Postmodern Fiction into Popular Film
THEODORE F. SHECKELS
THE TERM 'POSTMODERN,' used heavily in the academic criticism of literature, is not necessarily a concept writers have in mind when they compose a poem or write a novel. Writers do not say to themselves “be postmodern” and proceed accordingly. Nonetheless, because writers are, to varying extents, of an age, something we might term a postmodern aesthetic is evident in their work. Some writers – Canada's Margaret Atwood comes to mind – seem to be rather minimally reflective of this aesthetic; others, such as the American novelist Thomas Pynchon, seem almost exemplars of the postmodern. Australia's Peter Carey, I would suggest, falls closer to the Pynchon end of this spectrum and therein lies the problem of transforming his novels into film. A postmodern film is, of course, possible, but I would suggest that both the medium and the audience's expectations cause film to reflect more comfortably a modern or even a formal realist aesthetic. As a result, the film adaptations of Carey's fiction seem to pull the work away from the postmodern aesthetic and, as a consequence, away from what Carey was positing through its use. The films offer something more modern or realistic, thereby confusing or altering Carey's themes.
Defining 'postmodern' is, of course, a task beyond the compass of a few paragraphs in an essay. Nonetheless, I will offer an operating definition so that my discussion of Carey's fiction and the films based on them is rooted in something more than a vague concept. Then I will proceed, case by case, through the three works of fiction thus far transformed into film: the director Brian Trenchard–Smith's 1986 Dead-End Drive-In, an adaptation of a 1974 short story “Crabs”; Ray Lawrence's 1985 Bliss, an adaptation of Carey's