I have a weird relationship with books.
Yep, that’s the best I can come up with – weird. And I should clarify that I mean I have a weird relationship with books that are turned into movies.
You see, I am always disappointed in the film adaptation. Yeah, yeah, I know. This is an ancient topic. We readers are always disappointed in the film adaptation. Ever since they have made movies, they have made movies from books, and there have always been disappointed fans, because, as we all know, the film’s director will never be able to capture and portray what we imagined.
Here’s where the weird part comes in: I still go see the movies. And I get excited to see them. Even though I know in my heart of hearts, they will be a big disappointment.
Take the Harry Potter movies. I am a die hard fan of the books – I think I’ve read One through Four at least a dozen times – and I got giddy excited for each and every single movie. Yes. Giddy. Jumping up and down clapping and screaming excited. I even made it to a midnight release for Film Number Four. But, as is always the case, I was disappointed. In all of them. Well, actually I thought Film Six was pretty good, but only because it had been so long since I read Book Six, I forgot most of it. When I went back and read Six, and then watched the movie again (which, by the way, is the only time I have seen any of the Harry Potter movies more than once), I didn’t like it, as per custom.
So here’s my thing: since I knew I wouldn’t like the movies, why did I get so excited for each one? Mystery of mysteries of the universe, I’m telling you.
On the flip side, I also tend to have a difficult time reading a book for the first time after seeing the movie. My theory is thus: the director’s vision is now in my head, and I can’t seem to boot it out and let my own vision of the book take over. I can list a thousand examples, but the first that comes to mind is Stephen King’s The Stand. I loved that movie as a kid – and I fell in love with Gary Sinise because of it – so when I finally sat down and tried to read the book, I made it to page 30 before I called it quits. I just couldn’t eliminate the images of Gary Sinise as Stu Redman, and King’s description of the character just wasn’t fitting.
So all this said, I try to read books before I go see the movies. Then I can go with what’s behind Door #1: a great book and a disappointing movie, rather than Door #2: a good movie and a great book I’ll never read.
But I didn’t hold to this with The Monuments Men. I have been meaning to read this book for ages, but another tome always plunked down in my lap first. And I was up against a deadline because the movie came out a couple of weeks ago … and I knew my boyfriend J wanted to go see it.
Well, I didn’t make it. I went to the movie with J and was disappointed. At the movie in general, mind you, not because of anything related to the book. The most I had read of the book was the inside flap of the dust jacket. J and I spent hours discussing the movie (he’s fascinated by the reclamation of art looted by the Nazis) and we agreed that Clooney approached the project a little too broadly. Given the time constraints of a movie, and the sheer depth of information on this topic, he should have honed in a bit and focused on maybe the recovery of 1 or 2 key artifacts so he could really develop a story and an emotional narrative around those pieces. He got close with the story of the Bruges Madonna but he only got close. As it was, he flopped around all over the place, and for J and I anyway, this flip-flopping made it difficult to connect with what was happening on screen.
So, I go see a relatively slipshod movie, and I don’t read the book after I’ve seen the movie as I mentioned above, so what did I come home and do?
I start reading the book.
I know. I gotta keep it exciting somehow though.
And the book is absolutely incredible. I love the format – Robert Edsel has crafted what can essentially be called vignettes around this team of characters caught in the final battles of World War II trying to track down and save as many historic sites, monuments, and artworks as they can. The writing is truly narrative – this mini-story style makes it easy to read, and like great fiction, draws you in to the world you are reading about. He tells one story about the destruction of an early Benedictine monastery with such emotion, that I literally felt tears percolating. Yes, that’s right. I almost cried because an old church got blown to smithereens. That’s a talented writer there.
Another example? In the movie, Bill Murray’s character receives a recording from his daughter and grandchildren singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” This little nugget of a story is plunked down in the movie with so little thought around the context that it meant nothing to me. I mentioned to J: I understand there was supposed to be an emotional connection there (Murray even sits down on the floor and cries while he listens to the record) but without the context, I felt like I was watching 5 minutes of wasted film. Cut to the book, where one of the Monuments Men receives a recording from his daughter and grandchildren wishing him a happy holidays and expressing how much they miss him because he’s been overseas for so long. Since Edsel has really brought this character to life, to such skill that I feel like I know the guy, the emotional impact of the book’s scene far surpasses the movie.
Sigh. Funny old world, isn’t it?
My experience with The Monuments Men makes me want to go back and try to read some of these books I tossed aside before. See if I can get through them now that I know it is possible to read a book after seeing a movie … oh there it is! I have to feel somewhat ambivalent about the movie. I can’t love the movie or it won’t work. Well, there went The Stand.