movies

Bookworm Interview: Jonathan Robertson

Want to get to know the BiblioSmiles contributors? Read below to find out more about Jonathan!

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Q: Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less:

I’m a filmmaker in New York. I like The Rockford Files and I listen to a lot of Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon.

Q: What books did you love as a child?:

I learned to read from comic books. My grandfather owned a comic shop in New Jersey in the 80s, and when he closed it in the early 90s, he kept all of his leftover stock, which was about 5,000 books. He wanted to sell them off, but never got around to it, so throughout my childhood, there was always a basement full of comics to read, which he arranged into a mini-comic shop, just for me.

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Q: What kinds of books do you love now?

I started reading Raymond Chandler when I was in high school, and that got me going on a crime fiction kick that’s never really slowed down. From Chandler, I went for Dashiell Hammett, which led to George V. Higgins and Elmore Leonard, plus Erle Stanley Gardner, Jim Thompson, Lawrence Block… Great googly moogly, the list goes on and on.

Extra special shout out to Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker books. Those are some beautiful graphic novels!

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Q: Where’s your favorite place to sit down and read?

Sitting across the couch, probably with my feet up.

Q: Do you set any goals for yourself as a reader?

I try to not read the same authors over and over again. I love finding new ones and old ones that I’ve never encountered before. Just listening to recommendations and wandering through book stores has led me to find things like The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin.

Q: Have you ever met any of your favorite authors? What was that like?

I met Werner Herzog when he was signing Conquest of the Useless. He makes these awe-inspiring, bleak, and often brutal films, but he was so humble and sincere. It was a fantastic experience.

Q: How do you mark your place in a book?

Dog eared pages or the flap of a dust jacket.

Q: What books are you on your “must read” list?

52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog, Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez, Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Q: Here’s a famous question: if you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would you choose and why? Where would you go, and what would they order for dinner?

Tough one… Part of me says “Hemingway,” but I feel like we’d spend the whole meal drinking grappa and talking about him (and he didn’t exactly have a sense of humor, particularly about himself…).

So I think I’d have to go with Elmore Leonard. He always spoke so frankly about writing and the writing process – I’ve always admired his honesty. It’s reflected in his writing as well – there’s nothing extemporaneous in his prose.
We’d hang out, probably in Detroit, at a Tigers game, which means beer and hot dogs all around. I don’t even know if we’d talk about books, but I’m sure it’d be a nice time.

Q: What’s your favorite post you’ve written for BiblioSmiles? What’s your favorite post that someone else has written?

I wrote a piece about books not matching their cinematic counterparts, and how that should be expected and even celebrated – you can read it here.

And I’m a sucker for the Anatomy of a Bookshelf series. I love getting a glimpse into someone’s personality via their bookshelf.

Jonathan Robertson is a New York based filmmaker who will never be as cool as Steve McQueen. And that crushes him. But he still tries. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @itsjonrobertson for musings on film, literature, and occasionally Mexican food.

Books Aren’t Movies… And That’s Okay

[Editor’s note: I’m so pleased to welcome a fellow SUNY Purchase alum, Jonathan, to BiblioSmiles! Read his awesome piece on books and movies below, and be sure to follow him on Twitter: @itsjonrobertson.]

In the 1960s, crime novelist James M. Cain was interviewed by a fledgling reporter who asked “What do you think of what Hollywood has done to your books?” Cain had sold the rights to many of his novels (Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity) to movie studios, dating back to the 1940s. Cain replied:

“They haven’t done anything to my books. They’re right there on the shelf. They’re fine.”

For as long as cinema has existed, filmmakers have used literature for narrative source material. It makes sense, really – both can easily contain plot, story, and character. And there’s an added sense of security for a film studio to invest in an adaptation of a best selling book because the source material provides both a solid story foundation as well as a built-in audience.

Even if the film adaptation doesn’t fare well, there is still a devoted group who will head straight to their local cinema on opening night to spend a few hours with characters and a story they love, made from a new perspective at twenty four frames per second.

No matter how faithful or derivative the adaptation proves to be, you’ll no doubt hear (or even say yourself) “The book was so much better. They left out so much.” Or “[Character] was nothing like what I imagined. Horrible casting!”

But I think that part of the reason for this reaction is that film and prose literature are so completely different in how they are experienced.

Viewing a film is a shared experience, brought to you by a group of filmmakers and artists who are telling a story to an entire room of people munching popcorn. It’s a great experience, but how can it even be compared to reading, which is so often a quiet, isolated experience?
The answer is: It can’t.

So I’d argue that one should never be disappointed about the translation of a novel onto the silver screen – rather, one should approach the film knowing that it’s another artist’s tribute to the source material.

Let’s take a look at The Shining, which was written by Stephen King in 1977, and adapted to film in 1980 and to TV in 1997. When you read The Shining, you’re experiencing the characters and a story via a one-on-one translation from the author to you. The words spoken by the characters, the details, the story – all are being related to you by the author himself. Any details that your mind fills in (the appearance of a character or their voice, for instance) are yours alone.

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But when you see the 1980 film you’re experiencing the story through the following people:
Stanley Kubrick, who directed the film and wrote the screenplay with
Diane Johnson.
John Alcott, who shot the film with
Ted Churchill operating the Steadicam rig.
Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, and Danny Lloyd, playing the family in peril.
And Ray Lovejoy, who edited the film.

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And those are just the principal cast and crew. There were dozens of others involved in the production of the film, and dozens more involved in the marketing and distribution of the it. So it’s meritless to be disappointed with the film because it didn’t give you the same or a similar experience as a book because in reality, they’re two completely separate entities.

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Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut once engaged in a book-length conversation on cinema and art (published as Hitchcock/Truffaut – a brilliant read), in which Truffaut asked about Hitchcock’s approach to adapting literature. Hitchcock said:

“What I do is to read a story only once, and if I like the basic idea, I just forget all about the book and start to create cinema. Today I would be unable to tell you’re the story of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds. I read it only once, and very quickly at that.”

A book exists unto itself, and attempting to adapt it as closely as possible is ultimately a fruitless endeavor because the film will never in two hours, accomplish what a book can in two hundred pages. And that’s alright – they’re completely different. Literature and Cinema are separate mediums, each with their own possibilities, many of which they don’t share with each other.

So the next time one of your favorite books finds its way on to the silver screen, when they miscast a character so horribly that you cringe, or they change the ending to allow for a sequel, remember:

That book is still on your shelf, and it’s fine.

Jonathan Robertson is a New York based filmmaker who will never be as cool as Steve McQueen. And that crushes him. But he still tries. Feel free to follow him on twitter @itsjonrobertson for musings on film, literature, and occasionally Mexican food.

14 Times We Liked the Movie Better

“The book was waaay better,” he said, pushing his glasses up his nose with his index finger.

We have all been that person. Many, many times. So it may be our unpopular opinion to share with you these handful of times that the contributors of BiblioSmiles truly preferred the film iteration of some seriously classic novels. Credit goes to Editor Danielle Villano, Ed Collins, Andrew Marinaccio, Samantha Yellin, and Kim Whitehead. Bonus points for guessing who wrote what.

pnpPride and Prejudice (2005) vs. Pride and Prejudice (1813)

This declaration will probably get a lot of hate because “Jane Austen is literary canon,” but if given the choice between reading the book again or watching the movie, gravitating towards the 2005 adaptation by Joe Wright is much more appealing. This atmospheric movie starring Keira Knightley as the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as the vain Mr. Darcy has all of the emotionally-charged scenes and beautiful English countryside of Austen’s 1813 novel, but it only takes two hours and fifteen minutes to get through.

wizardThe Wizard of Oz (1939) vs. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

Did you know this was a book? If you’re reading this blog, you might, but it’s not totally common knowledge. Major differences between the two include the Ruby Slippers originally being silver shoes, the movie turning the story into a dream, and just far fewer complicated characters and plot lines than in the long and sometimes confusing novel. Originally titled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, author L. Frank Baum was literally bullied into writing 13 sequels by his adoring, if demanding, young fans. Trust me, it shows. The movies made this adventure into a consumable fantasy and also made the right decision to stop at one.

fightclubFight Club (1999) vs. Fight Club (1996)

Oh man. I mean, the obvious mention here is that even Fight Club’s author, Chuck Palahniuk, has famously tipped his hat to David Fincher’s film being better. Admittedly, I watched the movie well before I read the book. I don’t think I read the book until freshman year of college, and by then I’d already fallen in love with the film and added Edward Norton to my list of “people I will leave my future husband for.” But the book suffers from a lack of visual clues that the movie lays out brilliantly, and the dark grittiness of the film just isn’t there in the book, or at least isn’t there as strongly. I love the movie, but I really just sorta liked the book.

gonewithwindGone with the Wind (1939) vs. Gone with the Wind (1936) 

The movie version of Gone with the Wind is just as sweeping and epic as Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. However, the chemistry between the saucy Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivien Leigh) and the debonair Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) does its best work on the screen. They smolder as Atlanta burns behind them.

neverletmeNever Let Me Go (2010) vs. Never Let Me Go (2005) 

The film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s beloved novel drew many criticisms for the changes it made. The film version was less concerned with the central mystery of the novel and instead was a character study with subtle science fiction elements, becoming more drama than science fiction.

shiningThe Shining (1980) vs. The Shining (1977)

While Stephen King was disappointed in Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel, stating that Kubrick overlooked the novel’s major themes, Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of The Shining is now seen as one of the best horror movies of all time. While it was hard to make a decision between the book and the movie, the effectiveness of the method acting by the actors involved (against their will? Maybe…) makes for a spooky watch that will stay with you forever.

clockworkA Clockwork Orange (1971) vs. A Clockwork Orange (1962) 

A perfect storm of Stanley Kubrick’s direction, Malcolm McDowell’s performance, and impeccable art design soared this film ahead of the Anthony Burgess novel. The film also gets props for eschewing the novels relatively happy epilogue.

jawsJaws (1975) vs. Jaws (1974)

This Spielberg classic, based on the Peter Benchley novel, has inspired a fear of the ocean in many a movie-goer. While the novel was given mixed reviews based on its lacking characterization, the movie remains memorable for its iconic lines, suspenseful theme music, and, of course – its frightening shark.

lotrLord of the Rings (2001) vs. Lord of the Rings (1954)

And now for the world’s most unpopular opinion: I like the movies better. It’s close, but it’s there. Before you ask, these books were the first “grown-up” books I ever read. And I have read them since then; repeatedly, actually. But nothing beats sitting down and watching the Beacons of Gondor get lit on a huge screen. I do love the books. I find the form, style and poeticism fascinating. Tolkien was an amazing writer, and I appreciate everything he and his peers have done for a genre that is a huge part of my life. But if you hold a gun to my head and make me choose between reading another song and watching Legolas showboat at Helm’s Deep…that face is going to win, every time. In all seriousness, I like the books. But the spectacle of the movies is just too much for me to pass up.

notebookThe Notebook (2004) vs. The Notebook (1966)

As far as Nicholas Sparks adaptations go, it doesn’t get much better than the movie that won Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss. Sparks’ debut novel, written in 1996, was reviewed positively but called “an epic of treacle” by Kirkus. While Sparks churns out novels (and, in turn, the movies keep coming), it’s this sugary-sweet, romantic movie that withstands the test of time.

girlwiththedragonThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) vs. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / Män som hatar kvinnor or, Men Who Hate Women (2005)

David Fincher’s 2011 film starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig breathes highly-stylized life into the late Stieg Larsson’s Swedish crime novel. Rooney Mara’s portrayal of the hardened Lisbeth Salander received critical acclaim.

bladerunnerBlade Runner (1982) vs. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

This one I feel bad about, because in all fairness, Blade Runner is almost (almost) unrecognizable from the book it came from. And here’s where I get a little uncertain: I really, really liked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But I just have to like the film more. It’s in no small part to the casting, Harrison Ford makes an amazing Deckard, Rutger Hauer has an amazing screen presence. But the decision to move the film away from discussing Mercerism and more into “he’s gotta retire these androids” really helped with following along. I was never really in love with the ending of the book, but the ambiguity (depending on who you talk to) of the film’s ending hits all the right chords for me.

apocolypseApocalypse Now (1979) vs. Heart of Darkness (1899)

While not a straight-forward adaptation, Apocalypse Now is heavily inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s novella, a frame story set in Central Africa, tells a powerful story but distances the reader. Francis Ford Coppola’s film updates the story by bringing the action into the Vietnam War, and there’s nothing more powerful than Marlon Brando’s whispered “The horror, the horror.” In 2000, the film was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.

225278id1g_HP7_27x40_1Sheet.inddHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) vs. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

Deathly Hallows was a meditative and dreadful beginning, as well as a lesson for young readers on how a series can change to reveal new insights on familiar characters. On film, the wilderness feels more aimless with murky wide-angle shots of Swinley Forest and gray Welsh beaches to match the trios’ growing pains. It was also a chance for the three leads to express their characters in a reflective, less magical way, finishing what Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of The Prisoner of Azkaban started. Part 1 turned the series into a proper British drama without diluting the source material’s whimsy. Plus it features a dance montage set to “O Children,” securing the mood with a little help from the true Dark Lord.

[Readers: Do you agree with us?  Did we make you angry? Can the movie EVER be better than the book, or do we have it all wrong? What other books/movies should make the list?  Let us know in the comments below… or, better yet, write us a post! Read about submitting to BiblioSmiles here.]

How Reading Helped Me Discover a Society of Screenwriters

Storytelling is everything to me. It is what has so naturally brought together my love of books with my love of movies. Throughout the years I’ve developed immense respect for writers from both mediums, but in assessing my favorites notices a distinct trend. I could refer to my beloved female authors by name. I could not, however, name more than two female screenwriters of any note. This seemed strange to me. Though I’d always known men to get more credit in the movie industry, surely there had to be something I was missing. And there was. Through my search I discovered a collection of diverse and fascinating screenwriters. Here are just some of those incredible ladies.

“I spent my whole life searching for a man to look up to without lying down.” -Frances Marion

Frances Marion
Born: November 18, 1888 (United States)
Died: May 12, 1973

The first woman to win at the Academy Awards for screenwriting and the first person, male or female, to do so twice, Frances Marion’s work includes The Flapper (1920), The Wind (1928), The Big House (1930), Secrets (1932), The Champ (1932), Dinner for Eight (1933). She wrote nearly two hundred films and was known during her time as the highest paid screenwriter in the business.

Sarah Y. Mason
Born: March 31, 1896 (United States)
Died: November 28, 1980

Sarah Y. Mason is a classic screenwriter from early cinema, having worked on many adaptations of literary works. Prominent in the 1930s, she wrote the screenplays for Stella Dallas (1937) and Golden Boy (1939), among others.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Born: May 7, 1927 (Germany)
Died: April 3, 2013

An acclaimed novelist and winner of the Booker Prize, Jhabvala began her career as a screenwriter in the 1960s. Over the course of her life she lived in Germany, England, and New Dehli. She won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1986 for A Room With a View and in 1992 for Howards End. Many of her screenplays were adapted from classic literature, including the works of Henry James and E.M. Forrester. These works look in particular at class and social structure.

Laura Lau
Born: March 31, 1963 (United States)

While it is perhaps more common to see women that act and write screenplays or direct and write screenplays, Laura Lau began her career as a screenwriter, producer, and cinematographer. She worked not as a writer, but as a cinematographer on her second film Open Water (2003), and she served as director and screenwriter for her third feature, Silent House (2011). Lau’s work consistently sets the stage for small casts in increasingly dire situations, such as the couple stranded in the ocean in Open Water, or the real-time account of a girl terrorized in a seemingly empty house in Silent House, which is an adaptation of the Uruguayan film.

Adrienne Shelly
Born: June 24, 1966 (United States)
Died: November 1, 2006

Shelly’s career was rooted in independent filmmaking. As a screenwriter, director, and actress, her works include Sudden Manhattan (1996) and Waitress (2007). Her works often focused on the gritty, occasionally humorous struggles of couples and women. Sadly her career was cut short when she was murdered in 2006 before the release of her last two films.

Sarah Treem
Born: 1980 (United States)

Though known primarily for her work as a playwright, Sarah Treem is indeed a dialogical force when it comes to emotional depth and character development. She wrote fifteen episodes of In Treatment in 2008 that dealt with a young woman struggling with cancer and unresolved family issues. In 2013 she wrote two episodes of the acclaimed series House of Cards. She is also set to adapt the screenplay for the upcoming film Until I Say Goodbye.

Since the 1930s these women and others like them have been making lasting impressions in cinema, changing the landscape of film and telling stories as unique as some of the world’s most compelling literature. So next time you watch a movie – go ahead, see who wrote it. You might be surprised.

Emily Ruth Verona received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from The State University of New York at Purchase. She is the recipient of the 2014 Pinch Literary Award in Fiction and a 2014 Jane Austen Short Story Award Finalist. Previous publication credits include work featured in Read. Learn. Write., Fifty Word Stories, The Toast, Popmatters, Bibliosmiles, and Enstars. She lives in New Jersey with a rather small dog. For more, go to: http://www.emilyruthverona.com.