Sweet bromance of Literature and Cinema

Sweet bromance of Literature and Cinema

Film critic Karen Avetisyan describes the complicated relations between literature and cinema - in the world and in Armenia, from literature-based “Namus” to Parajanov’s "non-literary" approach to the narrative.

Text : Karen Avetisyan


Hitchcock once said, “A good film needs three key components: script, script and script.” It is said that the American Guilds, screenwriters and writers began to exploit these words while raising royalties, much like cinematographers in the Soviet Union who turned Lenin’s words about cinema into a banner as “the most powerful of arts.”

Hitchcock’s words, at the same time, are very conventional as the script in cinema has at least as much to do with directing as it does with literature. However, the most important component – the dominance of visual storytelling, has often been overlooked in the history of cinema, where the screenplay has been seen as a link between cinema and literature, just the way the adaptation has often been seen as literature on the screen, and which often failed because these are two very different coordinate systems.

However, literature – as an elder brother – has always been a “watchable” cinema and, as it is typical of an elder brother, it has sometimes helped and sometimes hindered.

Hamo Beknazarov on the filming of “Pepo”

 

Back in 1908, Gabriel Sundukyan considered screening a musical comedy based on his own script. Sundukyan is the father of modern Armenian theater who aspired also to become the father of Armenian cinema when, in 1935, his play “Pepo” (directed by Hamo Beknazarov) became the first Armenian sound film.

Sundukyan’s penman colleague Alexander Shirvanzade was even more successful in that sense. His “Namus” was first screened in 1913, in the studio of the pioneer entrepreneur Alexander Khanzhonkov (by Georgian director Ivan Peristiani) and then, in 1925, in Armenia, by the one and only godfather of the Armenian Cinema, Hamo Beknazarov.

Alexander Shirvanzade

 

At the beginning of the last century, accurate screenings of authored works were of high value. The reason was that the directors and the public had firm and unshakable respect for literary sources. Also, the cinema was a considerably young art then which was developing next to another art of much more respectable age – his majesty literature. The child often imitated the idol, appreciating and respecting his greatness and contribution. Then, the times of cinema’s self-affirmation entered another stage.

Some screenings of literary works were quite different from their literary basis. For example, the film “Madame Bovary” failed because of its title. Had it had a different title, it might have been considered a successful film, whereas it was perceived as the shadow of the same-titled novel.

Henrik Malyan

 

This general perception was also typical of Armenian cinema; literature was often perceived as a sacred source, which was not used and was, thus, left in the shadow. 

The 60s became a period of significant changes both in the world and in Armenian cinema. A scientific guarantee to these changes can be the famous French literary theorist Roland Barthes’s essay “The Death of the Author” which argues against “what the author meant” focusing instead on “the reader’s perception” as the highest priority. 

In cinema likewise, the director, as a “reader of a dead writer,” pursued only his own interpretation which could be more connected with the language of cinema than with the language of literature. The 60s finally established cinematography as a self-sufficient and full-fledged art form that could be used by any other type of art without “bending the neck.”

Hrant Matevosyan

 

Frunze Dovlatyan’s “Hello, It’s Me!” (1966) became one of the best examples of that symbiosis: famous scientist Alikhanyan’s bio-notes, Arnold Aghababov’s cinematographic script and Fruze Dovlatyan’s self-sufficient film language were unified into a masterpiece. Another wonderful example is “We Are Our Mountains” (1969) where the author of the screenplay Hrant Matevosyan, being a novelist (probably the greatest Armenian prosaic of the XX century), creates a screenplay in which a clear cinematic tempo is reported. Matevosyan succeeds also in a more difficult case when he turns his own novel “Autumn Sun” (1977) into a movie script, extending his hand to the director rather than focusing on his own literary work. 

Poster of Frunze Dovlatyan’s “Hello It’s Me”

 

“We and Our Mountains”

 

But since the director has the last word in the author’s cinema, the stages that preceded him did not always guarantee the film’s final success. Thus, the dominance of visual storytelling continues to be fundamental. To put it bluntly and a little exaggerated – only two filmmakers have succeeded in embracing the legacy of world cinema – Sergey Parajanov and Artavazd Peleshyan, and if we try to put our finger on the similarity among many differences between these two artists, it will be their completely “non-literary” approach to the narrative.

Artavazd Peleshyan

 

Exaggerating in the same way and pressing the whole Soviet cinema into one name, we may come to Tarkovsky, who also did not repeat but fermented, and sometimes opposed literary sources trying to prove, and finally proved, that cinema is an independent art. The similar mission on world cinema was carried by Stanley Kubrick. 

Thus, returning to Hitchcock’s quote, we can conclude that “directing-directing-directing” or, as the inventors of cinema elegantly call it, the “mise en scène” still has no less, if not more, power in cinema.

Still from Sergei Parajanov’s “Color of Pomegranate”