On Experimental Adaptations from Literature to Cinema: Toward Subterranean, Counteractive, Sensory Intermediality in Experimental Cinema
By Hyemin Kim
My thesis began from the realization that there are only a few and fragmentary studies on experimental adaptations despite the over half-century history of scholarship centering on the adaptations of other arts (such as painting, photography, theater, music, and literature) to the modes of mainstream narrative cinema. Even while there have been substantial studies that trace the influence of modern arts on experimental cinema, the place of literature hasn’t received careful and methodical attention in the conventions of experimental film and media studies. Since the 1900s and more actively after the Second World War, experimental moving-image artists (both film- and video-makers) have been attempting to create cinematic forms that would exceed the modalities in other arts by utilizing cinematic mixed-mediums, and this continues in their adaptation strategies. Also, experimental adaptations in cinema generate their alternative sensoria and discourses by shedding light on cinema’s heterogenous modalities bound together with unorthodox intentions of adaptation against fidelity-centered interpretation of the source text.
Before I discuss the exemplary modes of experimental adaptations of literature to cinema, I search for possible answers for two crucial questions: What is avant-garde or experimental cinema? And what is experimental adaptation? Whereas there are diverse ideologies and methodologies of manifesting the modifier “experimental” through moving images against its canonization and categorization, I narrow down my investigation of “the experimental” in response to the advance of modern technology. For this, I revisit the usages of “the experimental” in the field of modern literary practices from 16th century to the present in terms of their weaving together technologies within its textual flesh, as well as logos and desire against overriding positivist episteme and mechanism of modern technology. Experimental cinema challenges modern technology in a more complex fashion owing to their materialization of “machinic collage” of space, time, objects and light/darkness. And I relate this “machinic collage” very closely to found-footage film practices that utilize Situationist’s détournement. Corresponding to détournement, my discussion of adaptations centers on intermediality that mixes different art and literary forms in favor of counteractive intentions and ideologies, as opposed to the pure avant-garde structuralists’ emphasis on formal specificity.
In the longest body of my thesis, I analyze adaptation strategies in Joan Jonas’s Double Lunar Dogs (1984) and Lines in the Sand (2001), Peggy Ahwesh’s The Deadman (1990), Nocturne (1998), and H.D. (2015), Sky Hopinka’s I’ll Remember You as You Were, Not as What You’ll Become (2016) and Ben Coonley’s On Plain Air (2019). While focusing on their adaptation techniques in expansion of the source literature, I ultimately illustrate the modalities of their adaptations as crucial to their “experimental” cinema projects. My analysis concerns the question of “what experimental cinema is” by attending to its varying aesthetics in the dynamic converging of different technologies and formats that extend to the hybridity of electronic moving-image art. Those styles also defend counteractive and/or counter-public bents of moving-image art productions, exhibitions, and audience receptibility, which also cross the subjects of new materialist feminism, Bataillean sensory feminism, and autochthonous and interspecific ecology appearing in these selected works.