Monday, October 02, 2006

Films v Books

I am notorious among my friends for never being able to watch a film through to the end. Usually the scene plays out something like this: someone will announce that they want to watch a film, and a group of us will pile into that person's room and settle down to watch the film. The film will start and ten minutes in, I'll start thinking that I don't really like the characters, or that nothing is catching my attention. By the time we're fifteen minutes in, I'll be fidgeting and looking around the room. I'm lucky if I make it twenty minutes into the film before I jump up and leave the room in exasperation to go and do some quality reading instead.

Recently however, I've found myself watching films instead of reading. Since I'd all but given up on films altogether, I am surprised to admit that I've found something new in films that I hadn't found before. Over the last few weeks, I've watched a variety of foreign films (my local dvd rental shop has a special offer on - £5 for three dvds for one week), including Oldboy (Korea), Maria Full of Grace (Colombia), The Motorcycle Diaries (Latin America), Lilya 4-Ever (Eastern Europe) and Il Postino (Italy) among others, and enjoyed them all - some more than others, admittedly, but I have made it all the way through every single one of them. What's different? For starters, I think the fact that they haven't been Hollywood blockbusters has made a huge difference. Obviously The Motorcycle Diaries was a huge hit and the others are pretty well known to a lot of film lovers, but these films have all dealt with real issues and real people (excepting Oldboy which was simply a very good story) in a way that Hollywood mostly fails to do. As a result, they have a passion and emotional depth which I haven't encountered in films before. The characters are more real, the problems they deal with and experiences they undergo are patently very real and I think that films such as Maria Full Of Grace are a more effective way of drawing public attention and understanding to issues such as the international drug trade in Latin America than newspaper or television reports. Il Postino and The Motorcycle Diaries reminded me that a person is more than the words they leave behind (in the case of Neruda), more than their actions (Guevara), that they existed and had an effect in the world and on people's lives, that they had ideals and weren't afraid to fight for them. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that everything and everyone suddenly became 3d in the films mentioned above.

After watching the Motorcycle Diaries, I am tempted to read Guevara's actual diaries, but I have to confess, I am afraid of what I might find. The Guevara of the film seemed very idealised, never putting a foot wrong, empathising with the people of Latin America, fighting for what he believed in. I've heard that his diaries reveal other things about him however, such as his preoccupation with getting laid as frequently as possible on his travels and other slightly unfavourable incidents which don't appear in the film. This of course is where the conflict between books and cinema comes in. Like most book lovers, I am always quite distressed when I see a cinematographic depiction of a book I read and loved, only to find that the characters have been changed and painted in a entirely new light, major events have been omitted from the story altogether, and the film overall is a pale imitation of the book. (This happened to me with Iris, John Bayley's memoir of his wife Iris Murdoch. I loved the book more than I can say, but I was absolutely horrified when I saw the film, and exited the cinema very quickly.) While the memory of the film is still fresh in my mind, it might be best if I avoid Guevara's diaries and come back to them at a later date! Much as I have enjoyed the films that I've watched recently (and am planning on finding more), cinema will never replace books for me.

6 comments:

Carl V. said...

I watched Oldboy recently and found it shockingly good. Maria Full of Grace is one I have on my Netflix list that I really should've watched by now, if only because I find the actress gorgeous.

piksea said...

I adored The Motorcycle Diaries. I will definitely be adding the book to my TBR list. I even pondered the purchase of a Che t-shirt. If only he really did look like Gael Bernal Garcia.

BookGirl said...

Motorcycle Diaries was one of my favorite films from last year. I even bought the soundtrack. I'll watch a hollywood production every once in a while but for me it's indie and/or foreign films all the way. Anyway now you've made me curious about Iris. I watched the movie and liked it but have not read the memoir it was based on.

Dorothy W. said...

I loved that memoir about Iris Murchoch too -- I'll make sure not to see the film!

Danielle said...

I love movies, but I like reading more. I tend to watch a couple movies on the weekend and have become somewhat addicted to Netflix!

tanabata said...

I thought Maria Full of Grace, Old Boy and The Motorcycle Diaries were all very good too. I really love 'foreign' films and definitely prefer them over the typical Hollywood ones. When we lived in Cambridge there was an independent cinema that showed lots of European and other non-blockbuster films. It was great! I really miss it.