I’m often confused by the way different people refer to “cinematic” story telling. When some people use the words they get a wistful look in their eyes, like they’ve been swept away to a far off land. Others say it with a bit of a smirk – as if the author has somehow failed to be literary enough in their story telling, and has instead fallen into a cinematic (intoned with ickiness) sub-genre.
The difference seems to be the degree to which we as readers as privy to the interior of the main character’s head. The more we know their thoughts, the more literary the resulting story.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was channel surfing while nursing. Mid-day TV is leaves much to be desired, but I stumbled upon “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.” The book, by Tom Robbins, was the first book I ever read twice. I was more or less obsessed with his books from the age of 19 until about 25, and “Cowgirls” was always my favorite. I knew it had been adapted to the screen, but never sought it out, since the reviews had not been so favorable.
Though it’s been a while since I read “Cowgirls,” I remember feeling transported by it, as if were unfolding on a screen. Everything was so easy to imagine, to picture in my mind. It seemed like a story that was just screaming to be a movie. So why was it so utterly unwatchable?
Seriously, I changed the channel after five minutes. The idiosyncratic characters that had been so charming on the page were simply awful on the screen. Cliche, weird, even racist and insulting. Why? If memory serves, the movie is very true to the book. What happened? And why is it that such a cinematic story could make such poor cinema?
My best guess is that good books, cinematic or not, engage us by hitting just the perfect balance of detail and freedom to imagine. When a filmmaker tries to take the story and fill in what he or she sees as the details, they limit the vision of the story to their own.
So is it true what they say? Do good books make lousy films? A survey of recent attempts certainly points to yes; Lovely Bones, White Oleander, Love in the Time Of Cholera. I’m already dreading Water For Elephants.
What do you think? Are there films out there that you feel really capture a book you loved? If so, would you consider the book “cinematic.” I’m curious to hear some thoughts.