Article published on January 4, 2018.
I continually ponder the relationship between book and film, the pros and the cons, the highs and the lows, although I can reach no conclusions. But I am aware that there are many books I have sought out, acquired and read purely because I saw a film. I have found it to be a positive experience. Here are ten of the most significant for me.
1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Very topical at the moment with yet another adaption being shown on TV! In the town where we lived a local businessman with his fingers in many pies owned and ran several enterprises. One was a cinema. A small building on the High Street, long gone now. It was unusual because it had no tiered seating. So woe betide you if you got stuck behind someone tall or wearing a hat! It was the 60s and I was a little girl and my big brother, who I adored, and still do, took me to see the 1949 film of Little Women showing at this little cinema. I was so small I could stand up without bothering anyone behind me! It isn’t my first memory of the cinema but it is my first memory of really being aware of the film I was seeing and it staying with me long after I left the auditorium. My mum found me a children’s edition of the book, which I devoured. Jo March was probably my first literary heroine. I was besotted with her because she was a writer and she was a tomboy and it was an awakening of a kind for me because somehow I felt less alone.
2. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi – My very first cinema experience was a double bill of Disney’s Robin Hood and Lady and the Tramp, but I had to be taken out before the programme finished as I was wailing at the top of my voice. I was too young. But the animations stayed with me. Old enough now to behave quietly, my Mum took us to see the Disney version of Pinocchio, which captivated me. What I was seeing was breathtakingly wonderful. And in a desire to sustain that wonderment I was bought a copy of the book that I read again and again and again. As soon as I finished it I just went back to the beginning. And while I read I saw the film in my head.
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I was about 5 or 6 when my family first acquired a TV and programmes were mostly shown in the evening. There were some lunchtime programmes for children and at weekends I think they showed films on Sunday afternoons. My memories are hazy. But I do remember sitting in our family room, alone on this occasion, in a fireside chair as this film started. I was entranced. And the images, especially of Miss Havisham on fire, were etched into my memory. I was frightened by Magwitch and the atmospheric opening scene in the graveyard. I’ve watched the film and read the book many times since. And it was the start of a lifelong admiration of Dickens and his work.
4. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg – One of my favourite films that I never tire of watching. I love Idgie Threadgood. Another character I’d like to be!! I sought out the book immediately after seeing the film. Fannie Flagg wrote the screenplay as well as the book, which I believe accounts for how the good the film is. I then went on to read the rest of Ms. Flagg’s work. Maybe I would have done anyway? Who know, but the film was the catalyst on this occasion.
5. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx – It’s not PC currently to admire Kevin Spacey, but when I saw this film it was okay to do so. I found the premise of the film absorbing and the performances consummate, although this is one of those examples where ultimately I found the book infinitely better than the film and subsequently read all of Proulx’s work. I’ve yet to read Barkskins from last year but it is my intention to do so. Hopefully before they make a film of it 😉
6. The Hours by Michael Cunningham – One more example of finding the book better than the film. And the film was pretty good! The movie haunted me. I found it so moving. Once I realised it was based on a book, well, it would have been rude not to read it! I loved the premise that all three women were affected by the same book in different times and different locations. But the book is so beautifully written in that wonderful stream of consciousness style. Although familiar with Virginia Woolf I hadn’t read Mrs. Dalloway before I saw this film. I read it pretty quickly afterwards.
7. The Graduate by Charles Webb – A bildungsroman that is iconic now I suppose, making Dustin Hoffman a household name. I remember the film had been accredited with an ‘X’ certificate and I wasn’t quite old enough to go see it, but I did. The motivation was more the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack than, at the time, the risqué nature of the subject matter. And then I read the book. I don’t even know why!! The film is better I think.
8. Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard – I watched the film numerous times before it even occurred to me to read the book. In fact, I believe it was years after I saw the film that I got round to the book. That’s unusual for me as it’s frequently an instant thing. I’ve been known to emerge from the cinema and go straight to the bookshop. The film is epic and harrowing, with some marvellous performances showing how war provokes some riches to rags tales. But ultimately it led me to Ballard and his somewhat provocative style. After Empire of the Sun I explored further works like Crash and High Rise. I don’t find his work enjoyable but it is compelling reading!
9. The Green Mile by Stephen King – I don’t do horror. I have too much of a nervous disposition regarding such matters due to my fertile imagination. So Stephen King has eluded me and I, him! But this film changed that and it remains the only Stephen King book I have read. I read it as an entire book and not the serial versions. But I am guessing that the release of the film prompted the publication of the one volume edition. I enjoyed the film and I enjoyed the book. Not enough to make me want to read any more Stephen King. Neither the film nor the book struck me as being within the horror genre, more fantasy.
10. Wild by Cheryl Strayed – I don’t think I would have come across Cheryl Strayed if it hadn’t been for the film. I remember seeing the Bridge of the Gods when visiting Oregon and I’m always a sucker for watching a film depicting somewhere I’ve been. I was aware of the natural beauty of the Pacific Trail and the film was a fair adaptation. But the book had me in tears. Such emotion so ably described. Another example of the book conveying more depth than the film was able to.
That’s just ten books. The list could continue. What is interesting to me is that I’m not sure I could come up with a list of ten books that I have read and then subsequently seen a good film adaptation of, but we’ll see…
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