My Movie List – Clara Jacob
Clara Jacob reads books. And writes copy. And raises kids. And leads boards. And lots of other really impressive stuff. She helped me break into the ad biz and now resides with some fancy title at Insight Marketing Design here in Sioux Falls. Everything I’ve learned about copy has come from two sources – old DDB VW ads and Clara Jacob.
Good Books Made Into Movies That Suck
I’ll admit it. This is an easy list to make because I think most movie versions of books suck. It started with the transformation of Winnie-the-Pooh from a respectable British bear into just another cutesy, wiggly-butted Disney cartoon character.
I love movies. But I love books more. I saw a production of Jane Eyre at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis recently. It was fine, but as my dad noted, it’s not like we’ve run out of material for plays. Why not tell a different story?
Same with movies. Stop reading books and thinking, “that would make a great movie.” Come up with something new. Like The Matrix. Or do what was done with Adaptation, which I notice Corey praised earlier. It’s self-reflective, inventive and original. It took a book and used the unique properties of film to create something better and different.
No, I don’t hate all book-into-movie transformations. O Brother, Where Art Thou is a great movie loosely derived from a great book, Homer’s Odyssey. Speaking of the marvelous Coen brothers, I also like No Country for Old Men. The movie stays true to the book but frankly, it’s easier to understand. The Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig really comes alive in the wonderful film with Raul Julia and William Hurt. And Minority Report, which was an average short story, became a really cool flick.
So, back to good books made into movies that suck.
1. The Hours
Michael Cunningham’s book was achingly beautiful in pace, language and subject matter. Much of that type of aching beauty simply cannot be captured in a movie. Especially with Nicole and her Nose, which were distracting, to say the least.
No surprise here. I think the movie was so awful that it’s made people avoid the book, which is too bad. It’s an incredible novel. Some things just work better in books. Like characters who are ghosts. And writing so breathtakingly stunning it makes you cry.
3. Under the Volcano
Malcolm Lowry’s classic stream-of-drunken-consciousness novel is so clearly not appropriate for film. The great majority of the action (if you can call it that) takes place inside the head of the protagonist/antagonist. What were they thinking? Or smoking? Or drinking?
4. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Likewise. The point of the book is the outrageous style and character of Hunter S. Thompson. I followed his work in Rolling Stone and found him hilarious. He gives a whole new meaning to truth in reporting. But as a movie subject? The whole idea is that he wrote it down. I noticed one of Corey’s guests put this on his list of fave movies…sorry. I did like Johnny Depp, of course (shout out to Roberta).
Nothing against Brad Pitt, but the Iliad is grand, weighty, colossal, magnificent. No movie could do it justice. It’s like trying to make a movie of the entire Bible. It’s just not going to work. It’s going to look small and inconsequential.
6. Everything Is Illuminated
Here we have a fabulously funny and sad novel that’s exceptionally well written, by Jonathan Safran-Foer. Written being the key word. Not filmed. Enter Frodo and it’s all downhill from there. Did they do anything right in this film? I think they were selling the DVDs at discount rates the first week they came out. As with Beloved, I’m concerned that this sorry movie will discourage people from reading the book.
7. Handmaid’s Tale
This powerful and increasingly frightening book by the great and prolific Margaret Atwood was sadly diminished on film. It’s hard to hang onto one’s own visualizations of a book after seeing someone else’s. I loved the novel and I imagined it just perfectly. For me.
A.S. Byatt’s novel is partly about writing. It was so nice to discover a love story I actually liked. The story just didn’t turn out to be compelling once it was a movie. Note to filmmakers: writing as a topic is not all that riveting on film.
9. The French Lieutenant’s Woman
This goes back a ways, but the wrongness of the film really stuck with me. For those of you who’ve never read it, John Fowles’ novel had more than one ending, which is one of the reasons it was a distinctive book. Who thought that would make a good movie?
10. Bastard Out Of Carolina
Can’t people just leave things alone? The movie wasn’t terrible, but Dorothy Allison’s book rips a hole in your chest largely because of the raw, innocent character of the first person narrator. Seeing Bone on screen isn’t the same as reading her, feeling her, becoming her. In the movie, her story is strong but average. In the book, her story is exceptional, one-in-a-million.
Lessons to be learned? First – no more movies about writing. Second – use the medium to communicate in ways that books can’t. After all – we have so little time – and so many stories to tell.