The Accidental Tourist on Page and on Screen: Interrogating Normative Theories about Film Adaptation

By Kline, Karen E | Literature/Film Quarterly, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Accidental Tourist on Page and on Screen: Interrogating Normative Theories about Film Adaptation


Kline, Karen E, Literature/Film Quarterly


The issue of adaptation has long been a salient one among film critics for quite practical reasons, as Dudley Andrew has observed:

The making of a film out of an earlier text is virtually as old as the machinery of cinema itself. Well over half of all commercial films have come from literary originals, though by no means all of these originals are revered or respected. (10)

While a diverse range of literary genres has spawned film adaptations, the novel has been by far the most popular written source throughout the history of the cinema. Morris Beja estimates that in the typical year, about 30 percent of American movies are based on novels. And among the films that have won either the Academy Award or the New York Film Critics Award for "Best Picture" since 1935, the largest proportion have been film adaptations of novels (Beja 78).

In light of the important role novels have played in service to filmmaking, then, it is not surprising that, when faced with the prospect of evaluating a film based on a novel, critics often ground their judgments in assessments of the effectiveness of the adaptation. Yet, it is not uncommon to find contradictory evaluations of the same film, with one critic judging the adaptation successful while another deems it a failure. Some might argue that such disagreement simply illustrates the utter subjectivity of criticism; however, I contend that these differences in judgment stem from the critics' adoption of differing paradigms for evaluating the film adaptation.

In this essay, I examine four prominent paradigms concerning film adaptation that are at work in contemporary academic criticism, and I explore the limits and possibilities of discourse that each paradigm permits, using the film adaptation of Anne Tyler's novel The Accidental Tourist to illustrate. It is not my purpose to conclude that one particular paradigm is necessarily best, for such a judgment would ignore a complexity of factors that mitigate in the individual case, including the linguistic qualities of the specific novel and the socio-historical circumstances of the film's creation. Rather, this essay is an attempt to re-configure the critical discourse about film adaptation, by pointing to the assumptions behind the critic's adoption of a particular paradigm and the constraints upon critical commentary that result from that decision.

Four Critical Paradigms of Film Adaptation .

The first and perhaps oldest paradigm applied by critics in their evaluations of film adaptations might be called the "translation" paradigm. A critic adopting this perspective judges the film's effectiveness primarily in terms of its "fidelity" to the novel, particularly with regard to narrative elements, such as character, setting, and theme. Dudley Andrew refers to this as the film remaining faithful to the "letter" of the text (12). Michael Klein and Gillian Parker have argued that this criterion is a viable basis for evaluation, even though, as countless theorists have noted, omissions from the novel are inevitable in the film adaptation:

There has to be a good deal of selection and condensation when a novel... is transposed into a film of roughly two hours: scenes have to be cut, minor characters simplified or eliminated, subplots dispensed with. But this need not exclude fidelity to the main thrust of the narrative, to the author's central concerns, to the natures of the major characters, to the ambiance of the novel, and, what is perhaps most important, to the genre of the source. (9)

The criterion of fidelity is often articulated explicitly in critics' evaluations of film adaptations. For example, Constance Spiedel judged the film Terms of Endearment, directed by James L. Brooks, a poor adaptation because the film significantly changes one of the novel's primary characters:

James L. Brooks has proved once again that a successful film does not need to be a faithful adaptation, but Terms of Endearment raises the question, why bother to adapt? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Accidental Tourist on Page and on Screen: Interrogating Normative Theories about Film Adaptation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.