Adaptation and The Corner

31 Oct

Does The Corner work, viewing it purely as an adaptation? There are many theories on adaptation, with countless definitions. One theory (from Linda Hutcheon, a literary theorist) looks at adaptation as a product and process—specifically, the final product and two processes: the process of creation and the process of reception. Both processes involve repetition and recreation–the adaptation doesn’t work unless the original work can still resonate through the new work, but it has to be creatively changed enough to stand alone as its own work. I find this idea very interesting when thinking about The Corner because not only is the miniseries adapted from the book, the book is adapted from real life stories. This is where things get complicated–with this specific definition of adaptation, the idea of re-imagining and re-creating is very important…but since the story is based on true life events…they can’t be that re-imagined or re-created because doing so involves changing the truth and under those circumstances the authors should no longer be able to claim that these are true-life stories. So where can the line be drawn between staying true enough to the stories to still claim they are true and re-imagining them enough so that the authors are not merely translating from one medium to another, but rather are creating something new and an entity all on its own? 

Obviously Simon and Burns took some creative liberties with the text as the adapters–creating vivid images of people and surroundings—and probably formatted the book in a way that all the stories they gathered followed some sort of cohesive story arc, highlighting different individuals at different times. When a dramatic work is that creative and stylistically written, it’s hard to accept that it’s all true. Then there is the next layer of adaptation of these personal stories–the adaptation to the screen. When it comes to adapting a story to film or television, identifying the person who holds the responsibility as the adapter becomes confusing. It initially is the screenwriter, but then the director gets his/her hands on the screenplay and essentially adapts that screenplay to a visual entity–or it could be the editor, because he or she puts the shots together. With all of these hands molding the one piece of work, it can be transformed from the original idea to the point of unrecognizability. However, with The Corner, the authors (Simon and Burns) worked with the screenwriter (David Mills) and the director (Charles Dutton) to create the screenplay, so there was probably a continuous dialogue as to what should be cut from the text and what pieced together would create the most cohesive story that could be told by a miniseries. At times, it felt like the book was written expressly to be adapted to a screenplay–written in present tense with very specific detailed descriptions of characters, which probably helped the process. Nevertheless, this team had to fit 535 pages worth of text into a six-part miniseries so liberties had to be taken. 

One thing I noticed is that the timeline was toyed with–with each episode putting the focus on a specific person, elements had to have been taken from the various chapters and put into one episode. Doing so then necessitated going back a little in time to start the next episode and focus on a different person. For example, in the text, DeAndre goes to the Boys Village in the “winter” section, the first section, but in the series he’s not there until the third episode. Also, the miniseries definitely made it so some characters were generally likeable. In order for a television series to work and maintain viewers, there have to be some sympathetic characters with whom they can identify. In a book though, there’s the liberty of lengthy exposition in providing some insight to a character’s flaws–so even if they come across as awful at one point, they can be redeemed later. In the text, DeAndre acts pretty awful toward Tyreeka a while after she’s had the baby, but in the series, we don’t see that—the offensive behavior is thrown in during the voiceover of the epilogue. His bad elements are downplayed, so the audience will sympathize with him more. 

So to get back to my original question—does The Corner work considering only the adaptation dimension of the story? I think the original stories have been so transformed that you definitely can’t say the series works as an adaptation of real life, but, as an adaptation of an incredibly stylized, descriptive book, I think it does work (pretty well).

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