I’ll be hosting tonight’s Writing Salon at the Hospital Club on the topic of From Page to Screen. Here’s the blurb that went out with the invitation. I hope to see you there.
“Very roughly, the book will be about the influence of a first wife on a second, until wife 2 is haunted day and night… a tragedy is looming very close and crash! Bang! Something happens.”
This is how Daphne Du Maurier outlined her idea for Rebecca, her towering 1938 novel. As you may know the book was adapted into a film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1940. It was produced by David O. Selznick, who was fresh from major success with Gone With The Wind, and it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is, staggeringly, the only Oscar-winning film Hitchcock made.
There are several examples of Best Picture winners that started life as best-selling novels. My favourites are No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, In the Heat of the Night by John Ball, The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy by Robin Moore, and of course Rebecca.
On Monday I’d like us to examine this in more detail. Filmmakers are turning to books in ever increasing numbers and this is having a hugely positive impact on book sales. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter last year, Reece Witherspoon shone a light on the work her own production company Pacific Standard does in bringing novels to the silver screen. Her company’s recent film credits include Gone Girl and Wild. It is clear that already successful books become even more successful when they get the Hollywood treatment.
There are books that it seems impossible to imagine as films. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was a good example until Ang Lee proved that it was absolutely possible. But what impact does a film version have on the original text? Does it make the text better (Fifty Shades of Grey) or is it simply a pale comparison… you’ll have plenty of your own examples of this.
So, on Monday, please bring along your favourite examples of books that have made successful transitions, books that should never have attempted to be films and books that you either want to see on screen, or desperately hope never make it. Perhaps you feel that some things should remain as they were originally conceived. You may also feel though that it is impossible to imagine the books without the film. I certainly feel this way about The Hunger Games.
It’s not just film of course. TV is getting in on the act in a big way. Over the weekend I’d like you to think of the best and worst examples of transitions from book to screen. I’d also like you to bring in a passage from a book that you think outlines why the transition was good or bad.
I’ll start us off by offering an example of a book that would have been consigned to the scrapheap if it weren’t for the remarkable film version it spawned. French film director François Truffaut famously said “out of the worst crime novel I ever read, Jules Dassin has made the best crime film I’ve ever seen.” All will be revealed on Monday.
I’ll leave you with this statistic. Rebecca was published in 1938. It still sells 4,000 copies a month. A month!