NOVEL, PLAY or FILM?

It has been an interesting time for me, over the ‘Awards’ season, catching up on all the films I had missed over the last year.  The latest film that I saw was “Manchester by the Sea”, and this set me thinking about the strange differences between reading a novel, or watching a play or a film. The amount of satisfaction and pleasure that each can bring to the audience can vary a great deal and in many diverse ways.

The pleasure in reading a NOVEL is that it is a slow burner.  It is seldom that I find the time to read  a book in one go in a white heat.  Usually it is a chapter or two at night before I fall asleep.  It is therefore a drawn-out indulgence, although it can be difficult over a long time to keep all the strands of the plot and storyline together, especially when there are a great many characters to remember. In “Wolf Hall” I had to keep referring back to make sure which character was which.  The best way to read a novel is on holiday when there are few distractions and you can follow the story without interruption. And the best reads are the ones that leave you with a terrible feeling of loss when you get to the last page. It can be almost unbearable.  It took me days to get over finishing “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” and there have been others like that.  My first childhood experience of inhabiting this other world was reading “The Forsyte Saga”. I was dazzled, involved and remained so for the duration of the book and for a long time afterwards.  Of course some novels are meant to be read quickly and abandoned once finished.  These are the trivia, good for passing the time waiting for appointments or on a plane journey. Even so, they occupy ‘time’ and can be read bit by bit – to be put down and then picked up again later.

Not so the PLAY.  This gives the audience a short, sharp shock.  The plot unfolds over a couple of hours and then it is over. The content is dramatic, not meandering. The object is to engage and surprise. There are few plays that leave you with a lasting image, the writing is aimed for quick sensation.  Even with Chekhov and his more contemplative action, the plays always have a dramatic climax. A final conclusion to two or three hours of immediate involvement.

Which brings us to the FILM.  Again, like the play, it is not a lengthy process but now the acting is combined with the moving image and visual effects, and all this the audience has to deal with and take in over a short time.  With the progress of technology these images are becoming increasingly complicated.  The senses are bombarded for a couple of hours and then, a little shell-shocked, you leave the cinema, sometimes disturbed, at other times filled with pleasure – but it is not with a lingering sensation. Once over, it is over.

This is where I come to “Manchester by the Sea”.  This was different, a slow-burning story which unfolded more like a novel than a film.  It had none of the dramatic, visual or sensational moments usually associated with film-making.  It was a story that developed with little dialogue but dwelled on the broken life of one man and the affect this had on the dysfunctional lives of all those around him.  At the end I felt I had been living with a novel, rather than watching a film.  It was beautifully acted but finally I think I felt a little bit cheated.  I hadn’t had the lingering involvement of a book, nor the dramatic sensation of a play, nor the visual sensations of a film.  It seemed to fall somewhere in between all three and for all its brilliance it didn’t seem quite satisfactory and I am not sure it worked for me.

I am sure it will be quickly pointed out, that all the above is very subjective as well as being a generalisation. Maybe I am just getting old, but I like the three categories to remain defined and different.  It is interesting to note that when a novel or play is turned into a film the format has to be drastically changed to adapt to the genre.  “Manchester by the Sea” for me just didn’t seem to decide what it was.

For my next blog my new novel, THE BRINI BOY, will hopefully have been published and there can be more news on that when it finally happens.

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