Blogs, movies, and a witch or two

discovery-of-witchesI just completed my sister blog for Cinema Houston shortly before beginning this one. It’s a bit disconcerting, jumping from one to the other, rather like having two separate jobs or a secret identity—Bruce Wayne and the Batman, Jekyll and Hyde, Frank Oz and Yoda, take your pick. The fact that they are distinctly different and yet similar in tone makes it all the more difficult to compartmentalize what goes into each.

In this blog, I touch on writing and creativity, words and images. Anything that comes close to a fit goes in this bin. As an artist as well as a writer, the two crafts are ideal bedmates.

Cinema Houston is, at least on the surface, a different animal. It began as an offshoot of my book on the history of Houston Movie theatres.

Since then, it’s expanded to cover the movie experience in general as well as preservation. By nature of the combined elements of the motion picture, this means it also includes the aforementioned writing and creativity, words and images (and sound. The only thing missing is fragrance, unless you count Smell-o-Vision. Yes, there really is such a thing.)

220px-Discovery_of_Witches_CoverSo rather than blather on about the written word this time, I thought I would touch on the combinations and how they work for and against one another, especially when molded into film. I’ve considered this as I have been watching the BBC America adaptation of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. As an enthusiast of the All Souls Trilogy of books, I was both excited and nervous when I first heard of it being adapted to the screen. After all, we’ve all been disappointed when our favorite books get the movie treatment with less than stellar results.

It is a delicate thing, removing words on a page to the reality of sight and sound. The pitfalls are many, most notable being the severe compression of hundreds of pages into the limitations of minutes. Subplots are lost, as are minute details and thoughts. Even the best of adaptations suffer from this inevitability, and it represents a challenge to the writer tasked with the screenplay. If the writer has a clear vision and respect for the source material, there is a chance that the end product doesn’t suck too much.

In the hands of a bad writer, all bets are off.

I understand that book and movie are two different beasts and must be considered as such. But the oft-spoken statement holds true most of the time: The book was better.

Regarding A Discovery of Witches, I’ve now seen the first two episodes. As tempted as I am to binge-watch them, there is a delight in anticipating the next chapter each week. So far, I have been incredibly satisfied in the casting, portrayals, and the reworking of a hefty book into a visual narrative. Yes, much of the original content has been condensed, reworked for time, but based on those three episodes, I give it a thumbs up. I say this knowing that as the series progresses, it could go south. I doubt I will get everything I want. I don’t expect to see the yoga scenes (those of you who read the book know what I’m talking about).  But I have faith.

It comes down to word allotment. Novels allow the writer the unlimited plan. Novellas less. Short stories even more. Get to poetry, and every word counts. The same with adaptations.

Every art form has its own rules, and any attempt to bring one into the other is always problematic. But that is the nature of the arts and their shared goal of conveying story and emotion. The challenge is how to convey plot, emotions, motivations, back history, the whole shebang within the confines of said medium.

Now excuse me, because another episode of A Discovery of Witches is coming on, and for the next hour, I do not want to be disturbed.

Now excuse me, because I want to get back to rereading A Discovery of Witches to see what got left out of the TV adaptation.

Check out my Cinema Houston blog at www.cinemahouston.wordpress.com

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Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website, www.CinemaHouston.net.

David Welling is a Houston-based writer, artist, and graphic designer. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.

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