Monday, May 24, 2010

Again with the literary references

I don't mean to harp on Hollywood's making movies from famous works of literature. It's just that TCM is showing a night of films tonight based on the works of Ernest Hemingway. The night kicks off with the 1940s verson of For Whom the Bell Tolls at 8:00 PM ET, followed by the Spencer Tracy version of The Old Man and the Sea at 11:00 PM, and the 1930s version of A Farewell to Arms at 12:30 AM.

I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway's work, but I'm sure there are people out there who do like it. As for Hollywood, it doesn't seem at all surprising to me that they rely so heavily on works of literature to make their movies. I get the impression that there's been a lot of either laziness or cautiousness (or both) in Hollywood. If, back in the studio era, you had to churn out a movie a week, and you were spending substantial sums of money, you would naturally want to be sure that the movies you were making would be things that people would like. Successful books are, by nature of their success, proof that you've got a story a good number of people like, so adapting it into a movie should be a better bet of a successful movie. Plus, if it's a work of literature that was written a long time ago, you don't have to pay any rights to the author to be able to make a movie out of it, something I'm sure was a consideration at least some of the time in Hollywood. Also, being able to do Shakespeare adaptations, for wxample, could esily be passed off as being high-minded and contributing to the arts. When most of your other movies are geared to the lowest common denominator, being able to produce something based on a classic writer would be another plus.

I guess one of the things I'm saying is that we'll probably always have literary adaptations. True, many of today's summer blockbusters are based on the "literature" of comic books. But they're still based on successful written works. And it's still not uncommon when a "real" novel becomes wildly popular, that there's a fight in Hollywood for the movie rights. I'm looking on IMDb at some of the upcoming releases, and scheduled for December are the latest entry in the Narnia chronicles (based on a series of books by CS Lewis), another version of Gulliver's Travels, and, shockingly, a remake of True Grit which, although probably better remembered as a John Wayne movie, was in fact based on a novel that came out only a year earlier. (Indeed, the author, Charles Portis, is still alive at the age of 75.)

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