1/13/14 – WROTE THE BOOK, HATED THE MOVIE (Part 2)
“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me.” (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger)
Last month I wrote about the daggers that rip through an author’s heart when the “wrong” actor gets cast in the movie version of his/her book. But as much as it hurts to see a beloved character misrepresented, it’s even worse when changes to carefully crafted tone and plot spawn a film that an author feels buries (or even loses) the original intent of the book. Listed below are a few authors who would rather you read their book than watch its movie adaptation.
Daphne du Maurier did not like Alfred Hitchcock’s version of her short story “The Birds,” despite the fact that the director had adapted two previous films from her work (Jamaica Inn and Rebecca). In her mind, Hitchcock’s decision to set the film in northern California instead of the wild, isolated Cornish coast she wrote about robbed her work of a stark, elemental tone she considered vital to the story.
Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s take on The Shining, finding the film’s tone too emotionally cold. He felt that the movie downplayed the novel’s supernatural aspects to focus instead on domestic tragedy, which had never been his intent. He later described the film as “a fancy car without an engine.”
Ernest Hemingway thoroughly disliked the film version of A Farewell to Arms, claiming that it put too much emphasis on the romantic elements of the novel and not enough on its depiction of wartime brutality.
Winston Groom found the film version of Forrest Gump overly sentimental and depoliticized. Much to his displeasure, plot points from the book were omitted, and language and sex scenes were sanitized.
Ken Kesey wanted the film version of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest to be narrated by Chief Bromden, as was the book, and was upset when informed that a movie told from the perspective a deaf, mute Native American would be impossible to sell to any studio. This change in point of view was so fundamental to Kesey that he could not bring himself to watch the movie for a very long time. (He eventually conceded that he was glad the film had been made.)
It’s one thing to disagree with a movie interpretation of your book, quite another to carry the remorse Anthony Burgess felt regarding the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. The film’s gratuitous violence angered Burgess, as did the fact that the book’s redemptive ending was changed. He regretted that “[his book] became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence.” In Burgess’s case, the film did more than dismay: it made him wish that he’d never written the book at all.
Back in the 1940s, J.D. Salinger eagerly sold Samuel Goldwyn the film rights to his short story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” Salinger changed his mind about future screen rights when the movie, retitled My Foolish Heart, opened to scathing reviews. Worse, the film had been turned into a melodrama that bore little resemblance to the story he’d written. Salinger never again permitted film adaptations of his work, despite repeated overtures by various producers. (The Catcher in the Rye has been called the “holy grail” of screen rights.)
P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins), too, was so upset by the sugary movie that replaced her darker book that she refused to allow any other screen adaptations of her work. Her displeasure spilled into other media as well: when British producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh spoke to her about a staged musical of Mary Poppins, Travers initially refused due to her experience with Disney Studios forty years earlier. She didn’t agree to the project until Mackintosh promised that no one connected with the film version – in fact, no Americans at all – would be involved in the development phase of the stage production.
Perhaps it’s impossible to satisfy most authors with any version of their books other than their own. After all, can anyone ever love and know what’s best for our characters, our stories, our plots as thoroughly as we do?
I have no idea how well I’d handle suggestions and changes regarding film adaptations of my work. But despite the potential pitfalls, I’d love the chance to find out!