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Authorship in Film Adaptation

Authorship in Film Adaptation

Edited and with an Introduction by Jack Boozer
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    Authorship in Film Adaptation
    Book Description:

    Authoring a film adaptation of a literary source not only requires a media conversion but also a transformation as a result of the differing dramatic demands of cinema. The most critical central step in this transformation of a literary source to the screen is the writing of the screenplay. The screenplay usually serves to recruit producers, director, and actors; to attract capital investment; and to give focus to the conception and production of the film project. Often undergoing multiple revisions prior to production, the screenplay represents the crucial decisions of writer and director that will determine how and to what end the film will imitate or depart from its original source.

    Authorship in Film Adaptationis an accessible, provocative text that opens up new areas of discussion on the central process of adaptation surrounding the screenplay and screenwriter-director collaboration. In contrast to narrow binary comparisons of literary source text and film, the twelve essays in this collection also give attention to the underappreciated role of the screenplay and film pre-production that can signal the primary intention for a film. Divided into four parts, this collection looks first at the role of Hollywood's activist producers and major auteurs such as Hitchcock and Kubrick as they worked with screenwriters to formulate their audio-visual goals. The second part offers case studies ofDevil in a Blue DressandThe Sweet Hereafter, for which the directors wrote their own adapted screenplays. Considering the variety of writer-director working relationships that are possible, Part III focuses on adaptations that alter genre, time, and place, and Part IV investigates adaptations that alter stories of romance, sexuality, and ethnicity.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79401-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-30)
    Jack Boozer

    this collection of essays originated in the observation that the study of literature-to-film adaptation has generally overlooked the actual process through which a source text is transformed into a motion picture. This process includes in particular the central role of the screenplay. The increasing attention to intertextual and intermedial influences in adaptation over the last two decades provides an opportunity to highlight the most consistent and crucial example of intertextuality at work, namely, the writing of the transmedial screenplay. Literature-to-film adaptation involves the textual transposition of a single-track medium of published writing into a document that embraces the scenic structure...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 31-34)

      “Activist” producers and major auteurs of Hollywood cinema have often turned to already published sources for their projects. Their subsequent control over the adapted screenplay demonstrates a dominant pattern of authorship. This has sometimes resulted in their taking the screen credit listing “A Film by . . .” as opposed to simply “Produced by” or “Directed by” or even “Written and Directed by.” In one famous 1940 case, then independent producer David Selznick listed his opening credit as “Selznick Studio / Presents its Production of Daphne du Maurier’s Celebrated Novel / Rebecca.”After listing the star players and then himself again...

    • 1 MILDRED PIERCE: A Troublesome Property to Script
      (pp. 35-62)
      Albert J. LaValley

      THE FILM MILDRED PIERCE HAS ITS ORIGIN IN JAMES M. CAIN’S novel of the same name. Published in 1941, it followed Cain’s successful series of 1930s tough guy novels:The Postman Always Rings Twice, Career in C Major, Double indemnity,andSerenade. Departing from their narrow framework, taut narratives, and first-person male protagonists,¹ Cain off ered a female protagonist, both strong and weak, as his central character. Out of the ruins of her marriage and the Depression, Mildred builds a profitable enterprise in her chain of restaurants. Yet Mildred loses all: her restaurants, her daughter, and her husband. Her business...

    • 2 HITCHCOCK AND HIS WRITERS: Authorship and Authority in Adaptation
      (pp. 63-84)
      Thomas Leitch

      ALFRED HITCHCOCK ROSE TO FAME FIRST AS THE LEADING PRACTITIONER of the suspense thriller, then as the quintessential Hollywood auteur, even though virtually all his films were adaptations of work by other hands.¹ His well-known aversion to classic novels such asCrime and Punishmentas source material, his less widely remarked disinclination to return to the work of any single author, and his close identification with a single genre, the Hitchcock thriller, all helped establish his claim to be the primary creator of his films.² Although Hitchcock was never quick to share credit for his films with anyone else, he...

      (pp. 85-106)
      Jack Boozer

      STANLEY KUBRICK CAME VERY LATE IN LIFE TO THE SCREEN ADAPTATION of Arthur Schnitzler’s novella, though he had read it and been intrigued by it some thirty years earlier. The arduous process of transforming the novella into an acceptable screenplay and finally into the film,Eyes Wide Shut, reveals Stanley Kubrick’s method of adaptive collaboration, as well as what he brought to the film as director after the script was completed. Throughout his long career as a recognized auteur, Kubrick consistently relied on the adaptation of literary and popular novels and short stories. He sometimes wrote the screenplays himself, or...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 107-110)

      A second model of screenwriter participation in the adaptation process is the “written and directed by” combination, which places total creative responsibility in the hands of one individual. This model differs from the auteur configuration discussed in Part I mainly in the absence of a separate writer. If Hollywood auteurs use their writers to help them fill out their only partly realized ideas of adaptation at the outset, writer-directors of adaptations must work through all the details of dialogue, description, and story structure on their own. They must build their adaptation from scratch on the page, even if they may...

    • 4 PRIVATE KNOWLEDGE, PUBLIC SPACE: Investigation and Navigation in Devil in a Blue Dress
      (pp. 111-130)
      Mark L. Berrettini

      WHILE THINKING ABOUT FILM NOIR IN RELATION TO CARL FRANKLIN’SDevil in a Blue Dress(1995), I have returned repeatedly to the considerable ways in which the film represents Los Angeles as a historically resonant and metaphorically rich location. Numerous critics and scholars have explored L.A.’s historic relationship with film noir, both as a major setting for film noirs and as the space in which writers and filmmakers generated the initial material that was to be named noir. In his definitive study of L.A.,City of Quartz, Mike Davis posits that noir is a film style, a literary impulse, and a...

    • 5 “STRANGE AND NEW . . .”: Subjectivity and the Ineffable in The Sweet Hereafter
      (pp. 131-156)
      Ernesto R. Acevedo-Muñoz

      Russell Banks’s novelThe Sweet Hereafter(1991) tells the story of the devastating emotional effects of a school bus accident on the people of the small upstate New York town of Sam Dent.¹ In the accident, children from almost every family in town drown or freeze to death at the bottom of a reservoir when their school bus skids off the road into the man-made lake during the winter freeze. Through the novel’s five chapters, four different witnesses relate and analyze the event and its effects on them in first-person narrations, revealing, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, their strategies for coping...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 157-160)

      The most frequent pattern of adaptive screenwriter and director collaboration since the studio era entails a separate writer and a director (not necessarily an auteur). The working relationship of these individuals may fall under one of several diverse arrangements, as reflected in the individual studies of English-language films presented in Part III. The first four chapters explore either obtrusive narrative approaches to film adaptations or intriguing remakes of adaptations. The next four chapters address either unique variations in producer-writer-director dynamics of authorship or collaborations particularly concerned with marginalized populations and their points of view. These two groups of studies suggest...

    • 6 ADAPTATION AS ADAPTATION: From Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief to Charlie (and “Donald”) Kaufman’s Screenplay to Spike Jonze’s Film
      (pp. 161-178)
      Frank P. Tomasulo

      NO LESS AN AUTHORITY THAN ANDRÉ BAZIN WROTE TWO ESSAYS on the process of filmic adaptation, “In Defense of Mixed Cinema” and “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest.” ¹ These articles, and others in Bazin’s corpus of theoretical writings, suggested that filmic adaptations of literary works should be less concerned with strict formal fidelity to the source material than to “equivalence in meaning of the forms.” ² Bazin went on to point out that a crucial distinction had to be made between adaptations designed for the cinema and those designed for the audience. He noted that “most adapters care far...

    • 7 FROM OBTRUSIVE NARRATION TO CROSSCUTTING: Adapting the Doubleness of John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman
      (pp. 179-202)
      R. Barton Palmer

      DESPITE THE STRENUOUS EFFORTS OF THE AUTHOR TO INTEREST screenwriters and producers in the property (and the important agreement of Karel Reisz to direct, very early in the process), John Fowles’s novelThe French Lieutenant’s Womancame to the screen only in 1980, more than a decade after its publication in 1967. This difficult second birth had nothing to do with the predictable cinematic appeal of this historical romance, set in 1867 England. A chorus of praise from academic critics and the general reading public alike had greeted the novel’s appearance, and there was no reason to believe that a...

      (pp. 203-228)
      Rebecca Bell-Metereau

      IN 1962, THE CATHOLIC LEGION OF DECENCY WAS BOUND TO CONDEMN Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’sLolita,the story of a middle-aged pedophile who marries a widow, loses her, and then becomes the lover of his adolescent stepdaughter. Thirty-six years later, Adrian Lyne’s 1998 remake confronted a number of the same problems that Kubrick faced in terms of adaptation, censorship, and distribution. The two film adaptations of Vladimir Nabokov’sLolitado not exactly follow the old sexist adage about women—the beautiful ones aren’t faithful and the faithful ones aren’t beautiful. In fact, Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film was neither...

    • 9 TRAFFIC/TRAFFIK: Race, Globalization, and Family in Soderbergh’s Remake
      (pp. 229-252)
      Mark Gallagher

      THIS ESSAY CONSIDERS A RELATIVELY RARE FORM OF MEDIA ADAPTATION, from television miniseries to feature film. Th e 1989 British television miniseriesTraffikscrutinizes the global drug trade through narratives set in Europe and Asia, while North American settings provide the backdrop for its adaptation, the 2000 Hollywood filmTraffic. The transformation of the sprawling television serialTraffikinto the lengthy but contained featureTrafficinvolved condensation, reemphasis, and, arguably, misrepresentation. The U.S.Traffic, directed by Steven Soderbergh, adopts Hollywood films’ longstanding pattern of recasting social and political issues in accessible, morally legible, melodramatic terms. This transformation contributed toTraffic’s...


    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 255-256)

      In the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity, John Cusack not only plays the lead role but is listed as co-writer with three others, as well as co-producer with two of those other writers. Actors sometimes feel compelled to take an active hand in locating and seeing through properties in which they can star. The small United Artists studio was founded in part on that principle in 1919. Today, many stars hire their own screenplay readers, including agents and managers, to help locate material for them. The drive to produce and write the screenplay (and play the leading...

    • 10 ADAPTING NICK HORNBY’S HIGH FIDELITY: Process and Sexual Politics
      (pp. 257-280)
      Cynthia Lucia

      IN ITS PLAY ON THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF FIDELITY, THE TITLE of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel hints at the top two obsessions driving its protagonist: popular music, and winning back his live-in girlfriend Laura, who walks out as the novel begins. The novel traces the reversal of these priorities in the life of Rob Fleming, a cool-aspiring but rigidly opinionated thirty-fiveyear-old marooned in adolescence. Gradually Rob learns to commit himself to personal relationships with the same fidelity that he brings to the pop musicians he reveres. Alluding to Rob’s pop culture preferences, the title also announcesHigh Fidelity’sdualistic position...

    • 11 ADAPTABLE BRIDGET: Generic Intertextuality and Postfeminism in Bridget Jones’s Diary
      (pp. 281-304)
      Shelley Cobb

      IN HER GLOWING REVIEW OF THE FILM ADAPTATION OFBRIDGET Jones’s Diary, Molly Haskell delights in the intertextuality of the film and the ways it plays with audience knowledge of the book, its author, and the film’s screenwriters and stars. Following her lead but turning it onto a broader subject, we might momentarily consider intertextuality’s ability to wreak vengeance on our expectations of adaptation studies. Much of the critical literature on adaptation continues to reflect expectations that films should simply translate their source material, and a film’s value is assessed according to how faithfully it reproduces the original text. Scholars...

    • 12 “WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE INDIAN?”: The Politics of Representation in Sherman Alexie’s Short Stories and Screenplay
      (pp. 305-324)
      Elaine Roth

      WHEN SHERMAN ALEXIE ADAPTED HIS OWN SHORT STORY COLLECTION,The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven(1993), into a 1998 screenplay, he necessarily condensed a range of stories, multiple characters, and many perspectives into a single narrative arc. In the transition from the screenplay to the filmSmoke Signals(1999), that narrative became even more focused. The screenplay and film versions ofSmoke Signalsdemonstrate the streamlining required to render experimental fiction, as well as Native American storytelling, accessible to a mass audience.Smoke Signalsmade history as the first U.S. feature film about Native Americans that was both...

    (pp. 325-328)
    (pp. 329-342)