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

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

How would you describe the book and the film industriestoday?

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

That this is sad and bad—well, I think that’spretty obvious. That it is new news is puzzling. For a few yearsnow, reports regularly surface of manuscripts and galleys makingtheir way (often from the trash) to the desks or whatever is usedas work surfaces in HOLLYWOOD of the big machers before agents havecut deals with publishing houses or editors have made their magicthey make. I vaguely remember the inestimable Joan Didion excoriatingthe art of the deal which these days may be the main art. Let mesegue to an article Laura Miller wrote in the New York TimesMagazine, "Thisis a Headline for an Essay About Meta," also, a few monthsago. I am still pondering what alchemical process Ms. Miller employedto 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’llget 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.” Readingmy local shopping and eating magazine, Boston magazine, Inoticed that Rob Reiner’s next film Alex and Emma isbased on Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler, a story about awriter who has problems—like writer’s block (which isactually a distinctly 20th century ailment) and gambling debts.And then there is Adaptation, which may be the exemplar ofMs. Miller’s ‘meta’ fetish. Here a screenwriter strugglesto take a book, in this case, drawing of robert birnbaum

RB by Anthony Russo

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