Australian Literature and Film

Peter Craven laments that not enough of our (ie Australian) great works of literature have been turned into films or television series. His argument is that adapting great books into film opens the works up to a greater audience, thereby maintaining their presence in the Australian cultural consciousness.

"Novels are not the same thing as films, but unless there is a determined effort to make literature into film and television then we run the risk that literature will wither or fall into obscurity. And all the more so with the literature of a country such as Australia, where the novels tend to loom larger in our minds than they do for the rest of the world (quite apart from their value)."
I can agree with the underlying sentiment of this paragraph, but some of the individual pieces within it seem either cliched or open to debate.

Firstly, there is the basic assumption that UNLESS SOMETHING IS DONE then literature in this country will "wither or fall into obscurity". Nope, can't agree that with one. It's the old hoary "literature is dying" trope that is dragged out about once a year. Literature isn't dying, it's just changing; as it should. The subjects that literature tackles have been changing since the early part of the 20th century, splayed by the Modernists and then
expanded further by the post-splayers. The delivery methods will change now, which, on the face of it, may give the impression that it is fading away. It isn't. We are surrounded by more stories and poetry than ever before, and yet people insist that it's on its last legs. Just because it may not look like the literature you read in your youth doesn't imply its heading towards the wrong side of the grass.

Secondly: do novels really "loom larger in our minds than they do for the rest of the world"? Don't see that one either. I wonder if Craven is implying that we, as Australians, define ourselves in terms of our literary context. Do we see ourselves as real-life avatars of past or contemporary literary creations? I don't, and I doubt whether anyone else I know does either. We may, at one point, have been keen on seeing ourselves as a modern variant of The Man from Snowy River, but surely not these days. Not since the Second World War I suspect. Murray Whelan is more indicative of the people I relate to than anything by Martin Boyd.

But Craven does have a point when he implies the importance of film and television as a means of keeping our literature in the forefront of our hearts and minds. I think I'd be on solid ground in saying that film (and its cousin, television) represented the great new artistic form of the twentieth century. The novel filled that role in the 18th and 19th centuries and, while both the novel and film may have originated at an earlier time, they came to be their dominant cultural positions in the eras mentioned.

We are in the middle of a Golden Age of television. Series such as The X-Files (nine seasons and 201 episodes), The West Wing (seven seasons of about 22 episodes each), The Sopranos, (6 seasons and 86 episodes), Deadwood, Rome, even the new Doctor Who and Torchwood are redefining the way we watch and perceive the television artform. And, in the case of The West Wing and The Sopranos, may even be showing us a new form of literature and a new way of appreciating it. So the method is there. Television networks just need the will (read marketplace dynamics) to incorporate adaptations of the literary classics along with the newer works.

Literature isn't dead, it just needs a better publicist.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on July 16, 2007 3:17 PM.

Max Barry Interview was the previous entry in this blog.

Australian Bookcovers #73 - Bliss by Peter Carey is the next entry in this blog.

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