Chicken or Egg? Which came first, the book or the movie?

chicken and the eggWith a sudden spur in books which inspire movies, and movies which are written into books, the question of which came first now possesses worthwhile discussion, with the “which is better” question bound to appear sooner or later.

Of course, I have to point out first of all that the two industries which are eagerly feeding off each other are encouraging people to read, which can only be a joy for the National Library. After all, what can be more interesting than to catch a show, and then read the fascinating book it is based on? (I’m not being entirely sarcastic.

Certain good movies, like Capote, has its origins in an equally good book, and if such a movie bring about interest in Truman Capote’s books, then I’m sure the publisher that owns the rights to his work will be delighted.)


However, as a person pretending to be some vague sort of film noir, even though I don’t have most of the key movie greats, (not talking about Titanic or Troy here) I do have to point out that often, book-turned-film productions are nothing to rave about, and film written into books are pathetic reads. As media forms, it really is rather difficult to bring them together.

Take Pride and Prejudice for example. Keira Knightley and Mick McFayden may be really pretty faces and excellent choices for their characters, but other than the script, which, as I’ve mentioned is practically ripping off Ms. Austen, who’s already had a rather hard life. However, the movie takes liberty with the book, and there are the obvious differences to anyone who has read the book, and seen the movie.

While I have to give the director the benefit of the doubt for choosing how to play out the roles, the unaware audience who has never been exposed to Ms. Austen’s writing will not appreciate the whimsicality of the book.

And, for a relative comparison, while Keanu Reeves may be the perfect monotone-speaking cool guy to cast as John Constantine, the original Hellblazer comics are rather different from his devil-may-care attitude, for he’s more of a no-one-gives-a-damn-about-him kind of person himself. The book provokes even more powerful responses, and is so unimpressive that my ten year-old nephew abandoned it to read Angela Carter instead.

The problem with crossing media forms is that of impression. While the visual form may be easier to take in, the power of prose is to bring across some sort of discourse, an idea it presents to the audience by mimesis. On a big screen, this power is lost, replaced by a need to present what will seize the attention of the viewer, motivated by the need for mass capitalism.

Why book-to-film? And what does this say about our culture and time, revelling in heteroglossia so far, that we no longer bother coming up with interesting storylines and plot structures, and simply rip off a book?

Even as I applaud the increase in the sales of books, which seem to promote reading, and congratulate King Kong on their obvious use of reflexivity with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I have to say that freezing a book to a particular intepretation makes us lose prespective, and so kills the imagination.

Not to mention that all those clever quotes I spend time to memorize in order to seem elitist and educated are wasted on people who, when discussing Truman Capote, are more interested in talking about Phillip Seymour Hoffman and how fantastic he was in Mission Impossible: III.

Then again, Nietzche would applaud these film makers, for making history relevant to the current man. While New Historicism is still in vogue, books made into film will bring a smile to my face, not only because they are a topic which is really good for breaking the ice, but also because I’ll have a job which is paying me to review them. So more kudos to books made into movies, and I’m sincerely hoping that better movies will be made from better books.

Photo: D. Wilkinson