The Critical Optimist

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Why you need books to appreciate movies.

Well, I’ll be honest.  I don’t read nearly as much as I used to.  Reading used to be pretty much all that I did, whereas now, I watch a lot of movies and write about them.  I simply find film to be a fascinating medium that I have yet to fully understand, but want to.  I imagine most people who visit this site are in about the same boat.  Nevertheless, no matter how much more fascinating film seems, literature is still an important — if not the most important — form of art.

As fundamentally different as books and film are, they are perpetually intertwined.  For one thing, a screenplay is very often written like a stripped down novelization, albeit with more detailed specifications, and less flowery language.  The way I consider the matter details film as a transcription of one man’s/woman’s vision; the way that they see the world they create.  This is why I’ll always see George Lucas as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, not because of his stellar screenwriting abilities, but because of his ability to commit to film ideas in his head that nobody else could ever even dream of conceiving; and why directors like Michael Bay catch so much flak among moviegoers.

A book is different however.  A good writer fills in details with visual language, but the scenery of the book is up to the reader.  The color of the paint on the wall may be dictated, but it’s the job of the reader to fill out the shape of the room and the arrangement of the furniture.

The beautiful thing about these two phenomena is that each unmistakably affects the other.  My reading and watching experiences are why I was never quite sold on Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, a faithful adaptation like To Kill a Mockingbird is thoroughly gratifying, and why I hear Christian Bale’s voice when I read a Batman book.

Most importantly though, you should read books because they allow you to work in a way no other medium of entertainment requires you to do.  In doing this one gains an irreplaceable understanding, not of the filmmaking process, but of the imagination it requires.

Happy Book Lover’s Day everyone.


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