FROM PAGE TO SCREEN
How did it happen that world directors turned out to be so susceptible to Anna Karenina? First of all, from the standpoint of early Russian producers, this particular novel by Lev Tolstoi was a perfect candidate for a film adaptation because it enjoyed the status of a bestseller immediately upon its publication—it was even more successful than War and Peace. Popularizing literary classics was done in Russia in conjunction with the very democratic spirit of cinema—“its popular appeal, its educational and cultural orientation”— the features that were emphasized by early Russian producers and later by film historians. Turning to the classics did not guarantee high-quality films since, as Neya Zorkaya notes, “even the best films merely borrowed the story line and the names of the main characters,” but the fledgling genre aspired to explore the psychological and philosophical depths of a literary work, that “labyrinth of connections,” which, according to Tolstoi, is the essence of a novel.
James Griffith claims that in setting out to transform a novel into a movie, a filmmaker usually makes many choices along the same lines as those of the novelist. Having said this, Griffith admits that for all the changes people can cite in numerous adaptations,
a novel and its adaptation rarely share no more resemblance than the title—and one could argue such an “adaptation” exemplifies no more than a hastily purchased property. The average audience regards fidelity as a question of how much is left in: how much of the plot and how many of the characters survive the usual condensing of the novel's action.
Griffith argues that for the common filmgoer's notion of fidelity, the main objection usually refers not to ideas but to the practical inability of most films to include all of the events presented in a novel. As in this case, the hypertexts of Anna Karenina cannot adequately address all of the plotlines in Tolstoi's hypotext in the standard two-hour film.