Friday, 27 February 2015

Movies from books: Still Alice and others...

DB and I had brunch at a cafe in Alexandria this morning with the papers. This is a not unusual weekend activity for us - I MUST have coffee before it's too late in the morning, but to stop myself OD-ing on coffee, I don't keep it at home - ergo, we must go out to cafes...definitely a first world issue! Anyway, something of interest for me in today's Sydney Morning Herald is the list of top ten bestseller books:
  1. Ruby Circle, Richelle Mead
  2. American Sniper, Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim Defelice*
  3. Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James*
  4. Obsession in Death, J.D.Rob
  5. Wild, Cheryl Strayed*
  6. Family Food, Pete Evans
  7. Still Alice, Lisa Genova*
  8. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  9. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn*
  10. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flannigan
Do you see what jumped out at me when I read the list? Half the titles are books that have made it to film. Half. For all five, it's been a whole new lot of sales - a depressing thought for me, personally, when I consider Fifty Shades of Grey. You can read my feelings about that particular book in this post. At this point in time, the only two of the five I've read are Still Alice (post here) and Gone Girl - didn't get around to posting about the latter. It did my head in, and I'll have to read it again before I try and write about it.
Julianne Moore as Alice in Still Alice
I did get to the movie of Still Alice last week. It was one of the better adaptations I've seen in a while. The storyline was simplified, and locations changed, but the essence of the book was very much there, which pleased me. Also, Julianne Moore was, I thought, absolutely amazing in the role of Alice, and very much deserved the Oscar and all the other awards she's won.

Insasmuch as the secondary market of books that follows on from a film, particularly a successful film, is a good thing, I can't be sorry to see this aspect of the bestseller list. I DO, however, have real difficulty looking at Fifty Shades of Grey in the company of The Narrow Road to the Deep North - winner of this year's Man Booker Prize. I know a bestseller list is about the sales statistics, and not the quality of the books on the list (I also have issues with Pete Evans' book, because I feel strongly that the whole Paleo philosphy is deeply flawed) know... I have yet to read The Narrow Road to the Deep North, although, The Teacher recently touched base with me via Facebook, asking if I'd read it, saying it's marvelous. So, it's on my list. Whether or not a movie is made from an adaptation of the book will be anyone's guess, but I guess that being a Booker prizewinner guarantees it a place within the canon of modern classics, so it should have a reasonable shot at long term sales that a badly written fly-by-night popular success like Fifty Shades of Grey just won't achieve.

I had huge reservations about Fifty Shades of Grey when the trilogy was published, and they are just being reinforced by everything I've heard about the movie, and of course, parts two and three are yet to come. In a weirdly creepy juxtaposition of popular culture, the movie was released on the Valentine's Day weekend, I guess, as a prospective date movie - a thought that REALLY worries me. As was to be expected, there have been protests all over the Western world in the wake of the movie, and much spirited debate. I've seen reviews that slam the movie, as book reviews slammed the books, for tacitly promoting domestic violence, at a time when, in Australia, even our national average of deaths in domestic violence situations is currently DOUBLE what it was at the same time last year. Then, I've read reviews from people who did and didn't read the books, dismissing all of that and saying that it's all a 'fantasy' and people 'know' it's not serious, etc... Is that how we've reached the stage we have where there is such a struggle to deal with the issue of domestic violence? That the stories we read and see are just 'stories' and not 'real' so that those stuck in real situations have that much more difficulty being taken seriously.

This year, commentary after the Oscars said that they'd been a really 'political' event, with winners in man categories using their moment at the microphone to promote the issues showcased in their movies. Julianne Moore spoke out about Alzheimers in her winner's speech. Eddie Redmayne, winner of the best male actor in a lead role for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, highlighted the issues for those suffering from ALS. (You can read a post I wrote on my other blog about seeing that movie - also based on a book HERE) Of course, we applaud these actors and movies for bringing issues like this to public attention via such an accessible medium - movies can have a far bigger audience than books, as we well know. However, to dismiss the potential impact when it comes to something like domestic violence is folly, pure and simple - and all I can say at this stage is thank goodness there was no way that Fifty Shades of Grey was going to be anywhere near the Oscars, and offer an opportunity for that kind of accolade by default, of domestic violence.


  1. You as a rule read far above my academic circle, but I'm right there with you on Fifty Shades. What's your take on having children fight to the death for adult entertainment? How about The Hunger Games? If a well-crafted book about a vile subject is bad, does the converse follow, that a poorly-written book with a noble theme is then good? You're making my head hurt with this stuff! If I hadn't learned my lesson several times over, you'd almost make me want to start blogging again.

    Keep it up, lady!

    1. Go ON know you want to!!! You crack me up :-) You know what my opinions are on The Hunger Games. You read the posts and contributed hugely to the ensuing conversation...and no, I think a poorly written book is a poorly written book, regardless of the subject matter. It's just REALLY frustrating when badly written books capture people's imagination enough that they become successful, because there are enough people who view that success to mean they're good...and that's a problem!

  2. I suppose it's a good thing if people are inspired to read after seeing the film of a book - as with the Harry Potter books.

    But I am always wary of seeing a film (or TV show) of a book I have read and enjoyed. So annoying to find that characters written as blond (with good reason) are portrayed as dark-haired, to find that characters who die in the book live in the film (or vice versa), that characters' names have randomly been changed, that an unnecessary sub-plot has been added, that characters are suddenly gay because it brings the plot up to date (foolish if it was set in the 1950s because that's never going to be up to date but there you are), and that, well, basically the plot is unrecognisable. Why? Why not write an original screenplay?

    1. ABSOLUTELY Georgina! If they're going to make so many changes that the original book is unrecognisable, why not start from scratch in the first place?! Interestingly, DB got to experience this frustration for himself finally - any reader does, inevitably, but he's not a huge reader. Then he discovered the Jack Reacher books - before the film was made. And of course, joined in the world wide outrage that Tom Cruise was cast for the 6 foot plus Jack Reacher. so now, he has no comeback when I complain about stuff from books that gets changed :-)

    2. I first noticed this infuriating phenomenon when I read Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. The film (screenplay by Alistair MacLean himself) has a different plot. The book Force 10 From Navarone appears to be a sequel to the movie not the book, and then the film of Force 10 has another plot again!!!

      The blonde/dark hair thing comes from the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters. In an early book (2nd in the series I think) she creates a handsome charismatic man with fair hair and blue eyes. And then there's a slightly suspicious character who is slight and dark. Which one is the hero? The dark one of course. And when they made the TV show they cast him as a blonde and the villain as dark haired!!! Grr.

      As for the suddenly gay character; it was The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie. Rather than the creepy son-in-law being secretly married to the murderess suddenly it was the (twice married) daughter-in-law planning to run away with her. if you look on the wiki page for Miss Marple it gives a brief run down of all the changes made to plots by ITV who make Agatha Christie's Marple. Including, of course, inserting her into many plots she wasn't originally in. I gather the programme is terrifically popular. It must be I suppose because they've made enough episodes. I find it almost impossible to watch on account of all the plot meddling. They ought to rename the show ITV's Marple because quite a lot of the time it seems to have nothing whatever to do with Agatha Christie.

      And what about Prince Caspian and Queen Susan suddenly developing a romance? Of course Caspian was a lot older in the film...

      Tom Cruise can't really help being short now can he? But I know what you mean. I've not read Jack Reacher but if being tall is a major part of the character maybe the producers ought to have thought about that.

      Can you guess that this is a regular hobby horse of mine??