More powerful than the written word

‘Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay’ was a Christmas wish that I actually got. I finished reading it this month and found the journey from New Yorker story to screenplay to essays by the author and screenwriters satisfying and enlightening.

Annie Proulx’s story is superb. In about 10,000 words, the author gives us character, geography, and authenticity. Ennis del Mar, Jack Twist, and Wyoming are timeless. It is 1963 through 1983, but it could be a century earlier. The human condition, the myth of the West, are intact and unchanging. The screenplay expands on what Proulx calls her “tight, compressed style.” But Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana are committed to the story. It comes to new life in a different medium but it is the same story at its core.

In her “Getting Movied” essay, Annie Proulx says: “Before I finally saw the film I had heard from Larry and Diana that it was very good, that the language was intact, that the actors were superb. But I was not prepared for the emotional hammering I got when I saw it. The characters roared back into my mind, larger and stronger than they had ever been.”

“Here it was,” she continues, “the point that writers do not like to admit; in our time film can be more powerful than the written word.”

“It is an eerie sensation,” she concludes, “to see events you have imagined in the privacy of your mind, and tried hopelessly to transmit to others through little black marks on a page, loom up before you in an overwhelming visual experience. I realized that I, as a writer, was having the rarest film trip: my story was not mangled but enlarged into huge and gripping imagery that rattled minds and squeezed hearts.”

I can identify with Annie Proulx’s burst of admiration for a film adaptation that is sensitive, well done, and able to match or even supersede its fictional source. It is an uncommon feat.

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