When Cinema Gets to You First

Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0

Somehow, I was unaware that Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres contained the story it does. I’d enjoyed a book of the author’s short stories, and so when I saw the novel at a book sale a while ago, I grabbed it. When I dove in last night, I suddenly became aware on page eighteen that I knew what this was going to turn out to be; in this case, I’d seen that movie before.

Probably because my sister had subjected me to the film at the same time she also sat me down in front of One True Thing, the two got jumbled in my mind, and the former took on the name of the latter. (I’m not sure what happened in the ol’ mental nether regions to the Anna Quindlen tale so rudely stripped of its identity.) But now that I know what I’m dealing with, I’m not really excited about seeing this through, in spite of the fact that Smiley’s a good writer. I’m trying to pump myself up with things such as reminders that Greek tragedy is really just the same stories everyone already knew down to the last detail, but necessarily shaped into something original by each successive playwright who took on some heroic tale or gods-ridden nightmare. And I love me some Aristophanes and Sophocles, so what’s the problem here?

The probable problem is the fact that I saw the Hollywood version of whatever Smiley produced first, and most likely in much better fashion. And so, if nothing else, I’m going to read this thing through to the end, in an attempt to establish the authorial superiority of the original. (Let’s hope it happens.) There’s a nagging reminder, though, of films that in my humble opinion, won out over their written source materials: Gone with the Wind, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Firm. (Those middle two hold tenuous places in this list, since I watched and read all available versions of each multiple times– but, with the exception of some vague hunting episode in Red Fern, when I think of both today, all I can come up with are scenes from the movies.)

So: I’ll do my best to keep Michelle Pfeiffer et al out of my head while reading. (Already, I’m picturing the father with features completely unlike Jason Robards’, so I’m optimistic about the success of said aim– but, while looking this thing up on IMDB, was amazed to find that Colin Firth has a significant part in the film. Nice going, crappy memory.)

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