Monday, March 14, 2011

More on adaptation, and the heart versus the head

A couple more thoughts that are rolling around in my head after I wrote my last post:
  • I'm amazed that, in my discussion of adapting classic works of literature and whether you can really enjoy a dramatic adaptation of a novel you've read, I didn't expand this to discuss theater --how this might apply to producing/directing classic plays. I think most theatergoers have experienced the phenomenon of going to see a production of a Shakespeare play (or other classic) where the director is so keen to put his own spin on the material that it prevents you from engaging with the play. You know, flash and dazzle productions where you can admire the artists' cleverness, but not connect on an emotional level. I'm not saying that all "concept" productions of Shakespeare are like this, and still less that no modern production of Shakespeare can succeed on an emotional level. But I do have a marked preference for productions whose goal is to "engage deeply with the text" rather than "go by the Rule of Cool."
  • In an email, my dad called me out on the following claim, "I tend to believe that art that taps into your emotional, subconscious brain is more valuable than art that welcomes cool, distanced consideration." Do I really believe that? (Or maybe I believe it more strongly than my dad does.) I think this is one reason why I have trouble appreciating contemporary conceptual art. I'm not one of those people who says that art (visual art) must be beautiful, but I do think it must be visceral -- touching you at a level beyond language. Just as with conceptual productions of classic plays, some conceptual art pieces do succeed on a visceral level as well as an intellectual one, and some don't... which is why I consider the visceral pieces to be more fully successful.
  • There's a quasi-spiritual aspect to all of this. We have a godlike omniscience when we watch an adaptation of a classic novel and know in advance what will happen, which can also lead to a godlike sense of superiority and boredom. When we watch an unfamiliar story, living and suffering along with the characters, we are not gods -- or perhaps we are like Jesus, making the characters' suffering our own.

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