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Bibliography by Dan Reynolds

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 5 months ago



Bibliography by Dan Reynolds


By Dan Reynolds, [Berlin feb7th] Team


1. Lutes, Jason. Berlin: City of Stones. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2001.


This is the central text for our project.  This graphic novel is billed on its title page as a “work of fiction”; this somewhat forced ambiguity seems to be a legitimacy ploy, in that its abstraction obscures the fact of Beriln’s comics format.  While the paratexts, including the cover, give little indication that Berlin is a graphic novel and not a more conventional work of fiction, the text itself shows little evidence of such aspiration to being taken as something more than a comic.  With a more or less traditional visual structure, it tells the parallel stories of a handful of Berliners in late 1928 and early 1929.  The story begins with one character’s arrival in Berlin and ends with the death of another in a May Day demonstration that is attacked by Nazis and state police.  In between, Berlin explores the development of a number of personal relations, paralleling these to the development of communist and Nazi ideologies.  The principal pattern of the narration is a telescoping between events and interactions depicted on a personal level and larger-scale depictions of events or spaces: during the May Day sequence, for instance, the narration moves between Nazi, police, and communist planning and actions, and also alternates between showing mob-level developments in the action and individuals’ reactions to events as they unfold.  The narration also telescopes far out from the action at times, depicting Berlin from above, with only a hint of human activity in evidence.  There is some oscillation between historical periods as well; though most of the action occurs in 1928 and 1929, occasional sequences set 10 years earlier provide context and back-story.



2. Booker, M. Keith. “May Contain Graphic Material”. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2007.


Booker dedicates one chapter each to fifteen comic-book-based films and franchises.  These are mostly close textual readings, touching largely on narrative and thematic issues and giving historical accounts of the conditions of the films’ production and the franchises’ development.  Booker’s introduction to the volume coins the potentially useful term “graphic cinema” to describe comic-to-film adaptation.  In this introduction, the author touches on some of the broader stylistic tendencies of the graphic cinema, such as trends in its tone (the dark moods of the 1980s and early 1990s giving way to the campier, primary-colored Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dick Tracy, as well as the later films in the Batman series).  There is also some discussion in the introduction of ways in which film has tried to mimic the look of the comic book page, both through visual stylization of the diegetic world (Immortal; Sin City) and through graphic effects such as the heavy use of split-screen to emulate comic book panels in Hulk.  Booker makes some interesting claims about tendencies of adaptation-to-film that deserve consideration (and critical scrutiny).  In his discussion of the film From Hell, for example, Booker writes that the film is “far less thought-provoking than the book—a situation that is typical of film adaptations of graphic novels and conventional novels alike.” (104)  A page later, he claims that “the postmodern mixing of genres that is present in both media seems much more clear in the film, though this may also be partly due to the fact that filmgoers are accustomed to films that fit into easily identifiable genres.” (105)  Addressing visual signifiers of genre in his discussion of Road to Perdition, Booker writes that the “black-and-white artwork in the graphic novel version…is closer to style and spirit than to the novel’s own film adaptation.” (127) Throughout the book, the discussion of genre and of the adaptation of style between the two media is limited; Booker seems to favor discussion of how plotlines and themes tend to be changed in “graphic cinema” adaptation.



3. Gordon, Ian, Mark Jankovich, and Matthew P. McAllister, eds. Film and Comic Books.   Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2007.


The introduction to this edited volume points out some of the superficial (but not unimportant) similarities between film and comic books: “As visual media,” the editors write, “both have aesthetic qualities and formal properties, such as frames and panels, which have important visual resemblance.” (xi)  They also close with a note on the effects that digital media’s “blurring of production and consumption” might have on both media. (xvi) Michael Cohen’s essay on Dick Tracy calls the film “the most meticulous effort to capture the aesthetic of a comic in a live-action film,” claiming that, despite the ontological differences in the two media, the film “boldly tackles” these essential differences.  Cohen cites the film’s “aesthetic of artifice” as key to this capacity. (13)  The film removes physical detail, he writes, in order to “preclude the plausibility of the characters and their actions.” (21)  Most of the other articles focus mainly on thematic issues (the figure of the superhero looms large) and cultural questions that have more to do with popular myth than they do with adaptation and aesthetics.  The notable exception is Pascal Lefèvre’s article,  which opens with a quotation from Alain Resnais: “Till today I haven’t seen a cinematographic adaptation of a comic, which seems to add something to the original work, they have always been rehashes.” (sic)(1)  Lefevre’s article touches on narrative fealty to source material (such as fan outrage over a change made to the source of Spider-Man’s webs).  Most of the article focuses on listing ontological problems for film to overcome: being a sound rather than a silent medium, not being able to easily translate comics’ ability to change their levels of pictorial realism to suit different situations, and so on.



4. Bazin, André. “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest.” Film Adaptation. James Naremore, ed. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2000.


Perhaps Bazin’s most important point here for our project is that “’Form’ is at most a sign, a visible manifestation, of style, which is absolutely inseparable from the narrative content, of which it is…the metaphysics.” (20)  This definition of form also redefines style—most discussions of cinematic style equate the term with the surface qualities of the film other than syuzhet (story).  Bazin’s use of the term here, though, seems to take it to describe an underlying quality from which film form is an emergent property or an expression.  This is style in a sense closer to “attitude.”  This could be a valuable concept to keep in mind when working on adapting comic book material: the problems that Lefevre identifies become largely formal problems; in Bazin’s formulation, it seems as if it should be (in principle) possible for a comic book and its film adaptation to have exactly the same style, though their forms, by necessity, must be radically different.  Bazin concludes by saying that we could be moving toward a “reign of adaptation in which the notion of the unity of the work of art…will be destroyed.” (26)  In other words, adaptation can contribute to a kind of distance reading, in which a text (Bazin uses the example of The Grapes of Wrath) is actually a constellation of forms, a book, a play, a film, none of which is dominant over the other in the eyes of the “critic of the year 2050.”




5. Andrew, Dudley. “Adaptation.” Film Adaptation. James Naremore, ed. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2000.


Dudley Andrew begins his discussion of adaptation by approaching the subject from a semiotic perspective.  Discussing Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country, an adaptation of “A Country Excursion” by Guy de Maupassant, Andrew claims that de Maupassant’s original short story “bears a transcendent relation to any and all films that adapt it, for it is itself an artistic sign with a given shape and value, if not a finished meaning.” Andrew then goes on to claim that “Adaptations claiming fidelity bear the original as a signified, whereas those inspired by or derived from an earlier text stand in a relation of referring to the original.” (28)  Writing about the city symphony, a genre that had a short-lived heyday in the 1920s (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and Manhatta are the most-often-cited examples; marginal cases include The Man with a Movie Camera and Marseille Vieux Port), Andrew points out that these are a kind of adaptation of the concept of the city—an idea that may have some value in thinking about the themes in Lutes’s Berlin: City of Stones, the central text for our project.  Touching on the question of narrative fidelity (of such importance to the Booker analyses), Andrew points out that these are based on the assumption “that the task of adaptation is the reproduction in cinema of something essential about an original text.” (31)  This, Andrew says, could be achieved by a mechanical process.  What is more important to Andrew is fidelity to the “spirit” of the original—the manner in which tone, rhythm, and so on are reproduced in or translated into the film form.  Since narrative is a system available to both film and literature, comparisons of narrative units should be the work of adaptation, but “the strictly separate but equivalent processes…that produced the narrative units…through words and audiovisual signs…must be studied.” (34)  This is where the specificities of the two media become the focus; the study of adaptation ends up being the study of the structures of the two media forms.



6. Schwartz, Delmore. “Masterpieces as Comic Books.” Arguing Comics. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, eds. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2004.


Schwartz (whose short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” deals poetically with film ontology) recounts his experience with Classics Illustrated, the series of comic-book adaptations of literary classics.  Schwartz discusses the legitimacy issues the comics seem to have (one urges readers to now go and read “the original”; Schwartz wonders how many people move from comic version to original text), asking whether this comes from “good intentions” or “guilty conscience.”  (52)  Later, Schwartz acknowledges that “to encounter a literary masterpiece in dramatic or cinematic form” sometimes provides “a new view and a new interest in the work.” (56)  Schwartz is ultimately disapproving of this form of adaptation, declaring that the replacement of a paragraph of description with a single drawn images creates a “debased” work (62), and that the comics versions can only be of real value when read alongside the originals, as a kind of ethnographic investigation of the “experience and thus the consciousness of the other reader: children, juveniles, adolescents, housewives, aged relatives, farmers, mechanics, taxi-drivers—in fact, everyone!” (61)

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