19 March 2014

Books and Movies, and Movies and Books, and People Too.

Last month, the girl's school had a book fair. Now that she's in middle school, it's a kid only event; parents don't get to come and supervise the picking of the books. We sent her off with $20 in her pocket* and she came home with two books - something forgettable a friend had liked, and The Fault in Our Stars. I'd read TFIOS last year, intrigued by the hype, and found it extraordinarily moving. I filed it away in my head thinking it would be a good book for her to read - in a few years. I asked her why she bought it. "Well, I saw the movie trailer, and then when I saw the book on the shelf, I thought I should read it, before the movie comes out." And read it she did. She plowed right through, and turned around and read it again immediately after, ditching the book jacket at some point, because it got in the way.

Her verdict? "Best book ever."

One day last week, she told me she wanted to see The Hunger Games, the first movie, not the new one. Every time she'd asked before, I'd told her she was too young. This time I told her she could watch the movie, but only if she read the book first. "Please can we go to the library right now?" Really, how could we say no? Your kid wants to go to the library, it's still open, you go. That was a Friday night - she'd finished it by Monday, and watched the movie when she was done with her homework on Monday. "What'd you think?" I asked. She told me that the book was better; "they left so much out"!

Me, I'm kind of indifferent to movies**. I generally don't like movies that get made from books because they leave so much out, and because they screw with my internal visualization of what the people and places look like. A good movie, to me, is one that transcends reality, with a visual sense all its own, but possessing a firm aura of plausibility. In general, I'd rather read a book. But over the weekend, with the girl at a slumber party and with a couple of passes to the local art house burning a hole in my pocket, we went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. It's just about perfect. Ironic, lovely, odd, off-kilter, clever, and maybe quixotic too. There's no pretense to reality, it's full of throw away moments, and it's just delicious, complete in and of itself, no external reference needed or wanted, a world invented, genuine in its artifice. "A pastiche", said its director, Wes Anderson, full of pastry.

For the most part, books - fiction, that is - make their own worlds, and especially their own people. Recently, though, I went to a talk/interview/live on stage thing, with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talking with Damian Woetzel. She was on a book tour, talking about her book, Americanah, which recently came out in paperback (and last week won the National Book Critics Circle Award). I was only about 20% into the book when I saw her in person - and found that, like seeing a movie before you read the book, I couldn't help but put her - body, hair, speaking voice - right back into the book as Ifemelu, the book's main character. Oh, Damian asked her about that, "how much of you is in Ifemelu" and she dissembled, "it's fiction, it's not me, there's plenty of me in Obinze [the male protagonist]". But still - once I'd seen her, I couldn't put her out of my head. Incidentally, it's a great book. When they make the movie, she'll have to play herself, she said ironically***.

I think what it is is that I want everything in its own walled garden. Books are books, and movies are movies, and operas are operas, and let's just leave it at that.

*Tell me you're not going to be singing Thrift Shop for the rest of the day.

**Gratuitous aside: I thought Gravity was an enormous steaming pile of horse shit. Boring, pointless, implausible, and tedious. And the best book into movie ever? A Room With A View. They didn't leave anything out.

***Actually, Adiche has hinted that Lupita Nyong’o is going to play her in the (inevitable) movie.


Patois42 said...

*Yeah, thanks so much for that.

Hannah said...

I just had to comment because I also thought Gravity was a terrible, terrible movie. Boring. BORING. I was hoping whatever vehicle she was in at any given moment would crash just so it would be over.

You have validated my feelings. Thank you for that. :)

Jeanne said...

I love books and movies, but I try to watch the movie before I read the book.

Stimey said...

Books that are made into movies are always tricky because books are almost always better. That said, I love both books and movies and there are a lot of movies that have done pretty well with their original material.

I also bought The Fault in Our Stars for the very same reason your girl did. :)

MARY G said...

The same rules in my granddaughter's house.
And, yes, I spend most of my time when watching movie-from-book critiquing what they have left out. The 'Hunger Games' was rather an exception, as, for me, they simplified it to a tighter plot.

Cathy said...

At last. Someone who agrees with me about Gravity!

In general, I'm also with you about movies made from books. I try to hope for the best but actually expect the worst (cue Mel Brooks lyrics and Brahms music here).

I did, however, have high hopes for The Monuments Men, because the book's author was knee-deep in research and incapable of crafting (and editing) his material into a must-read narrative. (Nor is he a particularly felicitous writer, alas.)

Movies can sometimes be effective at re-imagining unwieldy books—think Gone With the Wind or Wizard of Oz. But George Clooney couldn't work his magic with that one.