David Ulin and Carolyn Kellogg discuss literary adaptations

L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin went to see “Gatz” last weekend -- that’s a live stage version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Ulin’s review is forthcoming in the L.A. Times, but he gives us a preview of his thoughts -- and then we talked about what makes an adaptation successful.

The problem in adaptation, Ulin says, is the interiority integral to good novels is usually lost in film, which winds up focusing on plot. But I counter that sometimes the language of film can capture the texture of a text, or a style of a book’s prose -- as with “L.A. Confidential,” adapted from the novel by James Ellroy.

We focused on a lot of film adaptations, starting with “The Great Gatsby,” both the 1974 version and director Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D version coming next year.

Other film adaptations we touch on: “Short Cuts” by Robert Altman, based on the short stories of Raymond Carver; the 1960 film “Elmer Gantry,” based on Sinclair Lewis’ novel; director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” and the novel it was roughly based on, Upton Sinclair’s “Oil”; “Elegy” starring Ben Kingsley, adapted from Philip Roth’s novella “The Dying Animal”; the films and fictions of Harry Potter and Jerzy Kosinski’s novel “Being There” and its film version, which starred Peter Sellers.


We tried to talk about “The Hunger Games,” but neither of us has seen the movie or read the books. We may be the last people in America who haven’t.

We also look ahead to some of the movies coming out this winter that are adaptations of classics and bestsellers: “Anna Karenina,” “Life of Pi” and “On the Road.” Both David and I have seen “On the Road” -- he’ll be writing about it in our pages soon.

Are good books diminished by adaptations? Do bad books make good movies? We probably asked more questions than we answered. What is an adaptation, really? Listen to the end, where David says something really smart about how the process of reading a novel is, in itself, a kind of adaptation of an author’s original work.



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