Vision not Illustration

Read a post entitled “It’s All About the Story” on the Austenblog relating the controversial remarks the Welsh filmmaker Peter Greenaway made recently in an international film festival.  He criticised modern blockbusters like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, dismissing them as “not films but illustrated books”.  As for all the Austen movies sprouting up in recent years, Greenaway said:

Cinema is predicated on the 19th-century novel.  We’re still  illustrating Jane Austen novels—there are 41 films of Jane Austen   novels in the world.  What a waste of time.”

This is my response.  I recognize that not all attempts of turning books into films are successful, many far from being effective.  However, a good movie should be the portrayal of a vision, not mere illustration or graphic representation of the written words.  As I have commented in that post, let’s just say a film is the visualization of the novel, not mere illustration.

And there is a major difference between vision and illustration: the former is seeing through an interpretive lens, rather than simply transferring images from one medium to another like the latter.

That’s why we may like a certain adaptation over another of the same Austen novel, and that’s why there can be more than one movie on the same story… Just as Bach had created Theme and Variations, we can have Story and Adaptations. That’s the reason why we still go to the concert hall and listen to different masters playing the same pieces of music, infusing into their performance their own unique persona and interpretation.  As an art-house filmmaker, Mr. Greenaway should have grasped this very fundamental notion.

As for future endeavors to turn Austen novels into films, I say, “All the best!”

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

9 thoughts on “Vision not Illustration”

  1. Your distinction between vision and illustration in its subtlety was intriguing. Movie goers who often compare and contrast the book and the film might find your comments stimulating.


  2. I subscribe to a list for Dickens scholars and enthusiasts, and it seems like they are forever squabbling about the legitimacy of one film version of Dickens over another. It seems to me that your distinction is a helpful one. I myself do find it irritating when filmakers choose to overlook or go against a detail that, in my own reading of a novel, I think is crucial. But I recognize that different readers have different visions of what a novel is trying to accomplish.


  3. writinggb: Just wondering whether you’ve watched the BBC production of Bleak House (2005). The acting was superb. It motivated me to read the 1000+ page book, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Sometimes it’s the screen that draws us back to the page. Each has its power and the two compliment each other. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.


  4. Yes, I’ve seen it and thought it was very good, though Esther did not, in the book, want to know anything about her past and in the movie they made that her central concern. I’d say that is a pretty significant change, but I realize that the film makers were trying to make her a more appealing character with a big mystery. I myself don’t really care that much about this change — I still thought it was a good film. And I agree that film can bring in readers — always a good thing! 🙂


  5. Few are the movies that equal or even surpass the original book, but they do exist. You’re right–it is a different vision entirely and should be. Thank you.


    1. ds,

      And you’re right about turning a good piece of literary work onto the screen is a highly difficult feat. But there are some that can match, although the comparison is more like apple and orange due to the different medium. And there are those which I feel the film is even better than the book. Not many though, and it’s just my personal view. 😉


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