“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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