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Thinking pop culture

Monkeys, lady hair and the book vs film rule

No Country for Old Men (2007)

No Country for Old Men, according to my brother, is the one film that breaks the book-always-being-better rule.

I remember one thing about seeing it. The precise wording of a text message I got while half-asleep in the empty cinema. Entertainingly filthy message, heinously boring film.

In sum, I’m in no hurry to read the book.

But I was thinking about the “rule” while watching Monkey Grip (1982) for the first time earlier in the week. I was watching it, loving it, and feeling thoroughly convinced that it was better than the book I’d enjoyed as an undergrad.

Monkey Grip (1982)

I’m not a believer in any blanket rules on books being better than films. They’re different - both equally worthy as art - and I’ve never had any interest in the high/low culture debate. One rule of course, that tends to prove itself time and time again, is that the more I love the book the more I’ll resent the film. (Less an indictment of the film, I suspect, and simply the impossibility of ever duplicating my initial fervour).

Off the top of my head:

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help: great book, forgettable film.

Stephen King’s The Dome: captivating book, laughable TV series.

David Nicholls’ One Day: devastatingly excellent book. Anne Hathaway was cast in the film. Oh my God why?

And it works both ways. Sometimes I liked the film enough to be cajoled into seeking out the prose. Inevitably a lackluster venture.

Bladerunner. Better on film

High Fidelity. Really better on film.

Shawshank Redemption. So much better on film.

Driver’s Seat (a.k.a. Identikit) (1974)

And then there are the film versions that may not have been great, but at least did the book justice: a grand compliment in a world where filmmakers do awful things to books.

Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat is in my Top 10. And the film version was very passable considering the oh-so-hard-to-film crazy-town subject matter. I didn’t think much of the Swedish made-for-TV take on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but the American version was certainly worth the admission price.

By the time the Monkey Grip credits rolled however, I came to a startling realisation. (Certainly so for someone who prides herself on a good memory).

I hadn’t read the book.

I read and loved Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask. And never saw the film. I loved Monkey Grip on film but haven’t actually read Helen Garner’s novel.

Forgivable surely? I mean, seriously, how many monkey-titled films without any bloody monkeys can one country produce?

Worth noting there are some truly wonderful takeaways from Monkey Grip that should encourage its sourcing ($9 on eBay in my case).

  1. It’s sexy. Surprisingly sexy. Once I got over the thorough weirdness of seeing Noni Hazlehurst naked - of seeing the grandad from Packed to the Rafters looking all beardy and cool - it works.

  2. There’s hair! The film opens with Noni is a bathing suit. And. She. Has. Armpit. Hair. And men are ogling her! And just in time for the I-doubt-it’ll-ever-take-off Ampits for August to boot.

  3. Chrissy Amphlett! Acting, singing, divinely pouting.

With a long cue of books waiting to be listened to I’m in no hurry to seek out the Garner tome. Not that I need to, of course: I’m a sentimentalist and all about the first cut being the deepest.

Monkey Grip (1982)

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