The Write Movie

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Back in the 1980s, I was a lecteur in a Paris university, drafted in to help science students with their English. Since they lacked all motivation, one way I found of doing this was to show films. As a result, over a couple of years with different groups, I probably watched Carol Reed’s 1949 classic The Third Man about 30 times. It’s quite rare that I want to watch a film more than once, but when you know a film so well, there’s a special pleasure in the anticipation, as well as in that knowledge of all the tiny details which normally get missed. My tally is measly, of course, compared to Myra Franklin’s, a Welsh woman who saw The Sound Of Music 940 times. Which requires (let’s be charitable here) a special kind of bravery. The hills might have been alive but I was brain dead and I only saw it once.

Actually, this post isn’t about excessive film-watching but Izzy’s blog event where she asks what books have been adapted well to the screen. Although I thought of The Third Man, it doesn’t really count despite its brilliance, because the screenplay was written by Graham Greene first, his novella of the same story appearing afterwards. And the fact is, it’s pretty hard for a film to come close to the effectiveness of a book. How can the film of On The Road capture the breathlessness of Kerouac’s prose? How can Jackson’s take on The Lord of the Rings do justice to the richness of Tolkien’s imagination? (Sorry, Izzy, I beg to differ on that one!).

All the same, there are some good examples. Izzy cites The Shining (yes, definitely!) and The Talented Mr. Ripley and No Country for Old Men also come to mind. But for me, top of the list has to be Bob Fosse’s 1972 film Cabaret, based on the Christopher Isherwood book, Goodbye to Berlin. The adaptation was helped by great music and award-winning performances from Joel Grey and Liza Minelli, and it remains one of my favourite films. I’ve only seen it three times, though. Quite reasonable, really.

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