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1 Introduction

1.1 General Context and Objective of Paper

Readers produce their own films. Long before a particular piece of literature has been turned into its screen version, the reader has already made a visual adaptation, in his or her mind. The page acts as a blank canvas, or rather, as endless stock of film. Each reader can interpret sentences differently, resulting in subjective shots or scenes no-one would ever see and therefore never argue about.

Once the ‘actual’ film is out though, not everyone is necessarily content with the finished product. A different actor than what one had in mind, or a different implementation, all these factors and more could lead to disappointment. Perhaps this is the reason why so many moviegoers are let down by film adaptations, where the goings-on on screen are, simply put, not up to par with what the reader had imagined whilst reading. One sentence is heard time and again when it comes to films based on literary sources: “the book was better”. And this notion extends to any form of written content, be it films adapted from articles, novels or even plays. There is a popular joke about this too, that has made the rounds in different variations over the years: two goats find themselves on a big movie studio’s junk 1


yard. One goat comes across a reel of film left over from a recent shooting. The goat starts eating it, while the other goat watches on, never having seen film stock before. When the first goat has finished eating, the second asks “So, did you like it?” to which the first goat replies “Well, I think I liked the book better…”

Film adaptations have been and always will be a tricky subject. The irony with films adapted specifically from novels is that the first thing they lose is their ‘novelty’, however inventive the treatment. After all, adaptations aren’t original anymore. Keeping all of the above in mind, the focus of this paper will be on one particular form of literature: the short story. This paper will look at one particular writer, Daphne du Maurier. Two of her short stories, The Birds and Don’t Look Now, will be examined in-depth, along with their respective film versions by directors Alfred Hitchcock and Nicolas Roeg. The dramatic arc of a short story is possibly better-suited for a screen adaptation than the dramatic arc of a novel or a play. The Birds and Don’t Look Now both have substantial amounts of suspense in their narratives and are therefore ripe for critical study. This paper intends to explore key elements of the respective short stories and how elements of suspense have been transported from the page to the screen.

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Adapting suspense  

Master's thesis introduction

Adapting suspense  

Master's thesis introduction

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