Tuesday, 18 May 2010

This Post is Not Original

I’m not usually one for the editorials, but I’ve been ruminating over something for the past few weeks. Incidentally, it started with chatter over Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Inception - a film I’m anticipating fairly much, but not as much as everyone else. Nolan’s not my favourite director, but I’m digressing as usual. The write-up on Inception went something along these lines (paraphrased) Thank God for Christopher Nolan, the only director making a movie about a completely original film not inspired by another movie, a book, or comic. I can’t recall the author, but it irritated me a little – but not for the reasons you’d think. After reading more and more articles bemoaning the state of film one think stuck out, and it got me thinking even more – why is everyone so consumed with a desire for originality?
 You probably know that I consider Martin Scorsese to be the supreme filmmaker. I consider his The Age of Innocence as one his greatest films, but even if I were to move away from him and think about some other greats I’d think of people like Anthony Minghella, David Lean and particularly James Ivory. Each of these men, Ivory in particularly, crafted a career on auspicious adaptations of literary pieces. I guess we wouldn’t exactly call them “original” directors, but since when has the opposite of original been poor? Does it mean that if James Ivory was a prevailing director in this time he’d be relegated to an unoriginal hack? Perhaps it’s just my propensity for the literary, but even if we don’t like Howards End, or The Talented Mr. Ripley or Dr. Zhivago can we deny that Ivory, Minghella and Lean are talented men?
It’s not that I can’t sympathise with the movie lovers craving originality. When every moderately successful film gets a sequel, and when perfectly functioning franchises become rebooted, I suppose the yearning for something new is only natural. But is Woody Allen better than Francis Ford Coppola because he writes his work from scratch. Truth be told, I do prefer Allen – but not for that reason. Originality isn’t a prerequisite to brilliance. In a way, I should note James for precipitating this article a little. He’s always throwing out interesting questions, and his reflections on Tim Burton’s career were thought provoking. The man has his issues, I’d be the first to admit, but does the fact that his films over the last decade have been adapted from other source materials mean he is a deplorable director? Maybe, just maybe, I have a kneejerk reaction to people already lapping up Inception…but with Leonardo Dicaprio and Marion Cotillard – trust me – I don’t want this movie to fail. But can we praise Nolan without doing it at the expense of the entire film world? There’s a line between adaptation and unoriginality…a fine line, perhaps, but still a line…

10 comments:

Jose said...

The art of adaptation has become a term of disdain in recent years. At film school for example we weren't allowed to make adaptations for our screenplay courses.
We were forced to come up with our own stuff which obviously meant people came up with the most ludicrous works. For all we know Inception's original screenplay can turn out to be a load of crap while the umpteenth Jane Austen adaptation will still have a charm to it.

Luke said...

It's true. Though the Inception trailer sort of hooked me, the premise concerns me. Some original works can have so much trouble resonating. Remakes or "reimaginings" (terrible buzz word) may not apply in this way, but in terms of adapting written work, there is so much visual and structural interpretation, how can you not find so much merit in adaptations? Whether a film is "original" or not doesn't affect me I guess. Unless it's a shot-for-shot remake, every film is "original" in some way.

M. Carter @ the Movies said...

I'm trying to limit my exposure (as much as possible) to "Inception" so there's not the "Alice in Wonderland" effect. Originality doesn't necessarily guarantee success for a movie, doesn't mean that it will be good. Think about "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" -- that's an original, and it's terrible (well, in that good way). The opposite is true for a remake/adaptation -- because it's based on something doesn't mean it will be crap. I consider "To Kill a Mockingbird" a prime example: based on the book but different, a first-rate film.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Yeah, the complaints about originality irk me. Kubrick only made adaptations, most of Spielberg's output are adaptations...Citizen Kane and Singin' in the Rain are the only movies in the AFI Top Ten that are original - on both lists! And I love Nolan...but isn't this only his second non-adaptation?

Simon said...

I don't hate adaptions, I hate when people do nothing but, make no effort to breath new life in, and generally being assholes about it. I find it lazy when there's nothing but sequels, remakes, and adaptions all the time, but then, if they do it well, whatever.

Mike Lippert said...

Excellent editoiral. I'm behind you 100%. I hate the originality debate. It's useless. I think the reason this happens is because we have too many cynics in the film film parading as critics and it's killing their ability to enjoy films. The only thing complaining about lack of originality achieves is missing some really great films.

When it comes to films I like to be an optimist: the less I know about the movie the better because, really I think every movie, no matter the talent behind it or the concept has the ability to be great. If one day Miley Cyrus stars in a great movie, I'll be the first one to step up and sing it praise.

This kind of taps into an editorial I plan on writing. I have become sort of disgusted by how many blogs focus on movie trailers because it just makes them jaded and cynical and against movies that, although not original in plot or execution are perfectly servicable otherwise. When did writing about films stop being about loving films of all shapes and forms?

Whatever, let them be happy enjoying their horrible original films like Fight Club, Donnie Darko, The Usual Suspects, Brazil, Dogville and think they are witnessing something profound and moving.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I love Donnie Darko and Dogville, don't care for The Usual Suspects or Brazil, and Fight Club is based on a book, and I also find it enjoyable. I hope Miley gets a film worthy of her talents; she's actually great in The Hannah Montana Movie. And amen on the trailer focus. Must we judge a movie that's not out yet?

James D. said...

With Burton, it seems that most of his adapting is simply adding a mood, which I think is very different from other forms of adaptation. For someone to mention Nolan, the man made most famous by his adaptation of a comic book, seems a little weird, but when you look at Nolan's adaptations, he adds a level to them that others simply do not.

Adaptations, by themselves, are not bad; after all, the novel, in particular, is still where the best prose is found. But the fear, at least for me, is that in one's attempt to remain faithful to the source, they lose some of the drive to say something with their films. An original screenplay, especially one written by the director, is usually full of vision and some sort of message.

It still needs to be noted that many of the greatest films of all times are adaptations. I consider The Godfather Part II the greatest film of all time, and using the originality criteria, it would not hold up (a sequel of an adaptation, oh no!). But having read the original Godfather book, and noting how Coppola and the book's author, Mario Puzo, crafted a very different tale, it becomes their own creation.

So, in summary: an adaptation does not automatically mean uninspired, nor does an original work mean depth, but sometimes it seems to lean that way.

Ross McG said...

Burton's a bad example. all he's done for the past decade is make the same film over and over again. hes turned into Tom Shadyac.
i agree with you on Age of Innocence - prob Scorsese's best. and not a gangster cliche in sight.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jose i know many film schools don't allow adaptations. i suppose i can see the logic, but as you point out all directors weren't made to write their own work and it turns into a situation where adaptations are seen as "inferior", and goddamn it i love my merchant ivory.

luke duly noted. the issue, it seems, is that if it's not an all out completely original concept (and really, what is?) it's "unoriginal".

m. carter there's always that possibility too. some adaptations completely differ from the original and end up being way more "original" (loosely used) that original films.

walter i don't really like donnie darko, but i like the usual suspects...i wanted to mention the afi's top 100, but yeah: exactly what you said.

simon honestly, if the rest of movies being released this year were forster, austen, shakespeare, woolf, miller adaptations i'd be fine with it.

mike YES. movies should be created equal, why does it matter who's concept is more original?
...and fight club is an adaptation...

james i was waiting for someone to bring up the godfather argument, and though i don't particularly love it - duly noted...

ross you're killing me. burton has his issues. I KNOW...but big fish, corpse bride, sweeney todd are not just repetitive...but i'm glad you're with me on the age of innocence - so many hate that film it makes me wonder.