It's a contentious week for adaptations of classic books. The trailer for Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby is dividing fans. News of another attempt at filming A Confederacy of Dunces has been met rather cynically (will it really happen?). And Walter Salles' take on Jack Kerouac's On the Road just premiered at Cannes, where it seems to have underwhelmed most critics (at least the experts at San Francisco's Beat Museum love it). And let's not even get into the disappointment of What to Expect When You're Expecting.
Debates on adaptation are as old as cinema itself, I think, and the issue will always be circumstantial. But while we all have favorite books we'd like to see translated for the screen, we also have favorite books we'd rather never be made into a movie. This might be because the book is considered unfilmable [most of Vonnegut, for me] or because it would go against the wishes of an author and/or a character (a la The Catcher in the Rye] or simply because it would ruin our imagined picture of the characters and story.
I'm a big proponent for storytellers choosing the best medium for each story and sticking to it. That doesn't mean some stories can't exist on page and screen, especially if they take advantage of each medium employed for something independently necessary and appreciable. But for the most part I tend to like books that don't make great movies (Lolita; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series) and movies that don't make great books (silent comedies; anything with visuals too spectacular to put into words).
My pick for the one book that should never be adapted is the popular choice: The Catcher in the Rye, which I don't even like as a book. I'd like it even less as a movie.
Here's a recent video of BBC critic Mark Kermode going through unfilmable novels, which Twitter follower @SongWarmonger sent me in response to this discussion topic:
And here are some other answers I received on Twitter:
On The Road :( - @Emerald1234S
Dark Tower. Just leave it the f*ck alone. - @TheTrueBrendanF
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt - @johnneyred
It's a toss-up: The Catcher in the Rye or A Confederacy of Dunces. - @jbdcampbell
Blood Meridian - @Clumsy_Monster
House of Leaves - @BradMcHargue
Tietam Brown by Mick Foley - @JoeyMagidson
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, from Guimarães Rosa, a brazilian author that should NEVER be TRANSLATED. If u allow me a poor comparison, it's like someone tries to make a movie out of James Joyce's Ulysses. It's a pathetic effort. - @rkatyara
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. And/or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. - @jessecarp
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. - @kateyrich
Follow me on Twitter @thefilmcynic for the next discussion poll.