Friday, August 29, 2014

Spotlight on books into film: Cloud Atlas, The Book Thief, The Duchess, As I Lay Dying, et al.

From young adult to adults-only, you'll doubtless find something to your taste in "Reel Good Reads," our current Spotlight roundup of books that have been adapted to film. I'm itching to see the movie version of The Book Thief (above), a novel I found absolutely riveting. And conversely, having seen the movie first, I'm looking forward to reading and savoring the ins and outs of the complex narrative that comprises David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas. I loved the Keira Knightley film about Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire (below), so I definitely want to delve into Amanda Foreman's award-winning biography of same.
And did you know that James Franco had starred in an adaptation of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying?  The LA Review of Books gave Franco props for his directing:
Faulkner’s famously fragmented novel is composed of 59 first-person chapters, written in the voices of fifteen different characters. Translating such a polyglossic text to the screen poses some daunting challenges, which may explain why Franco is the first director to make the attempt. In Faulkner’s novel, form and content converge: the disjointed narrative structure, which lacks a presiding narrator, manifests the isolation that defines the characters’ lives, which are marked by hidden secrets and unspoken desires. In an effort to convey the splintered, often opaque quality of the novel’s writing, Franco employs several unconventional techniques, including hand-held camera work, split screen compositions, and rapid cutting between simultaneously occurring events.
The cast of Franco's As I Lay Dying.
At times, these devices work effectively, such as when the Bundrens’ wagon and the coffin splash into the river on the first day of their journey. Here, the divided screens convey the watery struggle through the eyes of different characters, enhancing the sense of confusion and chaos. In several of the film’s most compelling moments, Franco offers refreshingly direct access to Faulkner’s monologues, such as Cash’s 13-point explanation of the coffin design or Dewey Dell’s sensuous description of her love affair in the cotton fields, which are delivered in tightly-framed shots of the characters looking unswervingly into the lens…. As I Lay Dying is one of Faulkner’s most formally daring works, but it is also one of his most socially and politically engaged novels. As Faulkner biographer Joseph Blotner explains, Faulkner started writing the book the day after the Wall Street collapse in October 1929, and completed it in a short, two-month burst. As such, it can arguably be considered America’s first novel of the Great Depression. While there’s no indication that Franco intended the film to be a political work of art, it comes five years into the deepest economic recession since the 1930s. Seen in context of the current era’s mortgage foreclosures, declining wages, and financial suffering, Franco’s adaptation of Faulkner’s novel about the plight of an impoverished family isolated and stymied by economic hardship and social obstacles reminds us that high-minded works of art — even a period piece like this one — can also speak to contemporary historical concerns.
On a related note of page to screen, The Washington Post praised the late, great Oscar-winner Robin Williams's "world-class performance" as an honest salesman whose life is shattered in Seize the Day (1986), the only novel by Saul Bellow ever adapted to film.
Have you any favorite novel to film adaptations?


  1. Have you any favorite novel to film adaptations?

    The Maltese Falcon comes immediately to mind. I don't watch many movies any more – too many books around to read – but a personal Top 10 (in alphabetical order) from the good old days might also include A Clockwork Orange, Frankenstein, Gone With the Wind, Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Godfather, The Grapes of Wrath, The Shining, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

  2. Like RPS, I haven't been to the movies (nor had them come to me) in a donkey's age. But I recall liking "1984", finding Hitchcock's "Rebecca" to be faithful to a fault, (Olivier's monologue description of events I wished were dramatised), and wanting to remake "The Brothers Karamasov" myself, because so little of what I loved about the book was in the film.
    By the way, my spelling eccentricity is due to my keyboard having lost its final letter. It is surprising how little I miss it.
    Oh, and of Roger Corman Poe adaptations, "The Masque of the Red Death" was the best.

    1. gioconda all thumbsAugust 30, 2014 at 1:38 PM

      Hey, just saw the Daedalus catalog--there's a large print keyboard I can plug in. Would this be a quick fix for my absent *ed?

    2. I think you should go for it (and report back!)

  3. I would really like to read this book again in a book group setting where you could discuss each story and the unfolding pages with others as they occur. I dont often feel that way, its just that this is such a wonderful book, and so crammed with small details, I really would enjoy seeing how others react to them.