Last month, as James Cameron's AVATAR seemingly swept into every cinema in the world, determined to show us what the smurfs might have looked like if they were taller and the smurfettes had proper breasts, the movie of THE NEW DAUGHTER crept out on limited release. Starring Kevin Costner and Ivana Baquero, it's based on a short story (a very short story) that first appeared in the NOCTURNES collection some years ago. I still haven't seen it, which is a pretty good metaphor for the position of the writer of the source material for a movie. Generally speaking, the novelist or short story writer upon whose work the film is based is required to do little more than take the check and keep quiet, unless, of course, he has been drawn into adapting his own work, in which case he will actually have to earn that check instead of merely banking it and leaving the hard work to someone else.
It's odd seeing something with which one is at once both intimately, and peripherally, involved make its way into the world. I wanted the film to do well, mainly for the sake of all those who were responsible for its creation. The success, or otherwise, of the film was never going to make a great difference to my sales, I don't think, given that it was a short story, not a novel, that provided the initial idea, but my brief glimpse of the moviemaking process showed me just how many people have to work phenomenally hard for a film to make it as far as the screen. Some of those involved with THE NEW DAUGHTER had worked on Polanski's CHINATOWN and Michael Mann's MANHUNTER, among others, and they applied themselves just as willingly to our little film as they did to those fine works. I wonder if, while making those movies, the crew and the producers knew how good they were going to be. I suspect that they might have had some inkling, but it could not have been more than that. History determines what is and is not of value. It requires the passage of time to allow a perspective to emerge on a book, or a film, or a painting.
Even if I had seen THE NEW DAUGHTER, I'm not sure that I would comment upon it. In a way, I feel that it's not for me to do so, and I get annoyed when I see writers either criticizing films of their work, or basking in the acclaim when those works are applauded. Bad books have made good movies, and vice versa. I'm currently reading the director Bruce Beresford's book JOSH HARTNETT DEFINITELY WANTS TO DO THIS, a diary of his attempts to get various movies made during the last decade, and some of the most interesting moments concern the tension between source material and scripts, as Beresford picks up on flaws in novels that might present difficulties on the screen but are less problematical for the individual reader. Sometimes, when it comes to movies, I think books and short stories are merely concepts, ideas scribbled at varying lengths on pieces of paper. The two art forms, literature and cinema, are so distinct that the relationship between source and film is tenuous at best. THE NEW DAUGHTER, for example, is only 16 pages long in its short story form. To turn that into a feature length film requires the addition of so much new material that only a hint of the original can possibly be discerned in the finished movie. If the film is great, it's great because a whole lot of other creative individuals made it that way. If it isn't great, then generally it's not for want of those individuals trying to make it as good as it can be. Nobody - except, perhaps, the producers of MEGA SHARK V GIANT OCTOPUS, which I happened to catch on TV recently and caused pieces of my brain to leak from my ears - sets out to make a terrible film, just as no writer sets out to write a bad book. I suspect that all creative work secretly aspires to the condition of art.
So, I guess I'll be waiting for a while to see THE NEW DAUGHTER, unless the production company sends me a DVD. As Hollywood experiences go, it has all been rather positive so far. The film was made. Everybody involved with it was a pleasure to deal with. I've made at least one good friend as a consequence of it. The film was released. Everybody got paid. By Hollywood standards, that's almost as good as it gets. The rest, to quote Raymond Carver, is gravy . . .
This week John read
BLOOD OATH by Chris Farnsworth (uncorrected proof)
THE MANAGER by Barney Ronay
THE GUARDIANS by Andrew Pyper (manuscript)
and listened to
hours and hours of the wonderful Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo talking about movies on their Radio 5 podcast. Brilliant, just brilliant . . .