Topic “A book and its screen adaptation”

book-vs-movie

It’s common knowledge that both television and books play a great role in widening our outlook, providing us with some food for thought and enriching our life experience. They both arouse feelings and emotions that everyday life doesn’t afford us to feel. But many people believe that watching television discourages reading. However, the link between television and books is not as simple as that. Tastes differ as they say. Some people spend their leisure time watching a good film on TV or going to the cinema. As a rule, such people think that the director, producer, actors, screenwriter and film editor are all rather skillful in turning any book into a successful film. What for do they need to read books then if they can see actors bringing to life a writer’s story? It’s a controversial issue indeed. People belonging to the next group have a different way of looking at it. Having developed a reading habit early in life, they can’t live without books and usually find watching TV rather a boring and passive thing. In their opinion it is books that teach us about life, connect us with the world and make us stronger individuals. Such people view books as a mirror for our emotions, as a bloodstream that connects us to the world and as a feast for the heart. So do I. But still I think I belong to the third group of people who are not as categorical as the representatives of the first two groups. Such people strongly believe that a good book may encourage watching its screen adaptation and vice versa. In other words they like both reading books and watching films. If we try to look at the controversial issue-television and reading- through the eyes of these people we’ll find three main cases to discuss.

In books it’s not only writer’s characters that endear him to the public: it’s also his ethical outlook that appears with greater or lees distinctness in everything he writes. The same goes for the director: his ethical outlook appears in the film with the help of actors, cinematographers, writers and editors. The director is the creative force that pulls a film together, responsible for turning the words of the book into images on the screen. If he manages to do it successfully the film is sure to come out not worse than the book it’s based on. So this is the first case worth discussing: a screen adaptation is as interesting and captivating as a book. By means of example I’d like to say a few words about a screen adaptation of a famous Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “Quiet Flows the Don” (1958). Mikhail Sholokhov is without any doubt a great Russian writer and his compelling achievement has become very popular not only among readers but among cinematographers as well. In this country there are two screen adaptations of this amazing novel. I can’t help admiring Sergei Gerasimov’s version. He managed to write a good script, select very suitable actors and direct the film successfully. Indeed it’s as wonderful as the novel itself, because it manages to arouse as many feelings and emotions as the book does. Every episode goes at amazing pace, rich in events and crafted brilliantly. It never fails to captivate. Every scene has action, intensity, emotion and impact. This is just the case when reading without any doubt may encourage reading. There’s one more screen adaptation of this novel but unfortunately I haven’t seen it and can’t comment upon it.

Of course a good book is the foundation for a good film but even the best one may need to be developed to work well on the screen. Sometimes the director works with writer to develop a script. It happens that the director himself writes a script. In other cases a screenwriter is hired. It’s common knowledge that writing a script is not an easy thing at all. And, unfortunately, it happens that the book is changed greatly. Such a thing happened with Truman Capote’s novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. The thing is that the film neglects much of the book’s foreboding edge. Many things are missing in this interpretation of its witty and insightful literary source. “The happy end” ruins the whole intention of the book. But what’s more important – the filmmakers deprived the main character Holly by name of almost all her original subtlety and complexity, rendering the story flat and mushy. I think that a screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” may also fall into this group. As I see it it’s not a director or a screenwriter to blame but the complexity of this incredible novel. The thing is that Leo Tolstoy’s realistic style transcended immediate social problems and explored universal issues such as morality and the nature of life itself. His literary work is rich in events and characters and it’s really difficult to turn all of them into images on the screen. This is the main reason why I consider this screen adaptation to be worse than the classic novel. Even in this case television may encourage reading because many people might want to compare, to see what is missed in a screen version. But still some people prefer only to watch a film. In connection with this I can’t but recall a famous Mark Twain’s saying: “A classic is that everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read”. There’s still another case worth discussing, namely when a screen adaptation is so brilliant that it may arouse even more feelings and emotions than a book. The best example that immediately comes across my mind is Vladimir Bortko’s screen adaptation of a famous Dostoevsky’s novel “Idiot”. Of course I don’t mean to say that the book is bad. Not a bit! No one but Dostoevsky, the world master of classic literature, can deliver a true Russian character, full of life’s passions: love and hatred so brilliantly. His characters are simultaneously capable of cruelty and compassion. His novel makes us ponder over the meaning of life. But many people find Vladimir Bortko’s miniseries more captivating and evocative than Fyodor Mikhailovich’s book. In my opinion Vladimir Bortko is a great director. He has done his best when making this screen adaptation and managed to create a real masterpiece and give a new life to Dostoevsky’s novel. I don’t think that any of the key characters or events are left out which is quite a feat in itself. As I see it one of his greatest merits is a truly amazing and superb cast. Evgeny Mironov, playing the leading role of Prince Myshkin, is my favourite actor. His acting is incredible: with or without words you know exactly what he’s thinking and feeling. The performances of other actors, namely Vladimir Mashkov, Olga Budina, Inna Churikova, Vladimir Ilyin are also ingenuine. The film really has a depth and that special feeling that can be sensed when reading Dostoevsky’s books. This is the best example when TV encourages people to read: after this TV series the sales of Dostoevsky’s books has incredibly gone up!


My favourite book is Mikhail Bulgakov’s   “The Master and Margarita”. This compelling tale weaves together satire and realism, art and religion, history and contemporary social values. The full screen adaptation of this book has never been made till recently. Vladimir Bortko began to make it on June 14, 2004 and these days they start to show what they have done. Frankly speaking I’m dying to see the film and I hope that the director who brought to life “Heart of the Dog” and “Idiot” will make something really worth from his upcoming project “The Master and Margarita”.

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