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“STORY” SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST WORD


In the interests of brevity, the headline writers at The Guardian apparently flubbed the Elton John reference with this weekend’s John Patterson piece, “Story is the Hardest Word,” an otherwise recommendable article occasioned on the U.K. release of the Slaughterhouse Five DVD.

Patterson discusses various successes and failures involving directors who have brought “unfilmmable” novels to the screen:

“The results are only occasionally successful as movies. One that works very well is released this week on DVD: George Roy Hill’s marvellous adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, which switches back and forth from the bombing of Dresden, a German POW camp, post-war America and the fictional planet of Tralfamadore, where the hero Billy Pilgrim is taken by aliens and forced to mate in a glass dome with film star Montana Wildhack (the impossibly pneumatic Valerie Perrine). As adaptations of strange and ‘unfilmable’ novels go, this is one of the finest. And, incidentally, as alien-abduction experiences go, Pilgrim’s is many notches above the usual rectal-probing favoured by our intergalactic cousins.

Other writers have made a much greater effort to ensure that their work remains unfilmable. Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains Of The Day notwithstanding, has often stated his pride in the relatively cine-hostile properties of his other novels, such as The Unconsoled, a Kafkaesque interior monologue that resists easy summary or even comprehension. Neither should we expect to see Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow at the flicks: formal innovation and its central image of shit-eating should put paid to that idea.”

He goes on to chronicle Paul Bowles’s hatred for Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky and how J.G. Ballard, “famously a lover of bad movies and TV,” is always game for a film adaptation of one of his books.

Speaking of Ballard, he popped up again this weekend in The Guardian in “The King of Kinky, a piece on Taschen’s new A Gun for Hire, a collection of fashion work by the late photographer Helmut Newton as collected by his wife, June Newton.

From the piece:

“His photographs were best described by the dystopian novelist JG Ballard, as ‘stills from an elegant and erotic movie, perhaps entitled ‘Midnight at the Villa d’Este’ or ‘Afternoons in Super-Cannes’, a virtual film that has never played at any theatre, but has screened itself inside our heads for the last 40 years’….

“Interestingly, Ballard places Newton firmly in the Surrealist tradition of Delvaux or Magritterather than August Sander or Cartier-Bresson, and certainly his models constantly seem lost, surprised, or entranced, his exotic backdrops oddly incongruous, as if we are suddenly being afforded a glimpse of a bigger narrative whose contours we can only guess at. That narrative, as Ballard points out, takes place first of all inside Newton’s head, and is then passed over to the viewer, who transposes their own version on to it, the process of association as mysterious as the unconscious itself.”
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