Reading the comments of the last post, I suddenly endured a wave of jealousy for people who get to make movies. Now, this isn't to say that I actually want to make movies. I think I would be bad at it, despite being a guy who knows how narrative works and likes taking pictures. It seems to me that, if you are going to be a director of films, you either need to find artistic collaboration appealing, or you have to be absolutely arrogant, charismatic, and commanding, so that you don't really need to collaborate. Neither of those scenarios applies to me.
But if I could make movies alone, the way I write novels, that would really be something. For one thing, as we have argued here before, movies now possess the cultural cachet that novels once did. Or rather, that novels once were allowed to cling to a piece of. Film is absolutely the dominant form of narrative in American culture, and perhaps this is as it should be, or as it is inevitably destined to be. The filmmaker equivalent of me--an indie director, say, with a small following--will have many, many times more viewers than I will ever have readers. And if there's one thing a writer wants, it's an audience.
I'm not talking about that so much, though. The joy in writing isn't really in its meager public manifestation--it's in the act of creation. And the filmmaker has access to things the novelist doesn't, things I sometimes desperately want.
Take the movie I discussed in the last post--"Broken Flowers", with its symbolic, metaphoric final image of two identically dressed boys driving past the protagonist in slow motion. This is an image of profound simplicity and elegance, and you can't do it in a novel. You could describe it, certainly, but it wouldn't be the same as simply holding it up before the viewer's eyes. And in a film, such an image is inherently fleeting, at least in the theater. You see it, and it's gone. Its aftereffects are more powerful than its actual manifestation.
Or how about the ending of "The Visitor," with our newly-angry hero working out his emotions by beating his conga drum in the subway station, as trains roar past. In a novel, a description of the scene would seem mawkish, overdetermined. In the movie, you don't even think about how it got there. It's just happening.
And the filmmaker has the advantage of tyranny over the senses. Compromises may have to be made in the creation of a scene, but once it's made, it's made--and every viewer sees the same thing, hears the same thing. The novelist can make her paragraph perfect, but she is doomed never to be understood the way she wishes to be--everyone will imagine different sights, sounds, and emotions as they read. The filmmaker makes iconic images; the novelist makes a map that leads the reader to generate his own images.
Ultimately, the filmmaker collaborates ahead of time, with all those people in the credits, then lords it over the viewer. The novelist works alone--but every reading of his book is a collaboration. A novel is inherently unfinished, inherently imprecise.
Naturally, I'm glad do what I do, or else I wouldn't do it so damned often. But when I'm asked a leading question, or read (God help me) a review, or am asked to explain what I do, I often wish that I had access to the dictatorial power of the image, the soundtrack, and flooding of the senses.