The new Bookforum has a pretty good piece on books that are turned into movies, featuring interviews with novelists, screenwriters, and directors. I was particularly impressed by Alexander Payne's contribution, in which he addresses the question of just how much the filmmaker owes the novelist. Nothing, is the answer. "Adapting often means marauding," he says.
I think he's right. Movies that hew too closely to books are often little more than bad snapshots of books, and who wants that? A good book is already finished. It does not require improvement or enhancement. Go ahead and let a film be inspired by a good book, but make it a good film first and foremost.
This stuff is on my mind because a movie of Mailman is, and has been for some time, in the the works. God only knows if it will ever come to fruition, but there is a script now, and I have read a draft, and it's pretty good. In fact, it's hilarious--and not a single one of the jokes, nor half of the plot, is mine.
For some reason I found the experience of reading this script to be strangely flattering--more so, I think, than if I'd read a more faithful adaptation. The screenwriter had used something I did as a springboard for his own work--but that work remained his own, and my book has remained my own.
It remains to be seen, though, if an actual movie is produced, whether it will wear away at the imaginative process a reader of the book might experience. Ultimately, that's the problem with film adaptations--they implant themselves in your mind. Film is a tyrranical medium; it commands all the major senses, and creates new memories that are sometimes indistinguishable from the truth. (Recall the declining Reagan, reminiscing about the war years he only really experienced on film.) In any event, even if the Mailman movie never makes it to the screen, I now have my own imaginary version in my head, fully cast, shot, and scored--a version that, I'm certain, the actual movie would ruin entirely.
BTW, don't miss, in the same issue of Bookforum, a new book review by W6 chum Paul Maliszewski!