Thomas Leitch “Adaptation, the Genre”

This text is part of my Adaptation Studies breadth list, and it’s the first thing I’ve read for that list. So, my approach may be a bit unfocused / lack direction at the moment.

Leitch, Thomas. “Adaptation, the Genre.” Adaptation 2 (2008): 106-210. Print.

In this article, Leitch argues that, while adaptations can certainly be understood as a “one-to-one case study that takes a single novel or play or story as privileged context for its film adaptation,” this model has its limits. He suggests that understanding and defining adaptation as a genre in its own right can allow us to break out of the linear, and extremely limited exploration of adaptations only within the context of some sort of originary source. That is, adaptation texts should be analyzed in their own right as well as in the context of original source material, because they are independent texts. To this end, Leitch identifies four of many possible markers that allow audiences to experience adaptations as adaptations, even when they are unfamiliar with the original text: (1) a period setting, (2) period music, (3) a focus not only on “the book” from which the story came, but on books and writing and typography in general, and (3) intertitles that provide historical background/setting/context.

Since I happen to watch a lot of book-to-film adaptations as a bookish person, and since I watched The Great Gatsby when it came out in theaters even though I (a) don’t really like Leonardo DiCaprio and (b) don’t really like The Great Gatsby all that much (if I’m gonna read a novel from that time period, you can bet it’ll be Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), I happen to have a few questions about whether or not these markers hold true still.

1. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby most definitely did not use period music. Period setting? Yes. Period music? No. The choice actually really threw me, although I understood it on an intellectual level. The music, while contemporary, certainly spoke to the spirit of the time in a manner that would be much more accessible to contemporary audiences. And I think the choice when over well with audiences but not so much with critics.

–So, I wonder, why make that choice? Does the soundtrack allow the film to separate itself from the novel? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

2. I definitely see the intertitle/book/typography focus playing out in adaptations like Matilda and The Princess Bride, but what about films like Star Wars? Do such films signal their status as adaptations? If so, how?

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