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To Adapt Or Not To Adapt: Intellectual Licensing and Creativity


Today, The Classics Club issued forth its monthly question (or barrage of questions) for members to ponder and engage. This one was especially poignant for me, so I thought I would bring together my thoughts on the idea of creative adaptations of another person’s work.

The question(s).

“What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?”

 

I’m sure I won’t address all of these questions, but with so many prominent adaptations being made these days, it’s easy to find yourself making judgments without actually thinking through why you love or hate certain renditions.
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Freedom To Create

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
– C. S. Lewis

First, you should definitely watch the series Everything Is A Remix. This exciting mini-documentary series covers just about the entire universe creatively speaking, proving pretty explicitly that there really are no original creative ideas. Be it music, film, literature, or visual arts, the greatest and most revered work tends to be the most heavily and directly inspired by previous work. You begin to realize that not only is everything you ever loved an adaptation of something else, but that often the best work is borderline plagiarism. Ethically, many of these realizations make it easy to question the ideas surrounding intellectual copyrights and creative license.
banksy

I personally tend to err toward the belief that our creative endeavors should be left more open to re-interpretation, that we should give others free reign to play with the ideas we put out there. Creativity breeds creativity, and stifling a new take on previous creativity for the sake of monetary reimbursement is closer to stamping out creativity than encouraging it. This is obviously a big generalization and creatives should ultimately maintain the rights to their creations, but I think we should encourage a community that expands upon previous material, since we are always doing so, though often indirectly. Creative communities that thrive spring up around art forms that foster artists building together, such as in graphic novels, comics, and animation.

A perspective that exalts the creative process also disqualifies bitterness toward adaptations or artists who change or “sell out.” While critique is necessary and useful in both enjoying art and being creative ourselves, it makes no sense to be bitter about a creative work that adds new perspectives from additional artists, be it a remake or new creative direction in further work. Being able to view a film adaptation or listen to a new album without bitter nostalgia for the first material makes it easier to identify what inspires and qualifies both the original and the new. It’s also great to go back and find what inspired those who we find inspiring. Often the best work of a generation directly influences the next and then grows obscure as the next rises to fame. Find out what books inspired your favorite author and you might find your new favorite author!

Once you’ve adjusted to assume that all creativity (including what goes into an adaptation) is a combined effort of both previous influences and a unique creator, it’s easier to understand what you value creatively and the good and bad in an adaptation. I personally find The Lord Of The Rings trilogy to be a far superior adaptation to the new Hobbit trilogy. Why? I could probably give a dissertation on the topic, but the short version is that Jackson made LOTR shorter, choosing essential core materials, and kept it an epic story like the books. On the contrary, for the Hobbit has been changed from a fairy tale to an epic, losing many elements of the original story in the changes of plot, characters, and pacing. Are the Hobbit movies still enjoyable? I find them to be so, but only if I look at them as a unique creative effort rather than an effort to recreate the original. That’s a big step to ask fans to take.

Iconic Droids With Striking Similarities

Iconic Droids With Striking Similarities

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Original or Adaptation First?

These days, I’ve done a complete 180 on the question of whether to read a book before the film adaptation comes out. As a reader, I’m always eager to read the book first. It makes sense to enjoy the adaptation as someone who has become a fan of the original, because I want my loyalties to lie with the original version. After a few films that finally motivated me to read the books (the Harry Potter series, to my shame), I realized that reading a book because you enjoyed a film makes the book so much better because you know a shadow of what to expect based on the adaptation, but you always end up getting more. If you always find that the book is better, getting a taste of it in a lesser adaptation before enjoying it to the fullest is a great way to become a fan of both. While it’s pretty counterintuitive, I find everything more enjoyable this way. I’m sure this opinion is wide open to debate, and I suspect myself to be in the minority.

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What Is An Adaptation?

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what an adaptation is. An adaptation is something a fan looks at as a creative opportunity to build upon original material. A fan is looking for the essence of the original, the unspoken aspects that made the print version great. Of course she wants to see stunning visuals that go beyond her imagination, but all of that is secondary. In contrast, the reason studios are making adaptations is that they are marketed to and by a preexisting fan base and are therefore a more secure financial investment in the film industry. So some highly creative screenwriters and directors who may or may not be inspired by the original source material become involved in creating what is often more of a spin-off or alternate version from the original. An adaptation always runs the risk of being less than creatively motivated.

So Many Sherlocks

So Many Sherlocks

The truth is that an adaptation can be a great thing. Even something that takes as many creative liberties as the BBC’s new Sherlock adaptation is met with great applause by most fans, because the core idea is to transplant all of the original elements into a totally different era. It was started by fans who were great writers, and done from a place of aporeciatation and exploration. Adaptations are always an exciting idea, because we love to see a good idea expanded on. Even when we’ve been continually disappointed in the past, we often hold out hope for a good adaptation coming soon. We want new ideas, expanded stories and worlds, and elements that shed a different light on our old favorite characters. For a successful adaptation, a thousand liberties can be excused if the original essence is well preserved.

I’m eager to hear your thoughts on good and bad adaptations and what you think the difference is!

 

Harry Potter Comic drawn from the Dorkly.com

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Further Reading

 

Bill Watterson, Michelangelo, and The Importance Of Play

Samuel Beckett and The Creative Value Of Depression

On The Unique Routines Of Creatives Throughout History

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I Am Isak Borg


Have you ever seen Wild Strawberries? Ingmar Bergman spins a simple tale of an elderly Isak Borg taking a trip and looking back on his life, but its a story that continued to show me things about my own nature for weeks after my first viewing.

Bergman’s writing and film-making is subtle to the point of near-boredom and thus very open for interpretation, but Isak Borg is, I believe, a Scrooge archetype. He is an elderly widower, a well-respected scientist whose life’s work is to be recognized through an award ceremony far away. He travels to the ceremony by car with his daughter-in-law and along the way a series of location-based memories, daydreams, and encounters with other travelers provide him with a chance to contemplate his life and who he has become. He is not a cruel or evil man, but an intelligent and honest optimist whose life experiences have taught him that safety comes in callousness and pessimism. He remembers the young fiancé who left him for his less honorable, rouge brother. He meets innocent youths still eager to debate about God, science, and philosophy. He remembers finding that his wife cheated on him and realizing it had little effect on him because there was no real capacity for love in the relationship. He meets a violently destructive middle-aged couple who are full of animosity and lies. All along, he is thinking, pondering this life he has had.

I was left pondering by the end of the film. The next day I was nearly in shock as I realize its prophetic nature in my own life. I am Isak Borg. I have the capacity to be wondrously captivated by beauty, by people, by optimistic ideals. I make myself available to all kinds of people. I’m eager to be available. And I’m often hurt. I’m let down. My soaring Icarus expectations burn up and come crashing down. I expect to see good and I find evil. So what happens? I become a little less optimistic, a little more critical, a bit more cynical. And, if I’m not careful, I stop paying attention at all and I end up an elderly, wasted Isak Borg.

You hear about this every day. Jaded social workers and burnt out pastors. Angry scientists and self-destructive artists. They all hold something in common. They have all been eaten away slowly by family, friends, lovers, religion, and society at large. Most of them start out striving for something beautiful, for reconciliation, for truth, and for community. Like waves upon breakers, their hope is slowly diluted down, washed away from them.

This is Isak Borg. The young man who wants to care selflessly for others. The man whose kindness is constantly taken at advantage. The man who learns not to feel it anymore. The elder who looks back and realizes it all flew by without his feeling it.

Spoiler alert. Isak Borg changes. He cares no more for his science award. He does care for the young people he has met, and the housemaid he’s taken for granted, and the hopeful scraps of what family he has left, a small time to rebuild in his last days. He still has time to change.

I can only hope that knowing this horrifying alternative is a sufficient start at steering clear of such a future.

Basically, you should definitely watch Wild Strawberries.

Author Quotes – Ingmar Bergman, Worship, and Artistic Motovation


I love Hitchcock, Wes Anderson, Truffaut and Rod Serling. I have a handful of shining favorite film makers who stand far above the rest, and they are all very different from one another. One of the newer (to me) yet most deeply moving of the whole bunch is Ingmar Bergman. His film Wild Strawberries is the most deeply personally-revelatory film I have ever seen. It means a little more to me each time I consider it.

Bergman’s films have a common theme of fear facing the inevitability of death which stands at nervous odds with a perception that God is there but faith is not sufficient to bolster the soul’s confidence. His characters find death so overwhelming that they can find no solace in what they see as a less overwhelming faith. I read this quote from Four Screenplays Of Ingmar Bergman and found his perspective even more complex than his films make it appear.

“Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’ and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case. The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.
The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death. The individualists stare into each other’s eyes and yet deny the existence of each other.”

Even for a man so troubled by the idea of so much blind faith, art for no sake but the individual doesn’t click. It does seem quite a fair assessment to me.