Sunday, December 16, 2007

Non-fiction Into Fiction

Reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's award-winning non-fiction book, Imperial Life In The Emerald City. It's a very interesting book that will have you angry, shocked and bemused at the antics of the American occupiers of Iraq.

Having the news that Paul Greengrass would be making a film version of the book, starring his main man, Matt Damon, I was struck by how this could be the start of a trend. Earlier there was Richard Linklater's fiction film version of Eric Schlosser's shocking Fast Food Nation. When Linklater's film was announced, we all wondered what it would be like, especially since Schlosser's book was a tome of facts after facts, and the film was announced as a thriller.

I suppose it's easier to envision how Greengrass would handle Imperial Life, but where did this eagerness to fictionalise non-fiction books come from? I'm not talking about biographical books like Jarhead or Hunter S. Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. The books being adapted now are factual, journalistic reports, although Imperial Life and Fast Food Nation are written in narrative forms.

Admittedly there has been that interesting mesh up of Truman Capote's biography and his book, In Cold Blood, in 2005's Capote. But see? There's that word again - "biography."

There may have been earlier fiction films of non-fiction books that I'm not aware of, but there's only one conclusion I can make. With the proliferation of new media, where now you can even record videos with your mobile phone, films are approximating or imitating the immediacy of real life more than ever. The Blair Witch Project, following on from the little seen mockumentary, The Last Broadcast, did just that. And when the embedded broadcast journalists followed the American troops into Iraq, recording within the thick of the action, it came full circle - life was now imitating art imitating life. Then came films like Haneke's Cache, and now Adam Rifkin's Look, that see life through surveillance cameras and implicate their audiences in the process.

Now, if you take the plausible view that the embedded news cameras during the Iraq war, and now news footage post-war, and their selectiveness are in a way making truths out of what is largely fiction (Iraq is a happy country now, people are grateful, everything's hunky dory), then perhaps Greengrass' fictionalising the truth (as does De Palma's Redacted, in a way) is a kind of payback that tips the scale back to the position it belongs.

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