Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Topic for Discussion: That Special Feeling...

A topic for discussion from something I wrote in the comments section of my last post:
I wonder if [Alan] Moore is "big" enough that someone will come along and do Moore "right" without actually, specifically adapting one his works. I'm thinking of the way Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind captured the low-rent sci-fi feel of Philip K. Dick's stories better than any of the official Dick adaptations.

So, we're talking about movies that aren't actual adaptations that "get" something about a writer better than any other movie, especially movies that are adapted directly from the writer's work.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind is my go-to example: it nails the next-week-in-Hoboken feel of Philip K. Dick's stories better than the big-budget, effects-packed movies that are actually adapted from them.

Another example: The Third Man, where Graham Greene and Carol Reed do a better job of bringing the sensibility of Eric Ambler's spy novels to the screen than the movies taken directly from Ambler's novels (even the ones where Ambler worked on the screenplays).

Do any other movies fit?

If I recall correctly, Pauline Kael made this kind of point about Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us and William Faulkner.

Some more of my own suggestions: 28 Days Later - J.G. Ballard's sci-fi novels, Fingers and Black & White - various pieces (essays, novels, etc.) by Norman Mailer.

Anyone else have any?

(As a starting place, here are a couple of authors who, I feel, haven't been done justice by the movies based on their work: Joseph Conrad, Jack Kirby, Donald E. Westlake. Elmore Leonard would have made this list if it weren't for Out of Sight.)


Mark Dellelo said...

The obvious thing that jumps to mind is Peckinpah's stuff, some of which gets closer to Melville than the movies adapted from Moby Dick and Billy Budd. Also, this will probably strike you as an odd one, but I think there's a certain flavor of Borges in Kurosawa's Kagemusha--more of it than Bertolucci was able to get in The Spider's Stratagem. Come to think of it, it's more present in some of Hitchcock's and De Palma's thrillers, too, especially Vertigo and Psycho and Dressed to Kill. And in Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge. But maybe this is cheating, since Borges's influence creeps up unconsciously in all sorts of places. Also, I was rereading The Sorrows of Young Werther recently and thinking to myself that the only movie I knew that captured that flavor of Bildungsburger angst was (full circle!) Bertolucci's Before the Revolution.

Jon Hastings said...

Ah, yes - Peckinpah/Melville. It's too bad Major Dundee was such a cock-up (just imagine Robert Ryan in the title role: it definitely would have been Moby Dick-worthy).

Kagemusha - Borges is a good call and with Kurosawa, who's maybe the most literate of the great directors, it probably wasn't an accident.

But you're right, Borges is like Kafka in that his influece is all over all sorts of modern cultural stuff.

And thinking of Kafka: has anyone really managed to "get" him on film? I really don't think so, although Polanski's short films come close. Most cinematic attempts at "Kafkaesque" seem pretty superficial to me.

Mark Dellelo said...

David Lynch, I'd say, nails the mood of Kafka in Eraserhead. And speaking of Lynch, there's much more of Nathaniel West's vision of Los Angeles in Mullholland Dr. than there was in Schlesinger's Day of the Locust.

Steve Sailer said...

"Chinatown" and Raymond Chandler. The black and white versions of Chandler's novels couldn't do justice to the gorgeous visual descriptions in Chandler, but Chinatown's glorious cinematography of what LA looked like before smog nails Chandler's books like "Farewell My Lovely."

Jon Hastings said...


I buy the Day of the Locusts, but not so much the Eraserhead as Kafka. Eraserhead is just too thoroughly weird. It lacks the central sanity that is under attack in Kafka's stories.


Interesting call on Chinatown. I love Howard Hawks's version of The Big Sleep, but it certainly isn't as visually evocative as Chinatown.