In 2003, David Foster Wallace said “Reading requires sitting alone, by yourself, in a room…I have friends—intelligent friends—who don’t like to read because there’s an almost dread that comes up about having to be alone and having to be quiet…When you walk into most public spaces in America, it isn’t quiet anymore. ” Although the collective amount of time spent by people reading has declined with our minds, moving pictures with sound continue to further embed themselves in culture.
Ask a group of fifteen year olds how many books they have read in the last month, and the likely answer will be that most of them have not finished a book since a month ago. But ask the same group the last time they saw a movie, and a week previous (or less) will fail to be an uncommon answer. A question then poses itself: why is it that one source of entertainment and art is falling out of favor while another is becoming more and more common? One could ascribe the comparative quality of the two, implying that movies are superior to books.
However, a more accurate, yet less popular affirmation would be that books are superior to films and that superiority is not necessarily synonymous with prevalence. To go into detail in a movie the same way as one might in a book would be painfully difficult. The resulting abomination would be torturously monotonous due to movies very nature, which panders to the short attention spans of the average person by constantly moving and embellishing ideas with pictures and music. It would also be horribly long, the length of, or longer than an audiobook.
For evidence, one could look at documentaries and nonfiction books. The former are far less informative, although one may wish to believe otherwise because a documentary film takes less work to enjoy and is, to some, more pleasurable. Take two lectures, both approximately an hour and twenty minutes in length (approximately the running time of a movie) and both by two highly acclaimed authors. The first, by Thomas L. Friedman, was on his book The World is Flat, and the second, by Temple Grandin, was on her book Animals in Translation.
In either lecture, one could see the speaker constantly speaking and cramming more information into their allotted time. Yet neither covered even close to what was in their books. A documentary trying to do such a thing is even more preposterous, demanding copious amounts of time for a garnish of pretty images and smooth transitions. This is the reason scholars do not publish their findings in case-study documentaries but in texts. Long, arduous texts the average person would rather die than pick up.
Further evidence is in the quality of film adaptations of books. If one went to see the recent movie Life of Pi after reading the original novel by Yann Martel, a period of misanthropy and depression may not be a completely unrelated concept. The movie was one hundred twenty-seven minutes long and left out numerous important facets, such as Pi’s connection with a Suffi man in part of Pondicherry, his grade-school teacher Mr. Kumar, and the training of Richard Parker. The content of the film was not, however, wanting when compared to others movies of its length.
It might take several weeks to finish the book; how could a film-maker be expected to fill all of the information in it into one hundred twenty-seven minutes, with exposition, visual stimulation, and graphic theatrics as obligations? Life of Pi is art as a book, but as a movie, is a source of mass-market entertainment. Although film’s quantitative flaws of constriction are more than surfeit to deem texts as the more valuable mediaform, ample also are its qualitative stiflings. For example, if a movie character began to speak the way Jean Genet does in his books, the production would come across as contrived and pretentious.
For a moment I was no longer a hungry, ragged vagabond,” wrote Genet in The Thief’s Journal, “whom dogs and children chased away; nor was I the bold thief flouting the cops, but rather the favorite mistress who, beneath a starry sky, soothes the conqueror. ” Using words like “vagabond” and “flouting” in everyday speech is incredibly uncommon, and even english teachers will tell you that using the conjunction “nor” will get one beat up. Genet, however, is widely regarded as a brilliant artist for, including but not limited to, his beauteous prose. A stark contrasts between books and movies shimmers here.
The language in a movie is only of characters, who are constantly in a mode of speech too casual for grace past a certain point, while a book is free to use English (or whatever tongue it is written in) freely. The confinement of characters as one of the only modes of expression—and almost always the most utilized—is also a problem when expressing greater themes. Compare most classic cinema achievements to esteemed novels, and an underlying trend will emerge: movies repeatedly project something about humans, or the nature of man, while books are far ore diverse, sometimes delving deeply into the emotional lives of characters without the chains of lengthy exposition and making discourse seem natural, while some dwell extensively on philosophical musings such as the meaning of life and the cyclical nature of history. One of the biggest reasons books dominate movies is also one of the biggest reasons books are becoming significantly popular. That is, books effect mental work. Culture as a whole has become increasingly fast paced, and the instant gratification of movies fits in with the utmost dexterity.
The interactive experience one has with a book is a glorious cradle for the type of deep thought about a topic that lasts maybe thirty minutes rather than thirty seconds. To read a novel by James Joyce, one must spend a significant amount of time trying to process the underlying themes and meanings, often rereading even a small portion several times until it makes sense. Many people loathe James Joyce for the daunting density of his work. But to watch a James Cameron movie, a two hour slot of time is all that is usually given up before a person begins eulogizing or bashing the piece.
When one challenges one’s brain, it becomes more powerful, like a exercising a muscle. All aforesaid is meant not to bash movies, but simply to expose how they are surpassed by books. Many people who would argue the converse position are not without reason. Some may sight “art films” like Citizen Kane and Nosferatu, arguing that despite how these are very different in nature than books, they are greater and more beneficial media. Others would assert that there are more options in film. That there are new dimensions to work in when visuals are added into the mix: lighting, filters, cinematography, etcetera.
And an entire other artform is said to be a fundamental part of movies but not books: acting. What a character says on paper can be extremely affected by what the inflection and tone of the speaker is. For example, the phrase “I wanted to kick his ass” can have a huge shift in meaning when emphasis is put on “I,” “wanted,” “kick,” “his,” or “ass. ” Books, falling in the numerical eye of statisticians as a great form of media, are truly better and more diverse than the silver screen. Books are far freer to paint with complex detail and long topics, while most movies re tied to a certain length, making books better beacons for information.
Freer still are books in the possibilities of both subject matter and ways to express that because they are not stuck on characters so severely. With their richness comes an opportunity for the reader to exercise the brain to a greater degree, enriching all parts of their mental life. Although some people disagree, using great old films and the unique opportunities filmmaking does provide the artist with as talking points, books remain the prevailing art the face of a shrinking audience.
Courtney from Study Moose
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