Film vs. Literature
Filed under: Culture
During the PEN International Voices Festival last night, author and former PEN American Center president Francine Prose met with four writers to discuss the relationship between novels and films in a panel titled Adaptation: From Page to Screen. Each panelist has had one of their novels turned into a movie: French writer Philippe Dijian with “Betty Blue,” Belgian writer and filmmaker Jean-Philippe Toussaint with “La Salle de bain,” American novelist Barry Gifford with “Wild at Heart,” and American writer Richard Price with “Clockers.” Of the four panelists, only Toussaint considered himself to be both a writer and filmmaker. The rest identified themselves solely as novelists.Order now
Dijan spoke first. He expressed a pessimistic view about the future of novels, saying “maybe books won’t be necessary in the future.” He reflected on his struggle with trying to write screenplays—in the end, he realized that he could not be a screenwriter. He stated that as a writer he is more interested in the world of reflection, not of images. “All the stories have already been told,” he said, implying that the only way to move forward in the literary world is through individual language and style. He lamented that his story in “Betty Blue” was lost when it became a movie.“It had nothing to do with my work! And the terrible thing is that the film was a huge success. Writers should struggle against the cinema,” he said.
Toussaint, who is as much a filmmaker as a writer, understandably had a different point of view. He sees value in both art forms, appreciating both the abstraction of novels and the concreteness of movies. He stated that movies have a real dimension to them—“You can touch the actresses,” he said. Toussaint’s first experience with moviemaking was with “La salle de bain,” his novel that gained the interest of many filmmakers. When he agreed to an adaptation, he demanded that he be able to participate in the moviemaking process, and he’s been involved in the film industry ever since. Gilford, the first American to speak, said simply that he had “nothing against movies.” He alluded to his childhood spent growing up in hotels and watching movies late into the night. He said that watching movies is what taught him how to put stories together. However, he is still skeptical about the “integrity” of most directors.
Despite this reservation, he said that he “loves” the movies, considering them to be just another discrete form of expression. “A novel’s a novel and a film’s a film,” he said. Price started off saying, “At this point in my life I’ve written a shitload of movies.” His reason for getting into the film industry? “Right now I just want the money,” he said. Price said that screenplays pay the bills, and that he doesn’t have the “hope” about his own writings that he had 20 years ago. Based on his own experience, he offered one word of advice for aspiring writers: “Don’t settle for being a screenwriter… If you’re going be a writer, be a writer.”