Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

IMAGINING THE WRITTEN WORD: Adaptation in the Work of Bruce McDonald and Nick Craine

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

IMAGINING THE WRITTEN WORD: Adaptation in the Work of Bruce McDonald and Nick Craine

Article excerpt

Résumé: En analysant les transpositions filmiques et graphiques que le cinéaste Bruce McDonald et le cartooniste Nick Craine ont réalisé des textes littéraires Dance Me Outside de W.P. Kinsella et Hard Core Logo de Michael Turner, l'auteur réfute la critique habituelle de l'adaptation qui la dénigre comme simple emprunt dérivatif. Le cliché selon lequel le cinéma gagne une certaine légitimité en s'inspirant de sources littéraires est démenti par une étude des différents processus par lesquels les films et les bandes dessinées utilisent des techniques formelles qui leur sont propres pour réinterpréter le matériel original.

Despite the fact that adaptations of literary texts have historically comprised a massive portion of narrative filmmaking, the study of adaptations has rarely generated excitement within the community of film scholars. The reticence to approach this topic may stem from common assumptions that there is something inherently wrong with cinematic adaptations. Indeed, filmic adaptations of novels are frequently found wanting by both literary and film critics. George Bluestone, one of the earliest critics to engage with the subject, decries the process because he found that the destruction of the source text is "inevitable."1 Bluestone privileges the novel over the film because the latter is seen to lack the type of media-specific form that is central to modernist ideologies of art practice. Approaching the topic from a diametrically opposite view-point, Vachel Lindsay argues against literary adaptations because they are seen to minimize film's uniqueness.2

Both arguments stem from a common modernist aesthetic that helped to frame discussions about adaptations along dualistic lines: literature vs. film, high vs. low, and original vs. derivative. The tendency for most commentators on the question has been to side with the literary, which was consecrated as original and innovative, particularly in the face of rising post-World War II concerns about the impact of mass communication technologies such as the cinema. Scholars like Hannah Arendt approach the debate from the position that mass culture threatens the full-scale destruction of the Western literary heritage:

Those who produce for the mass media ransack the entire range of past and present culture in the hope of finding suitable material. This material, however, cannot be offered as it is; it must be prepared and altered in order to become entertaining.... The danger is...precisely that it may become very entertaining indeed; there are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect, but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.3

Arendt's preference for oblivion and neglect over adaptation is an extreme articulation of the highbrow perspective, yet it is not entirely atypical. Central to all typologies of adaptations-from Geoffrey Wagner's transposition, analogy and commentary,4 to Dudley Andrew's borrowing, intersecting and transforming5is the notion of fidelity. From that seed, concerns about the betrayal of literary source materials seem inevitably to grow. Defenders of cinema have attempted to shift the terrain of the debate over time by highlighting the deficiencies of the anti-adaptation discourse, but for the most part the high/low dualism that denigrates film in relationship to literature has proved an awkward trap to escape.

More contemporary thinkers on the subject of adaptation have refrained the discussion by dismissing the fidelity question altogether. Robert Stam, for example, dismisses the question of fidelity because of the way it inscribes the superiority of literature as a given.6 Rather than addressing the question through the lens of translation, Stam approaches the issue as one of intertextual dialogism. Stam writes that "film adaptation can be seen as a kind of multileveled negotiation of intertexts. …

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