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32 - The Short Story Visualized: Adaptations and Screenplays

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Linda Costanzo Cahir
Affiliation:
Kean University
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

The job and joy of readers of short stories are, in part, to visualize what is on the pages. Inevitably, each reader sees the text differently, as the words connote – imply and suggest meaning – in ways that instigate connections with a reader's knowledge and past experiences. When filmmakers adapt short stories to large and small screens they take these highly connotative print texts and translate their readings of them into moving images that come with or without attending spoken words. Their way of visualizing – of reading – the literary text invariably differs from viewers’ readings, which should deepen each viewer's own discernment of the literary work, while simultaneously asking that a perspective other than one's own be considered.

In translating a short story into a cinematic text, the complex question of fidelity to the literature arises. Readers often assume that a page-to-screen filmmaker should be faithful to the literature by recreating the story, setting and characters in exacting compliance to what was written. Many filmmakers do see this as their key goal and strive for visual duplication of the literal world as described in the short story. This literal mode of adaptation, at its best, can create the sensation of film conjuring reality, of making readers feel that, as they watch the story-based movie, they are experiencing – entering and getting lost in – the very world that the writer has created.

However, the majority of short story-based films are not literal adaptations: they are traditional ones. A traditional adaptation allows filmmakers to alter particular details of the short story as they deem appropriate and necessary, while staying close to the narrative contours of the literature. These alterations may be in service of the filmmaker's inventive, stylistic or interpretive values, or for more practical concerns such as contemporary tastes, mores, political climate, censorship, equipment limitations, pressures in casting and budget restrictions. Short stories are particularly prone to traditional film adaptations as their brevity may require expansion of their source material to fit a feature-length movie.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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References

Bellour, Raymond, The Analysis of Film (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000).
Paglia, Camille, The Birds (London: British Film Institute, 1998).
Samuels, Robert, Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997).
Žižek, Slavoj, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991).

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