Conference “From the Blank Page to the Silver Screen 4: Opening pages, opening shots” - Université du Maine (Le Mans, France) - 21-22 June 2012
Whether it be presented as a prologue or alluded to in the credits, integrated in the opening sequence or developed in a flash-back, the incipit of a novel represents the first narrative and mise-en-scene enigma to the director whose film is based on the adaptation of a literary text. Philippe Sohet suggests that the incipit is not a stable form, for its function has changed over the years, depending on the cultural contexts and the discursive strategies of the genre, proposing various expressive modes to the opening topos (Philippe Sohet, Images du récit, Québec, Presses universitaires du Québec, 2007). The incipit contains the fictional codes that establish the reading pact between the author and the reader, contributing to the intimacy implicit in the autobiographical mode or announcing the transgression of the fictional codes in “postmodern works”.
The fourth edition of “From the Blank Page to the Silver Screen” will promote the study of adaptation through a “magnifying glance” at the first page. The perspective epitomized by the theme of the conference “Opening pages, opening shots” raises the issue of the “adaptation pact” as illustrated by the film incipit – the credits or the first sequences defining the “viewing pact” of the work. In her seminal work on film adaptation, Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate, Kamilla Elliott closely examines the interaction between text and image in the illustrated edition of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair: how does the illustration (often integrated into the text itself, intertwining with the first letter of the text) program or contradict one’s reading? Though Elliott uses this example to insist that historically, the novel has often included images, just as the film has historically included text (in the form of intertitles), the juxtaposition of opening images and opening texts is a promising one. Considering that the incipit clarifies the nature of the writing and allows a classification of the genre, what strategies are used to hook the viewer in the first seconds of a film? What effect do these choices have on the narrative and dramatic structure of the adapted film?
Possible avenues for exploration:
- Opening credits as texts to be read or seen (for example in the text scrolling over a black screen that opens Bladerunner, explaining the existence of replicants, or conversely the images that supplant the text in the credits of Farenheit 451)
- The introductory nature of the opening images and lines of text (establishing shots that recall the opening lines of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice) and lure encapsulated in the first minutes (a male silhouette hobbling on crutches towards the audience at the beginning of Double Indemniy)
- The problem of “leaving one’s mark” and the authorship of the work (the author’s voice resounding through Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Henry V, where Derek Jacobi’s quiet recitation of the prologue seeks to differenciate the film with Olivier’s famous opening; the novelist and screenwriter’s participation in directing Smoke)
- The means of appropriation used in remakes (the mixture of references to previous adaptations as well as to the source text in different versions of The Postman Always Rings Twice)
- The conflict between credits, opening sequence, and source text (as in Soylent Green, whose first images sum up and evacuate the political elements of the novel Make Room! Make Room!)
- The different strategies used to enter the fiction (according to its genre, its time, its source texts).
- The cultural, narrative, commercial markers of books written in a foreign language and adapted to Anglo-American cinema.
Proposals (250 words) should be sent by November 15, 2011 to Shannon Wells-Lassagne firstname.lastname@example.org and Delphine Letort email@example.com
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