Film vs. The Novel

On Ken's Mogg’s Alfred Hitchcock blog The Macguffin, he wrote: "A correspondent on our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' group this week made the familiar observation that film is a 'shallow' medium compared with a good novel. 'I think film can provide behavior studies, but not psychological studies', he wrote." Ken disagreed. So do I. But it's an opinion that seems to persist.

The power of film has been underestimated from the beginning. Originally, it was perceived as a novelty that would not threaten the live theater business (how wrong those critics were!), then sound film was perceived as a non-threat to silent film. This is just good old-fashioned mistrust of new technology.

The primary advantage that novels have over film, it seems to me, is length. At (usually) two hours or less, a good film has to work hard to deliver the depth of a good novel. Then again, film has tools at its disposal that a novel doesn't: visuals, motion, sound, including music and ambient sounds. It delivers everything that opera hoped it could do itself – and more.

With all of these tools at its disposal, you could say that film has width. A good movie can pack a lot into two hours.

Music, for instance, is an excellent medium (perhaps the best) for delving into psychology. Music IS psychology - tonally expressed! When it's put in the service of a well-made film, it can add psychological depth that a novel must try to tediously explain one word at a time.

The whole "film as therapy" movement, in which people gather to watch movies as a form of therapy (e.g. screening WHITE OLEANDER as a study in pathological narcissism; identifying with either the borderline personality of the mother or the victimhood of the daughter), demonstrates that film may even be a MORE useful medium than the novel to study psychology. (I can't think of a single film that is NOT a psychological study. The first question a screenwriter asksabout a story is, "What is the psychology of the characters?" "What is the backstory?" As Ken mentioned, such backstory details can be alluded to very economically. They are often displayed for all to see at the beginning of the film, in a slow pan over the character's bedroom.)

Regarding Prof. Carey's comment, that "literature is the only art capable of reasoning," I defer to Blaise Pascal's famous dictum (which could especially be applied to the logic of Hitch's films): "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of." As I see it, film marshals all of the arts to communicate thoughts and ideas on multiple levels, some of which cannot be expressed with mere words.