Monday, May 02, 2011

Why I read the book first

I recently read through Anthony Burgess' 1962 sci-fi novel A Clockwork Orange, which is appropriately acknowledged as one of the best novels not only of its genre, but of the twentieth century. Burgess' fictionalized world of droogs, korova bars, nadsats, and ultra-violence is as satirically sharp and pointed as it was fifty years ago, and his philosophical perspectives on youth, maturity, independent choice, free will, the penal system, and society as a whole are as pertinent today as when it was written. The book is not an easy read due somewhat to the content but more to narrator Alex's use of nadsat slang, which is an amalgam of English, cockney rhyming slang, onomatopoeia, American slang, and Russian, but it has a lyricism and a poetry to it that makes it worth working through even without acknowledging Burgess' satirical and philosophical points. But what I found really interesting was how much my reading of the text was influenced by Stanley Kubrick's 1971 X-rated film version of the (American edit of the) novel. Kubrick took the book and adapted it well, but his perspective does change from what Burgess initially intended (although that is mainly due to the omission of the final chapter in the American edition, which significantly changes the point of the novel). They both exist as linked, yet independent, artistic evaluations of the same work, but Kubrick's imagery has become so iconic as to almost be inescapable in reading the text. It reminded me of why I endeavour to read the book before viewing the movie based on the book; I would far rather compare someone else's cinematic vision to the vision I've already composed through reading than have one particular interpretation of the material be superimposed on the material. It's the same reason I will not let my children (someday) watch Lord of the Rings before they have read it themselves. My reading may not predate my viewing by much time, but I still think it's an important process to continue. To wit, I'm looking forward in the next week or two to watching Tarkovsky's and Soderbergh's interpretations of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, which I just finished last week (I'm on a bit of an SF kick lately). Of course, I don't necessarily feel the need to go through this process in every case - most often I don't with movies based on true stories or biographies - but I think it makes me not only more literate, but more cinematically aware. [An aside: does anyone know who reads novelizations? I don't mean books that use characters or settings established in film or television; I mean books that are written versions of a pre-existing visual entity. The only market I could understand for such a product would be for blind people who couldn't actually watch the original piece; but novelizations are not written only in braille. I just do not get it. But I digress.] Reading Burgess' novel also made me consider how some books and the movies based on them can exist as separate artistic entities; the most prominent examples I can think of are Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and two examples from Kubrick's collection: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke) and The Shining (Stephen King). Sometimes it can be an uneasy peace between the two, but I thoroughly enjoy being able to appreciate how one artist can interpret another's material. It's largely why I appreciate seeing new artistic visions of existing works. Baz Luhrmann working on The Great Gatsby? Could be great. Who's going to finally dramatize The Catcher In The Rye? Good question. Even Peter Jackson might do okay with The Hobbit. But could someone else ever remake A Clockwork Orange as a film? I'm really not too sure if they could escape Kubrick's vision and visuals, but it might be worth a long as they read the book first.

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