IF A PICTURE’S WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Paraphrasing there, but remember when Telly Savalas sang that? Well, growled it. I bet when he had the Number 1 UK single back then he didn’t know he’d be giving me the perfect way to end my guest spot at Babes In Bookland. Because if a picture paints a thousand words then why bother with books at all?
It will come as no shock to those who have read my previous posts that I love the movies. The cinema experience is fantastic if you find the right film. I’ve even got a home cinema in my attic, comfy chairs, projector, five speakers and a subwoofer et al. But if we were talking sex, a movie would be a one-night stand. A good book is more like a four-week affair. And something you can do every night at bedtime. What would the neighbours think if I cranked up the late night volume for a month?
Here’s the deal. You watch a movie and it’s fun but everyone sees the same film. Read a book and every reader sees something different. That’s because a reader brings something else to the party. Imagination. When I write a Jim Grant thriller I see a picture in my head and try to get that down on paper. Descriptions, tone, location. When I re-read it that’s what I get back. When you read it you’ll see a completely different movie. A case in point. I’m left handed. When I right a scene I will make decisions about where certain things appear. The road curves to the right or Grant crosses to his left. If you’re right handed what you’ll picture in your head will be reversed. I’ve read dozens of books where the words give me one direction but my mind says the opposite.
That’s why a book adapted for the screen can be so disappointing. You’ve already seen the perfect film of the book in your head. How can they ever match that? It’s the age old question (well only since the birth of cinema), should you read the book or see the film first? I’ve done both over the years and whichever way you go, it’s nearly always a let down. I didn’t get into the Bond novels until after seeing Goldfinger. When I read it I thought I’d got the wrong book. Not only was the tone and dialogue different the ending was totally wrong. As hard as I tried I couldn’t bring Sean Connery’s voice to what Ian Fleming had written. And try reading Ben Hur. Forget it. Not on the same planet. But once you accept that they are different mediums the rewards can be worthwhile. I love the Fleming books now. They are separate and different and hugely enjoyable. In a different way to the films.
There are exceptions of course. The Day Of The Jackal was almost identical to the book. Get Shorty’s dialogue read like a script, complete with John Travolta saying it. In my head. And I can’t read any of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens stories without hearing Timothy Olyphant in Justified. The nearest thing to an onscreen novel though is The Wire. The long form allowed by television meant that each season played out like a book with thirteen chapters. Watch the box set and it’s almost like reading a well-constructed novel. Great stuff.
So, movies verses books? Make your choice. Or do like me. Love them both. The pictures may look beautiful and the pace might be electric but a thousand words can seep into your bones. Savour them. Take it away Telly.