Contrary to popular opinion, the making of an authentic film from a piece of literature is in no sense simply a matter of accomplishing the most "congenial" possible translation from one medium, literature, into the other, film. Cinematic transformation of a literary work should never assume that its purpose is simply the maximal realization of the images that literature evokes in the mind of its readers.
Such an assumption would, in any case, be preposterous, since any given reader reads any given book with his own sense of reality, and therefore any book evokes as many different fantasies and images as it has readers.
There is no such thing as the ultimate objective reality for any work of literature. Consequently, the intention of a film that tries to come to grips with literature cannot be the realization of the author's world of images in some fixed and final consensus of separate and contrary fantasies. Any attempt to turn a film into a substitute for literature must inevitably result in a compound fantasy based on the lowest common denominator and will therefore, by definition, be a mediocre and lifeless product.
A film that comes to grips with literature and language has to make of this confrontation something absolutely intelligible, clear, and transparent. Not for a single moment may it turn its own fantasy into a composite one. Always, at every stage, it must make it clear that this is but one possible way of dealing with a work of art in another medium.
-- The Anarchy of the Imagination: Interviews, Essays, Notes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, tr. Krishna Winston, p. 168
All too often, it feels to me as though film directors are trying to replace what I already had in my head from the book, or to assure me that their version is what most people have in their heads from the book. I prefer work which shows me things I had not seen in the book, without invalidating what I already had. This is why my favorite literary adaptation on screen is Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, because its metafictional meditation on how impossible it is to film Tristram Shandy handily encompasses what the filmmakers got out of the book while remaining a note on the personal experiences of those filmmakers and no-one else. I had not put all this together until Fassbinder said it, but yes, yes, very much that.
Another thing I've been reading is Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper, or What to Eat and How to Prepare It, a cookbook from 1897. Ordinarily, when I look at a recipe (usually in a more modern sort of cookbook), I can extrapolate some idea of what the finished product is likely to taste like due to my knowledge of ingredients in general and of what foods similar to the one being made have tasted like when I have had them.
But when I hit the chapter called 'Catsups and Spiced Fruits' my imagination failed me comprehensively. I simply cannot imagine the results of the recipe below, and I think that anything resembling it may have fallen out of U.S. foodways entirely. If anyone has had this, what in the world is it like?
Southern Catsup.-- Take half a gallon of green cucumbers; after being peeled and chopped, sprinkle with salt, and let stand 6 hours; pour the water from them, and cover with hot vinegar. Prepare half a gallon of cabbage the same way. Chop 1 dozen small white onions, cover with boiling water, and let stand half an hour. Chop 1 quart of green tomatoes, 1 pint of tender green beans, 1 dozen green peppers, and 1 dozen small, young ears of corn; scald and drain. Mix 2 tablespoonfuls of grated horse-radish, 1 teacupful of ground mustard, 2 cupfuls of white mustard seed, 3 tablespoonfuls of turmeric, 1 each of ground mace, cinnamon, cayenne and celery seed, 2 tablespoonfuls of olive oil, and 1 pound of sugar. Put in a jar with the prepared vegetables, and pour over boiling vinegar to cover.
That recipe is also a tad much work for me to attempt it just to see how it turns out, though I am rather tempted by its relative:
Cucumber Catsup.-- Grate large, green cucumbers on a horse-radish grater; drain, salt and pepper to taste. Put through a sieve to remove the seeds. Add a quantity of grated horse-radish, and sufficient vinegar to make the consistency of tomato catsup. Bottle, and keep in a cool place.
See, that we ought to be able to buy in the supermarket, honestly, and I may well put some up, because it sounds as though I would use it for everything. The final catsup I am intrigued by, though, I am intrigued by in a sort of nightmare way, where I don't want to make it, and I don't want to taste it, and yet if I am ever in the same place with it I know I shall have to try some:
Celery Catsup.-- Bruise 1 ounce of celery seed, 1 teaspoonful white pepper, 1 teaspoonful salt, one-half dozen oysters in a mortar. Rub through a sieve, add 1 quart of best white vinegar and bottle for use.
WHAT DO YOU EVEN PUT THAT ON. AND WHY. Especially since the book contains a much more reasonable recipe for oyster sauce, later, which involves both cooking the oysters and not trying to mash them through a sieve.
Cookbook available at archive.org. I will let you all know if I wind up making cucumber catsup.
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