Playback From Vancouver With LoveTuesday, January 18, 2011
The Sentinel (1948) is a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, which he modified with the help of Stanley Kubrick to make 2001 A Space Odyssey and which Clarke then converted into the novel.. Clarke expressed impatience with the common description of it as "the story on which 2001 is based." He said, "It is like comparing an acorn to the resulting oak-tree."
I have two Arthur C. Clarke books (custom leather bound together) at home. One is Rendezvous With Rama and the other is Childhood’s End. I consider them to be just about the two finest science fiction books ever written.
I do have the sequel to Rendezvous with Rama, Rama II co-written by Clarke and one Gentree Lee (who has an impressive curriculum vitae as a Project Galileo engineer). By then Clarke was having a ball snorkling in his adopted island of Sri-Lanka. I can see him looking at a manuscript by Lee and saying, “That’s fine.” Perhaps I am being unkind but I disliked Rama II and I never did like 2001: A Space Odyssey (the novel, let me be clear about his) or its two sequels creatively called (with no blockbuster-sequel-film-type Roman numerals) 2010 Odyssey Two and 2061 Odyssey Three.
While on my way to the fiction section of the library I saw on a tall shelf a largish and very bold covered book called Playback. Since I consider Playback one of my favourite Raymond Chandler novels, even though most critics state that because Playback was his last (finished as there was his later and unfinished Poodle Springs) Marlowe novel it was not his best.
I found this out in the introduction by Philippe Garnier to Playback – A Graphic Novel by Ted Benoit and Francois Ayroles. The latter is the illustrator and the former the man who adapted the original film treatment by Chandler who had tinkered with it until 1947 when he tried to sell it, unsuccessfully, to Universal Pictures.
What is interesting about this original screenplay was that it was set in Vancouver. Chandler wanted to explore the ramifications of Canadian liquor laws, justice system and wanted to play with the idea of crossing borders with necessary documents. When Chandler was unable to sell his screenplay he moved the action La Jolla, California, and renamed Esmeralda.
Playback – The Graphic Novel is an adaptation of that original film treatment. I enjoyed the illustrations that showed the artist’s rendition of the Hotel Vancouver (called Royal Vancouver), English Bay and what appears to be the boat house in Stanley Park. But my pleasure stopped there.
How is it possible to convert Chandler’s wonderful treatment of the English language into stuff like:
Is there something I can do for you?
There are a lot of things you could do for me.
Well, there’s something you can do for me. You can move to one side so my husband can get in.
It might sound Chandleresque but it simply does not cut it for me. As I see it is a so-so film treatment (that would make perhaps a wonderful film if somebody with guts and money took the chance). Imagine it Playback, the film, set in Vancouver! Luckily it all ended up as a good novel and for me a very good one. The process of treatment to novel, while it took many years, produced something good.
Which takes me to Clarke’s original Sentinel. It is a nice speculative short story that I rather liked. But that was that. The film 2001 The Space Odyssey was a magnificent film with fantastic views and subtle stuff that grew on me every time I saw the film again. The novel that came from this film (after the film!) lost all the subtlety and elegance brought to the film courtesy of Stanley Kubrick. The two film sequels and sequel novels were at best mediocre.
Who knows what Stanley Kubrick could have done with Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama or with honest to goodness Lucifers with tails and wings haunting as quiet and meek overlords in Childhood’s End. Perhaps it is best that these two novels have remained as novels.
A moment later the ADC opened the big door and stood in the entrance. ‘Comrade Colonel Klebb,’ he announced.
A toad-like figure in an olive green uniform which bore the single red ribbon of the Order of Lenin came into the room and walked with quick short steps over to the desk.
General G. looked up and waved to the nearest chair at the conference table. ‘Good evening Comrade.’
The squat face split into a sugary smile. ‘Good evening Comrade General.’
The Head of Otdyel II, the department of SMERSH in charge of Operations and Executions, hitched up her skirts and sat down.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957
The Ramans do everything in threes