“I liked the film, but the book is better,” is a phrase so often repeated it’s almost a truism. It makes intuitive sense: a 90 minute film cannot possibly capture the richness and depth that exists in a novel. And no one is arguing that Troy sums up the Iliad in a satisfactory way. The reasons seem logical enough: in a novel you can capture multiple perspectives and an ongoing internal monologue that would be distracting and unrealistic in a movie. Novelists are also unburdened by format – novels are meant to be read in multiple sittings, and so are unrestricted by length. Movies longer than a couple of hours (looking at you, Peter Jackson) are tests of patience and bladder control. So the handicaps are obvious.
However, and this feels self-evident, there are things that film adaptations can and do accomplish more handily than a novel. Beyond the obvious sensory elements, films capture moments of nuanced emotion with greater economy. They are more effective at triggering empathy. And I’ll argue that in at least one case, they can improve the story.
The best example (and one thematically related to the blog) is the John Cusack vehicle High Fidelity, based on the novel by Nick Hornby. Hornby is a great storyteller, and the plot that drives both the film and the novel are his. However, it’s how the actors play the record store employees and the influence of director Stephen Frears that makes the film so compelling. And Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie makes you understand instantly what kind of woman she is. Hornby spends pages describing her; but in the film, you understand so much about her because of what you know already about Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Which is all to bolster my argument that interpretation is an art in itself. The song I’ve chosen is a cover song, originally by Steely Dan. Josie is one of Steely Dan’s best known tunes, but that band was never really all that popular. They’re often called musician’s musicians, appealing to jazz geeks and people who don’t balk at odd time signatures and syncopated horn lines for hooks. I’ve got a soft spot for them. In fact, I’ve gone once or twice to see Pretzel Logic – a faithful Dan cover band who play monthly at the Orbit Room here in Toronto. So I heard this cover by The Darcys and was immediately intrigued. Add to this the fact that I’m fascinated by covers – Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back, etc, meant that I couldn’t pass this up.
The Darcys interpretation here is organ heavy, and lacks entirely the disco feel of the original. They sing about an octave lower too, but it really works. This version of Josie amps up the melancholy and ambient noise, giving the tune a skittish, anxious feel.
Try it, you’ll like it. The Darcys cover of the Aja album in its entirety (!) drops January 24th. They’re touring North America for the next couple months. They’re in Guelph on the 19th, and will be back in Toronto March 1.