In the Dark

Waugh on Film

The High Green Wall (1954)
Adapted for The General Electric Theater Columbia Broadcasting System
Directed by Nicholas Ray 
Teleplay by Charles Jackson

In 1929, Evelyn Waugh wrote that film was “the one vital art of the century,” an accolade he would later qualify.  While he came to believe that cinema had “taught [novelists] a new habit of narrative,” he concluded that this was “perhaps . . . the only contribution [it was] destined to make to the arts.” 

Although Waugh provocatively overstates his case, I can see the partial justice of his observation.  Just consider the screen adaptations of his novels.  In almost every instance, his books are more genuinely cinematic than the films they have inspired.  Adaptations of The Loved One (1965), Brideshead Revisited (1981), Scoop (1987), A Handful of Dust (1988), and Sword of Honour (2001) all have their merits, but, with the partial exception of Handful, none of them has the filmic verve of the original texts.  Waugh’s novels, especially the earlier ones, have the snap and flash of well-made films.  They astonish us with the literary equivalents of breezy montages, splicing together the most unlikely images.  In Vile Bodies, a young woman looks down on a weirdly miniaturized English landscape...

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