short story. It’s interesting that the relationship between Grant and Miriam, which was left ambiguous in the story, was explicit in the movie. But is that enough to merit the time of reading the short story? Perhaps not. But one thing was for me.
There is a passage when Grant is wondering how much of the beauty he sees in his failing Fiona is because he knew her when she was a beautiful young woman, a perspective that a newcomer could not have. For me that single realization is worth the whole reading, for it gives me a larger perspective about the musty needlepoint adage, “Grow Old With Me, The Best Is Yet To Be.”
So my verdict is still out on whether it’s generally worth reading the original short stories that give life to a movie you’ve already seen. With great anticipation, I look forward to watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and then reading, Fitzgerald’s story. And I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this question.
I never know how much I like a movie until the morning after. If I arise thinking about it and discovering new layers of meaning—that’s a movie I like, or at least admire. And this was the case in spades with The Reader. Lori and I discussed it quite a bit both after seeing it that evening and again the next day, as gradually we saw how pieces fit together and made sense.
Now I’m reading the book, written originally in German by Bernhard Schlink. It is marvelous so far because of all his observations on life, from which the movie could only pick and choose. The man writes in first-person, remembering his life-transforming affair with the woman old enough to be his mother—the woman with a horrific past not yet known to the boy.
He reflects about happiness and whether ugly truths discovered much later must irreversibly tarnish memories that otherwise would gleam, or whether it’s possible for old memories to remain beautiful. This and many other nuances and scenes, beautifully expressed in Schlink’s writing, were necessarily left out of the film.
For a different perspective, I’ve heard that some viewers of the movie were upset at what they saw as a glamorization, or at least humanization, of a former Nazi. For them, I would think they would have little, if any, interest in devoting the hours involved in reading the book.
Although not nominated in the adapted-screenplay category, this movie was first a book by Richard Yates that was a National Book Awards finalist in 1962. I greatly admire the bleak tragedy about 1950s angst, but it doesn’t make me want to spend more hours with the subject matter.
I just read the publisher’s review of the novel, which confirms that the theme of the book is the same as the movie. I’ll skip it. And isn’t this just the point of seeing the movie first? We can devote a couple of hours and take in a beautiful piece of storytelling art, and then decide whether we want to devote more time to understanding the themes.
Please let us hear from you, dear moviegoer and reader. What do you observe about this year’s adaptations (or any others)? We’d love to hear. Just click on the Comments link below. (If you’re reading this as an email, click here and you’ll connect to Comments).