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May 13, 2004

"The Dreamers," the novel

Dear Friedrich --

Remember my conversation with TurboKitty about the recent Bertolucci movie The Dreamers? (The posting is here.) The movie was based on a novel by the British film critic Gilbert Adair, whose film criticism I like.

Well, the novel has an amusing history. It turns out that Adair had always been unhappy with the novel, which was his first. Then, when he worked with Bertolucci on the movie, he started to see how he could fix the novel, and after filming was over he went ahead and did a rewrite. Why not, eh? It's his damn book. So these days, in England anyway, the novel known as "'The Dreamers' by Gilbert Adair" isn't the original, and it isn't a novelization of the movie either. It's Adair's rewrite of the novel of his that the Bertolucci film was based on. Could this be a first?

I couldn't resist, ordered up a copy of Adair's rewrite from Amazon UK (here), and wound up liking the book a lot. It's a creepy, sexy, fast read. It packs a lot more punch than the movie does, and it has a very different feel too. The characters, for one thing, are much more maliciously motivated. The incestuous French twins are charismatic monsters who are straightforwardly using the blank-faced, tremulously gay -- and eager to be used -- little American. In the Bertolucci movie, all three characters come across as pampered neurotics playacting out rather charmingly on each other. In the Adair, the narcissism is much more dangerous and pungent. Fascinating also to see that the book also has an entire third act that shows up for only a minute or two in the movie.

Adair's style and approach cross a sinister and precious neoclassicism with a spare, hallucinatory avant-gardism. The book moves from gorgeous, slightly-sickly tableau to sickly tableau, with little of the action conventionally dramatized. It also has some enjoyable conceptual brilliance. Adair has somewhere said that in his opinion what the student revolts of 1968 were really all about was the first TV generation acting out for the cameras. Reading the novel, you can see how he's worked that perception out. You're in the front row at a kind of film, gazing at a screen that's beaming back at you: the incestuous, Cocteau-ish twins; the blank-screen American; their film-buff sex games; the window that breaks, drawing them out of their make-believe world and into the city; the riots that originate at the Cinematheque and then spill out into real-life street theater ...

It's all quite flakey and high-strung, yet it's all quite calm and well-composed too. I enjoyed the book a lot. But -- fair warning -- it's only for those with a taste for ultra-arty (and High-Queer) modernism.



posted by Michael at May 13, 2004


James Salter rewrote his early novels, too. He made only minor changes to The Hunters, but he completely rewrote -- oh, I forget what the original title was, but the rewrite's title was Cassada. To my knowledge he hasn't changed a word of A Sport and a Pastime, nor should he.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on May 14, 2004 01:29 AM

"Adair has somewhere said that in his opinion what the student revolts of 1968 were really all about was the first TV generation acting out for the cameras."

This is a paraphrase of Adair, who I know little of, so I'll take it as it is. It would be incorrect to call the revolt in 1968 in France a student revolt - virtually all of France's blue collar workers participated in the revolt, although it's correct that it began in the universities.

As far as "the first TV generation acting out for the cameras", well this is a bit ambiguous and probably not the best way to put it. Malcolm McLuhan said around this time that the medium is the message, in other words, TV is more important than whatever the topic on TV is. Two thirds of the workforce going out on strike makes quite a show. One could certainly make the argument that people desired to break out of not just their industrial economic relations, but their cultural hegemony as well.

Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible.
Be realistic, demand the impossible.

Posted by: Lance Murdoch on May 14, 2004 05:42 AM

I think Max Allan Collins wrote a prose novelisation of the film The Road to Perdition which had been based upon his own graphic novel in the first place. Not quite the same as Adair, perhaps, but an oddity unto itself.

I think, too, James Hadley Chase would rewrite his novels for later publications to make sure any topical references in them were up to date. Dean Koontz has also rewritten a lot of his older works that he originally published under other names so that he can publish them under his own.

Posted by: James Russell on May 14, 2004 08:26 AM

Very interesting. I bet there are a lot more rewrites than you would think.

I think I shall pass on viewing "The Dreamers", however. Just ain't my glass of beer.

Thanks, Michael!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on May 14, 2004 09:57 AM

You'd like Salter, Pattie.

BTW, there's an author who rewrote almost all his books: Henry James. The rewrites are known as the "New York Edition," and date from about 1907. If I remember correctly, only Washington Square and James's very first novel (the one before Roderick Hudson, which he just wanted to bury) escaped.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on May 15, 2004 01:11 AM

I will give him a try, Tim. Thanks for the tip. Never read any Salter that I can recall.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on May 15, 2004 08:59 AM

Yeah, but as a subset of writers-who-have-rewritten-published novels, has anyone ever heard of a case like this Adair book? I mean, back in the days when novelizations were commonplace, I remember that a few novelists did the novelizations of their own novels. (Why give the money to someone else?) But I've never heard of a novelist who, while working on the film adaptation of his novel, spotted ways to improve it and then went back and fixed it. Interesting new twist on the rewriting thing, no? First time I've run across it anyway. Actually it makes a lot of sense. It can be a real eye-opener to see what actors and directors do with your material, I'd imagine. They probably shine light on it in ways that are surprising, and even if you finally disagree with 'em, you'll probably have learned a lot.

If anyone goes ahead and reads Salter, let me know how you react. I seem to be one of the two or three only lit-book lovers who isn't a big fan of Salter's. I register that he was skillful and talented and have no trouble with the fact that he's a minor legend. I suspect my real prob with his work is that I just have very little patience with the kind of thing he does -- that post-WWII school of beautiful sentences. Updike, Yates, Cheever, Irwin Shaw -- talented guys, but if I'd never read them my life wouldn't be much the poorer. I sometimes wish I cared more about beautiful sentences than I do, sigh.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 15, 2004 10:38 AM

It's worth noting that Adair seems to be a long-term and somewhat obsessive reworker of his own work - over the twenty or so years I've been reading his work regularly (in addition to his work as a novelist and screenwriter, he's one of Britain's wittiest and most eccentric film critics and cultural commentators), I've traced observations, sentences and even paragraphs regularly recurring in different contexts.

Those who read his rhapsodic Sight & Sound review of Francis Coppola's The Outsiders will recognise passages in his novel Love and Death on Long Island (which I highly recommend in both its book and film versions). A generic paragraph about the aesthetics of beauty has turned up, with minimal changes, in pieces on Kenji Mizoguchi and the Taviani Brothers. And, amusingly enough, I once unmasked a plagiarist who reworked an Adair piece on French film-maker Robert Bresson and passed it off as his own work in a respectable online film journal. The miscreant pleaded guilty - it was an open-and-shut case, believe me! - but said I'd got the source wrong. Further investigation revealed that Adair had been up to his usual tricks, writing two virtually identical pieces (but with a few slight differences) for two separate publications.

He's too good a stylist for this to be mere laziness, so I suspect there's another explanation for this.

Posted by: Michael Brooke on May 15, 2004 05:10 PM

There's an interview in Sight & Sound in which Adair comes across as rather in awe of Bertolucci. His anecdotes about the "privilege" of being on set to help work the changes make clear that the actors were allowed far too much say in the actions and reactions of their characters. I can understand why Hitchcock regarded movie actors as cattle to be herded.

This indulgence by the director in his cast might explain why the twins are more demonic in the novelisation than the movie.

As for Jim Salter, A Sport and a Pastime has some very classy erotic action, but I found the prose, as M B did, too "literary" and self-c onscious by half (Updike, Schmupdike).

Posted by: Dave F on May 18, 2004 07:12 AM

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