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“Great Books to Great Movies” at the National Book Festival

So let’s do the math. If a picture is worth a thousand words and a 100 minute film, at 24 frames-per-second, has 144,000 pictures, that means a movie is worth 144 million words, or more than 26 copies of War and Peace.

Ah, the joys of false equivalency.

Literary adaptations have been on my mind lately, primarily because I’m going to host a program at this weekend’s National Book Festival called “Great Books to Great Movies,” which starts at 8 p.m. at the Washington Convention Center. It’s sure to be an entertaining evening. Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday will moderate a discussion with Paul Auster, E.L. Doctorow, Alice McDermott, and Lisa See, talking about the promise and peril of seeing one’s work translated to the screen (I encourage you to read Ann’s recent piece in the Post, as she previews some themes that are likely to emerge on Saturday).

My colleagues Valerie Cervantes and George Willeman were very helpful in excerpting clips from Smoke (Auster), Ragtime (Doctorow), That Night (McDermott) and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (See), so I’m looking forward to hearing what the authors have to say about them. Assembling the clips also got us ruminating on the thousands of movies deriving from literary sources, a practice that’s been around since the dawn of cinema. For example, here’s an animated film from 1917 called Mary & Gretel, adapted from a series of books called Motoys in Life:


Of the 625 films on the National Film Registry, more than 200 started as books, poems, plays, and other literary works. Some, like The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century-Fox, 1940), In Cold Blood (Columbia, 1967), and To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal, 1962) are well known, while others have more obscure origins (I had no idea that the 1933 Warner Bros. musical 42nd Street was based on a novel by Bradford Ropes, but now I really want to read that book!)

We put together a modest montage of scenes from eight films on the Registry, all of which were adapted from books. I’ll be using it in my introduction to the program. Hope to see you there!

“Meet” Martha Rountree

The following is a guest post by Cary O’Dell, Assistant to the National Recording Preservation Board. You might never have heard of her, but Martha Rountree is one of the most important women in the history of American broadcasting. The longevity of her “product” rivals Lucille Ball’s. Her importance and influence is as esteemed as […]

Kachank! A Back-to-School Miscellany from the National Jukebox

 Kachank? That’s the sound that signals summer’s end as returning students slam locker doors while swarming high school corridors, yelling, jostling and creating general chaos. Nevertheless, in the windy, rainy and icy days ahead, the Library of Congress National Jukebox can provide you many songs that evoke summers past and prepare you to face the coming school (or […]

Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (August 21-23, 2014)

WESTERN SWING: LIVE AND ON FILM A combining of traditional western music and hot jazz with a little bit of bluegrass and gospel mixed in, western swing quickly gained acceptance and became very popular in the 1930s. Thursday, August 21 (7:30 p.m.) Rockin’ in the Rockies (Columbia, 1945) The Hoosier Hot Shots–creators of madcap “rural […]

Celebrating Tony Schwartz

Listen!  What do you hear?  Walking around the streets of a city, if you aren’t listening to music or talking on the phone, you can hear the city speak – snippets of conversations, traffic, planes, sirens – familiar sounds of work and play, or the “voice” of the city. Tony Schwartz, born August 19, 1923, […]

Robin Williams

There’s lots of reminiscing in the Moving Image Section today about Robin Williams. My younger colleagues first remember him from Aladdin (1992) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), for others it was his Eighties films Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Dead Poets Society (1989), and for folks of my generation, he’ll always be a little bit Mork. […]

World War I

 The following is a guest post by Matt Barton, Recorded Sound Curator, National Audio-Visual Conservation Center This Monday marked the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  Songs relating to World War I are very well documented in the Library’s National Jukebox, which provides over 10,000 78-rpm discs recorded in the 1920s and before. For […]