In a Jan. 28 post on the National Book Critics Circle blog Critical Mass, former San Francisco Chronicle Style editor Paul Wilner lamented that at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, "almost no actual writers were acknowledged for their contributions" to the winning films. "I waited in vain to hear ... Cormac McCarthy mentioned in conjunction with the multiple honors for No Country for Old Men," Wilner wrote, "or a nod to ... Alice Munro for the short story upon which Away From Her was based. ... Daniel Day-Lewis' tribute to Heath Ledger was moving, but somehow Upton Sinclair's role as the progenitor of There Will Be Blood was not noted." (The film was inspired by his 1927 novel Oil!)
Such a disconnect is particularly ironic this year because so many films, nominated for Oscars and otherwise honored, have roots in literary work. Not only are there No Country for Old Men and Away From Her but The Namesake and Atonement; not only There Will Be Blood but Persepolis. Literature figures even in The Savages and Margot at the Wedding, which deal, in part, with the struggle to come to terms with writing, its odd and at times parasitic connection to the world.
What makes the current crop of books-to-movies so compelling is the idea that Hollywood may be developing a more consistent approach to literature. For me, this is a matter of sensibility, of complexity and nuance, the way these works take on bigger issues, the uncertainties and irresolution that mark our passage through the world.
It suggests that good books can indeed make thought-provoking movies, which means there may be less difference than we imagined between a successful novel and a successful film.
From an essay by David L. Ulin, book editor of the Los Angeles Times