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Beautiful CliffsNotes

Nov 29, 2007

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When it comes to books and films, I cannot shake the feeling that books are somehow better as an art form — harder to make, more densely layered, a greater commitment of time and energy on the part of the consumer. I know that's probably absurd — a kind of ingrained snobbery that certainly doesn't account for my strong — almost obsessive — desire to see movies that are made from books I've loved. And every once in a while a director with a sure vision will make a movie that's even better then a flawed book. (Peter Jackson really nailed Tolkein — and Anthony Minghella made something both compassionate and coherent out of Ondaatje's English Patient.) Last night I saw Atonement, Joe Wright's movie based on English novelist Ian McEwan's book. I was secretly hoping it would fail. It seemed disloyal to McEwan — a writer who is in my desert island pantheon — to wish that a film could come close to his cleverly crafted book. (Never mind that McEwan is one of the producers.) There were lovely bits, a few strong performances, some really beautiful camera work, and a killer silk dress. And the truth is, even though I felt the movie ultimately failed, I savored every minute of it — it was a bit like watching a really professional karaoke singer perform one of my favorite songs. A beautifully illustrated CliffsNotes version of the book. Last night I was thinking, though, if I really believe that books are better then movies, why do I anticipate these adaptations so much? After all, you can't just listen to Rostropovich playing Bach all your life, even if he is the best — sometimes, you've got to root for another vision. A movie is a chance to experience a novel I've loved all over again, and indulge in a little bit of schadenfreude, too (if it fails). Or maybe I actually am hoping for the film to succeed, that another interpretation will make the book even more dynamic, more conscious, then it was on my bookshelf. Whatever it is, I know I still love these movies — and if anyone out there's got information on the movie version of The Other Boleyn Girl, please tell me. I'm dying to see it.

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