In So Many Words

Full disclosure: there are few topics that bore me more than comparisons between movies and the books they are based on. In fact, when yet another friend belittles a film by stating that its literary source material is way better, I often nod in agreement and then ask them in all earnestness which version of Mona Lisa they prefer: the painting by da Vinci or the song by Nat King Cole. If only to demonstrate how silly I find such comparisons between very different art forms.


That being said, this beautifully executed video essay by Maya Hollander still managed to keep me glued to the screen. In the first place because of its simple but elegant concept: it overlays scenes from movies with relevant excerpts from the books they were adapted from. These combinations never feel calculatedly antagonistic, because Hollander selected scenes that are filled with wonder and chose shots that show the films’ characters in awe or enraptured. The result is that these movie characters themselves seem to marvel at the way they (and their surroundings) have come to embody the written words of the source novels.


Just as importantly, the theoretical basis for this video essay are Robert Stam’s insights in “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation”. He – and this video – see adaptation as a dialogue. This sidelines the concept of fidelity as a criterion for judging these films, instead focusing on transformation and on the process of giving and taking that is at the heart of the translation exercise from page to screen. And that is a far more interesting approach then just stating that “the book was better” because the movie took some liberties with the source text. This video essay is a case in point, because it is just as good as Robert Stam’s book.