ISHIGURO & GARLAND: STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (ABOUT A VIDEO)

I’m writing a chapter for a collective book, edited by José Francisco Fernández Sánchez, on how contemporary British writers have progressed since the publication of Blincoe & Thorne’s anthology (and manifesto) All Hail the New Puritans (2000). I chose (I begged…) to write about Alex Garland, as I’m very much interested in how he’s straddling the world of literature and cinema.

In my search for bibliography I came across an interview by David Poland with Garland himself and Kazuo Ishiguro, filmed at the time of the release of Never Let me Go (Mark Romanek, Sept 2010), the adaptation scripted by Garland of Ishiguro’s SF novel. I’m fascinated by that 36-minute conversation (enjoy it at https://www.viddler.com/explore/mcnvideos/videos/219/). What’s so interesting about it? Everything –if you love books and cinema. The contrast between these British writers of two very different generations, who are, nonetheless friends and creative accomplices. Even the body language is significant. What they say about the profession of writing from very different perspectives on literary achievement and reputation. How well the interviewer manages to raise all the key issues regarding the difference between writing for the page and writing for the screen. The fascinating insights into the writing of Never Let me Go and the ensuing film adaptation…

Apparently, the pair met when Ishiguro contacted Garland after learning that he had modelled a piece of dialogue in The Beach after a similar exchange in Ishiguro’s own The Artist of the Floating World. You might say that Garland also borrowed from Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day the gimmick of having an unreliable narrator who is exposed to the reader in his meanness as he himself remains unaware. Garland clearly admires Ishiguro for his novels and Ishiguro, for all his immense literary quality, has the elegance of admiring Garland for being a much better screen writer than he is.

Possibly this is the key issue of the interview. Ishiguro explains that when you’re regarded as a good novelist, your screenplays are welcome regardless of your actual qualifications to write them, an opinion he uses to justify why he’s not so satisfied with his own screenplays. Garland, who seems to be now a full time screen writer (his last novel, the brief The Coma was published in 2004) is asked, in contrast, how he’s coping with the acute loss of reputation that being a screen writer entails in comparison to being a novelist. He claims not to care at all, poor thing, as long as he can carry out the film projects he’s interested in. Ishiguro comes to his rescue, stressing it’s all a matter of convention –screen writers are just not granted the respect that their closest colleagues, playwrights, receive. But that might change.

I hope so! I also hope that Garland’s decision to adapt Never Let Me Go as his own very personal project (it took him five years…) starts a new fashion for literary adaptations in which the screenwriter’s name does matter –‘Garland reads Ishiguro’ could be the slogan I’m after. Add your own… This, of course, has been around for a long time, possibly from the beginnings of cinema: William Faulkner was co-author of the screen adaptation of Hemingway’s To Have and to Have not, remember?. Yet, somehow the adapter’s work is always obscured and all merit stupidly awarded to directors. And the other way round: Garland insists that Ishiguro is also the author of the film adaptation of Never Let me Go, even though he had no hand in the screenplay nor was in touch with the director: the themes, characters and settings, Garland stresses, are all Ishiguro’s.

By all accounts, then, if Garland wins, let’s say, an Oscar for his adaptation, Ishiguro should win one as well. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Garland, knowing Ishiguro will be very happy for his friend…

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