There have been a lot of movies made based on books. It’s no surprise. After all, a movie based on a book has had much of the heavy lifting – developing plot, setting and character, for instance – done for it.
Much more difficult is a movie about books, because let’s be honest, they don’t do an awful lot.
Don’t get me wrong. I love books. I might love them to a fault. My wife, who must constantly weave around the small piles of literature I leave around the house, has expressed that opinion. But a book is an inanimate object and even the act of reading lacks that certain dynamism required in an enthralling cinematic experience.
But because books inspire a certain passion in those – those of us – who love them, it’s a subject filmmakers have been, and continue to be, drawn to. The books, usually, are just a prop. The way they affect characters’ lives and motivations, well, that’s what makes movies magic. Here are a few literary favorites.
84 CHARING CROSS ROAD (1987): Based on a true story, this character-driven drama is about a relationship, quite literally, built around a love of books and writing. Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins star as an American script-reader and English book seller whose long period of correspondence becomes something quite significant.
ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992): The third, and arguably oddest, film about a one-handed hero named Ash and the book, a menacing tome known as the Necronomicon, that does him repeatedly wrong. Army never takes itself too seriously. The plot zigs and zags through slapstick routines, action sequences and gratuitous gore as Ash searches medieval Europe for a way home to his beloved job at S-Mart. Seriously.
CAPOTE (2005): This is a movie about how a story became a book and that book became an American classic. Writing is often about the process of discovery. Capote is about the author Truman Capote’s discovery of not only a brutal murder, but an unlikely relationship with a condemned man. A fascinating look at an artist at work.
FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966): A horror movie for book lovers, Fahrenheit imagines a future where books are illegal. Not only are they illegal, they are destroyed. While many deride this film about the men charged with burning books as ironically cold, I’ve always found its metaphoric message about the persistence of knowledge to be insightful and inspiring.
QB VII (1974): An interesting look at the power of the written word, this courtroom drama reveals the intellectual battle between a novelist and the man he has cast as a war criminal in his work. It stars Anthony Hopkins (again) as the accused physician and the criminally underrated Ben Gazzara as the novelist. Although at six and a half hours it is something of a commitment, it’s well worth the time.