Saturday, May 10, 2008

Larry McMurtry on the short story in film

I’ve read almost nothing by McMurtry, who I quoted yesterday. Not Lonesome Dove or any of his novels. I love the movie based on his screenplay The Last Picture Show.

The one thing that I have read, I highly recommend for any writing geeks who are interested in the technicalities of adapting literature for film. It’s a book called Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry, and Diana Ossana, and it collects the original short story by Proulx, the screenplay by McMurtry and Ossana and an essay on how they did they adaptation.

I was interested in this book partly because I thought the movie was brilliant and partly to look for evidence of a theory I have had for many years about making film out of literature.

Essentially, I think that the short story lends itself a lot better to film adaptations than novels do. I think short stories as a form have a lot more in common with film in how they treat character and thematic development. For example, the short story relies on gesture more emphatically than novels do, and that’s better imitated in the arts of the cinematographer and the actor.

Every book lover has had the experience of being disappointed by how the film of their favorite novel turned out. Even when it’s a pretty good movie on its own terms, so much is compromised—tons of narration and scene setting and back story and so on.

I can’t think of so many great movies based on great novels. But I can think of great movies based on short stories. Brokeback Mountain is one. Home for the Holidays is my favorite example. Let me know what you think.

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