Tomorrow night Nitehawk is delighted to be place where literature meets cinema with a special screening of When Harry Met Sally. The event is presented in collaboration with Nylon Magazine and Alfred A. Knopf celebrating Nylon Magazine’s first book club pick, The Most of Nora Ephron, the new collection of the writer-director’s journalism, essays, fiction, and screenwriting.
This got us thinking about the great (and often not-so-great) movies that come from novels. From Frankenstein to The Hunger Games there sure are a ton of examples to choose from so we’ve each listed only one of our favorites below. Which of course begs the question…what are yours??
Caryn’s selection: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959) adapted as The Haunting by Robert Wise (1963)
Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. – Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
The story goes that when Robert Wise was making West Side Story he decided to read a much-talked about book that had just been published: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Recognizing the potential for stunning atmospheres and chilling characters, Wise purchased the rights to the book and set out to make the film…in black and white, Val Lewton style.
The results reveal an incredible transformation from the page to the screen. The conniving personality of the house, Nell’s internalization, the blurred boundary between two dimensions, and the undeniable pull towards something evil really make Jackson’s narrative come alive. Most amazingly is the personification of the house; it aches and creaks and bends and taunts its inhabitants. And how you read Shirley Jackson’s seductively descriptive and dark language is exactly how Wise makes it visible.
It’s one of the very rare examples of when you can see a movie and then read the novel and still relish every word.
Kris’s selection: Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) adapted as Dune by David Lynch (1984)
“Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never persistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.” – Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965)
Dune is a pretty intense dose of nerdery.
It’s about a far-away planet in the distant future. There’s ancient dynasties and giant monsters. There’s a boy on a quest.
That little description could match 100 different sci-fi/fantasy stories, but there’s only one Dune. Not only is Dune about how a desolate Hell of a planet that becomes the center of the universe, it also tackles a lot of dweeby philosophical stuff that’s fun to mull over: the burden of a living God, humanity’s greater legacy in the universe, the revolutionary power of religion.
You definitely don’t get anything like that in Star Wars.
The series gets weirder and weirder as it goes, but on its own, the first Dune book is a meaty sci-fi epic with the kind of scope and elegance that makes for great movies. The problem, though, is that even though Dune is rich with battles, sex and explosions, the thing that elevates the books is all of the dorky fake histories and words with a lot of ‘y’s and ‘k’s in them. In the book, most of that information gets relayed through prose and internal monologue — it’s world-building, not plot. Imagine condensing condensing an entire season of Game of Thrones down to two hours, it would hardly make any sense.
This is the main problem with David Lynch’s weirdly magnetic adaptation of Dune.
Lynch’s Dune is kind of a fantastic mess, one that tries to maintain the book’s philosophical and mythological edge while also being kind of like the director’s own grand version Star Wars. Lynch attempts to solve Herbert’s mythmaking by including quite a lot of whispered internal monologue — the result is… really off-putting for some reason.
Despite its incoherence, there’s something about Dune’s grotesquery that’s difficult to pry away from. Lynch’s vision never feels wholly familiar or comfortable. There’s something… meaty and rotten about it. The oozing boils on Baron Harkonnen’s fat, greasy face; the endless rows of teeth in the gaping mouths of the planet’s sand-worms; those hazy blue eyes. Just like the book it’s based on, there’s nothing quite like it.