One of the reasons why the film is almost never as good as the book is that you create a film of the book in your head as you read it. You picture the characters, give them their voices and fill in the blanks. This is why good writing doesn’t give you everything, just what you need.
I’m a big fan of the clichés of noir – urban settings, darkness and rain, moody atmosphere and morally compromised players.
Guy Montag is a fireman – a person charged with finding and burning books (the ultimate source of unhappiness in mankind). He’s assisted in this task by a monstrous mechanical hound armed with a hypodermic syringe. But is there really any happiness in his life? And is he maybe hiding books of his own…?
It’s a typically dystopian sci fi novel from the mid twentieth century, about a post-literate future in which people are isolated from real engagement with one another by earphones, tvs and constant sensory input. In its way it’s oddly prescient, if very much a product of its time.
Anyway, combine the above, and here’s what I’ve got…
Black screen. Jesus In The Courtyard by King Dude plays. The door opens (it wasn’t a black screen at all). We’re opening with one of those showboating shots, the camera as point of view.
Our man strolls down the corridor swinging a box that occasionally comes into view. There’s a blaring TV screen and a hubbub of excitement, not unlike any group of men left unsupervised. The vocals cut out as our POV man cranes his head round the corner of a door. The box raises up (the framing’s slightly skewed like someone’s leaning at an angle) “Got a real mean bastard tonight, you coming?” to the room’s inhabitant. He shakes his head, “not tonight.”
“Wife still won’t let you, huh?”
“Something like that…” an apologetic, conspiratorial half-smirk – wife calls the shots, what you gonna’ do?
The song picks up volume. We wander down some stairs, passing men in uniform and exchanging greetings. We pass a slightly scruffy logo, Fahrenheit 451; the noise gets louder with each step.
It gets a little darker, with more than one off-kilter light source. We’re in a crowd of men, shouting and passing money round. The box is lifted again, the door opened and the animal inside shook out…
And THEN the shot switches completely to the point of view of the animal –we see the man who’s been carrying the box. He’s dark haired, in his mid-twenties in the same heavy-duty uniform worn by the others in the crowd. The shot whirls around, panicked – it’s a circle of men, who look huge from this angle. There’s a rat and someone’s dropped a chicken. Then a metallic noise from the shadows, a single red beam of light and a huge beast bursts out grabbing the rat as the crowd goes wild.
Then it turns on our point of view, a menacing metal 8-legged freak that pounces and the screen goes black.
Next scene is of the man who declined to be involved in the blood sport, Guy Montag (though we don’t know that yet). He closes the door behind him – his shift is over. As soon as the door closes, Generique by Miles Davis plays. There’s a long shot down the street, in a quite conscious homage to old noir movies. The scene is lit by moon and streetlight. It’s late-ish autumn. He turns his collar to the cold and starts to walk home.
On his way home tonight he’ll meet a young girl who’ll prove to be a catalyst to his unease. When she first speaks the music stops (it won’t play whenever she’s around, and won’t stop when she’s not).
Maybe I’m strange, but I like to adapt the stories I read like that, giving them a character and a palette not necessarily all that faithful to the book. It’s why ‘my’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is a lot meaner and bleaker than yours (and also less dated).
Do you do the same? Would you? Is it sacrilegious to take such gratuitous liberties with the written word…? As ever, comments below for venting.