Saturday, September 26, 2009

Let Us Now Praise Stephanie Harrison: Adaptionatrix Extraordinaire

As you may, or may not know, adaptation of fiction to film is one of my dark loves; hell, I’m researching a book about it! How to adapt, whether to adapt, is it possible to adapt: all these, and other questions related to the topic of adaptation keep me up a night (literally!), along with my cat, Petie, who randomly bites me when I’m not looking and then scuttles under something low to the ground so I can't throw his hairy ass out the window. But, I digress.

In my nocturnal stumblings, I fell upon Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen, by Stephanie Harrison. This is a gem of a book. Okay, it came out three years ago, but it’s still a must read book for anyone who writes short stories interested in adaptation, and certainly for screenwriters interested in honing their skills. The only “bad” part of the book is that Stephanie doesn’t include a long enough introduction, but The Directors chapter kind of makes up for it. I just wanted to hear more about what she had to say about the stories, their authors, the process of moving great fiction from page to screen, etc. Her writing is unpretentious and enlivening. The stories are the most wonderful and eclectic mix of prose imaginable, and thoroughly delightful:
  • Blow-Up by Julio Cotazar, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966.
  • It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich, Rear Window directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954.
  • The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1968.
  • Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox, Stagecoach, directed by John Ford in 1939.
  • A Reputation by Richard Edward Connell, Meet John Doe, directed by Frank Capra in 1949.
  • In the Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Roshomon, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1951.
  • Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa by W.P. Kinsella, Field of Dreams, directed by Phil Robinson in 1989.
Just to name a few!

In just one of many wonderful examples, Harrison describes the amazing collaboration between Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick over the adaptation of Clark’s The Sentinel into 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rather than immediately writing a screenplay from the short story, they both decided to write a novel of it first. Kubrick felt a screenplay was, “ … about the least ideal way of communicating information, especially if it’s visual or emotional … ” They ended up with what Kubrick later called a “fifty-thousand word prose ‘thing.’” They ended up writing the novel and screenplay in tandem, in a kind of race.

What a treat to read the original sources of some of our favorite movies. And, as Stephanie points out in her introduction, “Reading the story that inspired a beloved movie is a little like meeting your mother-in-law for the first time: It’s never less than a revelation.” And how, sister.

I’m trying to track Stephanie down to do an interview with her about this book. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, buy this book and have fun. I sure did/am.

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