“After recently bemoaning the declining quality of films” –January 4, 2003

After recently bemoaning the declining quality of films these days with no less an enthusiast than David Thomson—he, of the glorious Biographical Dictionary of Film (4th edition)—I have been thinking a bit about the relationship of movies and books over a range of, uh, issues. In early December PW published a short q & a with pseudonymously named novelist Ray Shannon (Man Eater), who apparently works in Hollywood. Here’s the question posed to him:

How would you describe the book and the film industries today?

Unfortunately I think one is becoming more and more like the other. There was a time when the book industry and the film industry were totally separate entities. Not only in terms of their end products but also in terms of their behavior. More and more you see the book industry mimicking the business practices of the film industry in terms of how the material is produced and how it’s put out there for the audience. In terms of what a viable product is and what it is not. There was a time when if you could write a good book your chances of getting it published were pretty good, and I think that is less and less true because, again, the book industry emulated the film industry and it’s looking more and more for a specific type of book as opposed you one that has literary merit.

That this is sad and bad—well, I think that’s pretty obvious. That it is new news is puzzling. For a few years now, reports regularly surface of manuscripts and galleys making their way (often from the trash) to the desks or whatever is used as work surfaces in HOLLYWOOD of the big machers before agents have cut deals with publishing houses or editors have made their magic they make. I vaguely remember the inestimable Joan Didion excoriating the art of the deal which these days may be the main art. Let me segue to an article Laura Miller wrote in the New York Times Magazine, "This is a Headline for an Essay About Meta," also, a few months ago. I am still pondering what alchemical process Ms. Miller employed to turn a simple idea into a 3700-word revenue source (on that count, yeah for her) or more honestly what exactly the point was. I’ll get back to that soon and, if not there is always my tell-all memoir (where I name names and give dates) It’s All Good.

So as the kids say, “Oyez perro.” Reading my local shopping and eating magazine, Boston magazine, I noticed that Rob Reiner’s next film Alex and Emma is based on Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler, a story about a writer who has problems—like writer’s block (which is actually a distinctly 20th century ailment) and gambling debts. And then there is Adaptation, which may be the exemplar of Ms. Miller’s ‘meta’ fetish. Here a screenwriter struggles to take a book, in this case, drawing of robert birnbaum

RB by Anthony Russo

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