Adapt This




The current issue of BookForum explores the sometime murky world of adaption with a wonderful cross-section of contributions, including shorter essays by writers and filmmakers like Alexander Payne, James Ivory, Elmore Leonard, and Frederic Raphael detailing their experiences with adaptation.

Phillip Lopate opens the issue with a rumination of the various intersections of fiction and film:

Film adaptations are like biographies, in that even if the writer

starts out sympathetic toward the subject, a time may come when

deference turns to hostility, by having to live in such close,

subservient contact with another intelligence.


Then there are those delightful, thoughtful reflections, like this one from Barry Gifford, discussing how an errant line from one of his works wound up inspiring David Lynch's Lost Highway, which he co-wrote with Lynch:

"David once explained the effect he was after: ‘You know that feeling you get when you've just gotten back from the dry cleaners a pair of slacks, Dacron slacks, and you reach your hand in a pocket, and you feel those fuzzy sandwiches with your fingers? Well, that's the feeling I'm looking for.' I just nodded and replied, ‘OK, Dave, I know exactly what you mean.' I kept this incident in mind while he and I sat across from each other and puzzled out the scenario for Lost Highway, which I like to call Orpheus and Eurydice Meet Double Indemnity. We made it work – at least for each other – and I love the result, fuzzy sandwiches and all."


If you're at all curious if any of your favorite adaptations are discussed, there are lists from various critics and writers including Francine Prose, Stephanie Zacharek, Robert Polito, Luc Sante and Armond White.

How does your top five compare with Sante's?:

GREED (Erich von Stroheim, 1924) We'll never know the splendor of its original fortyseven reels, but the ten we have left are pretty spectacular. Where Norris's novel McTeague is a patient enumeration of consequences, Stroheim's picture is a raging fever dream.

NANA (Jean Renoir, 1926) Zola's novel anticipates the movies in many ways, although most would require camera stunts-such as liquid shifts between close-up and deep focus- not available in the silent era. Still, Renoir translates the book with a tonal exactitude that would be impossible for anyone else.

THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY (G. W. Pabst, 1927) A future Nazi tool adapting a novel by a future Stalinist tool (Ilya Ehrenberg)-this hardly sounds like the makings of one of the most visually ravishing movies ever, but so it is. It helps if you ignore the nonsensical plot.

BIGGER THAN LIFE (Nicholas Ray, 1956) Berton Roueché was the New Yorker's medical chronicler, and his account ("Ten Feet Tall") of a case of temporary insanity caused by cortisone and ACTH poisoning was turned by Ray into his most corrosive-and hallucinatory-portrait of American family life.

POINT BLANK (John Boorman, 1967) Boorman took a tough, stripped-down revenge thriller (The Hunter, by Richard Stark, one of Donald Westlake's pseudonyms) and added psychedelia, TVcommercial imagery, and consumer-culture fatalism to make the preeminent American New Wave film- but just how many of those were there?