Why, oh why, do filmmakers keep trying to adapt the work of Kafka? Do they see the pitiful results and want to strike back in the writer’s honor, to make a film worthy of one of literature’s great masters? I don’t think so.
So why spend the time and money in such a futile pursuit? Because when they read Kafka they appreciate his genius but misunderstand its nature so extremely that they assume that transferring the “story” he tells to another medium will transfer at least some of that genius as well. Publishers might need to start putting “No Transfer” stickers on Kafka books.
What sounds like a case in point: The Metamorphosis by British director Chris Swanton is the first feature based on Kafka’s novella and was recently shown at Montréal World Film Festival. From the evidence of the trailer the Masterpiece Theater-style production seems to drain all the Kafka from the story, turning it into a melodrama that just happens to be about a man who turned into a bug (which the trailer doesn’t show but the film does). Plans for a bug puppet were scratched when their puppet broke and so they went fully computerized.
In our visual age it is a reminder of how effective not seeing things can occasionally be.
And if Welles’ The Trial might be considered an exception in the terrible track record of Kafka films it’s because it is so much more Welles than Kafka, without any pretension on the director’s part that it needed to be anything else.
Photo – film poster for The Metamorphosis by Chris Swanton