We're in the thick of the summer and hot weather entertainment options abound — that is, if you're an adult. Remember being a kid and trying to figure out ways to make summer break fly by? I do. Thank goodness for summer camps and clubs and swim team; thank goodness, too, for lists. Frankly, I'm extra thankful for the American Film Institute, whose lists I started reading when I was little. Without those compilations, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have the appreciation for cinema I do today. Why? Because I was one of those extreme kiddos who grew up believing that the written word was somehow intrinsically superior to the image. Ah, my young snobby self, how foolish you were.
Now I know that, no matter how different the mediums are, movies can be just as good as books. In fact, good movies can do all kinds of things that books can't — like providing the visuals of a scene in a second rather than a paragraph. But, even with those concessions, whenever I see a good movie, I can't help checking to see if it came from a book. Because... well, you know. The book would probably just be ... somehow ... better.
In my boat? In honor of those lists, here are 6 movies from AFI's list of 100 Greatest American Films that would've made incredible novels (or short stories).
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
Part of what makes a great novel is the search for an elusive answer ("rosebud"). Orson Welles' tale of a Hearst-esque newspaper mogul shows how one man's existence grew larger than life. Replete with a fantastic setting and love-affairs aplenty, Citizen Kane would've been a devastating novel, sharing traits with a book like John Williams' Stoner , which also accounts for a single man's entire life.
2. Do The Right Thing (1989)
Is there a more necessary film to be watching at this moment in history? I'm not sure. All I do know is that this Spike Lee joint from 1989 would've made a sumptuous novel, rich in music and atmosphere, harrowingly reflecting the joys and tragedies of our American society, imploring us to be better.
3. Tootsie (1982)
If you want to develop the ability to see a potential novel within a movie, read a good film critic, someone able to translate the screen to prose. For me, that writer was Roger Ebert, who described Tootsie as, "the kind of Movie with a capital M that they used to make in the 1940s, when they weren't afraid to mix up absurdity with seriousness, social comment with farce, and a little heartfelt tenderness right in there with the laughs. This movie gets you coming and going." Pretty sure Tootsie — in addition to having been at home in the '40s — would've also been at home on library shelves. It's a story that depicts characters as rich and society standards as farcical as anything by Jane Austen.
4. Titanic (1997)
True story: James Cameron pitched his blockbuster tearjerker as "Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic." Clearly, a written treatment of the three-hour epic would've been ... well, everything (or, yah know, a perfect historical novel packed with real characters like Molly Brown and fairy-tale perfect romance).
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
This is purely selfish and maybe a stretch. In all honesty, I'm not sure Pulp Fiction could be a novel. It exists so completely as a visual (see Uma Thurman drawing that square in the air) and given Tarantino's biography (he worked in a video store), it's hard to imagine novelizing this story. That said, the dialogue is so snappy and the scenes so iconic, a bookworm can't help but wish...
6. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Steven Spielberg's '80s classic is so touching and infused with the trappings of childhood from days gone by that you know the book would be a treasure trove of nostalgia. Could "E.T. phone home" even have the same heart-tugging effect today? Somehow, "E.T. text home" just doesn't have quite the same ring.
Images: Miramax Films