Seeing Star Wars in sadness, not in anger
The rise of the chatty contractor

Unintended works of genius

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, but my ruminations here often find their final form over at  Since I don't always bother to link to my articles (because I don't always know when they run), prudent readers should check the site from time to time.

My latest concept is how it often happens that a creator's vision is thwarted in some way, with the result that the finished product is better than it otherwise would have been.

One of the catalysts for this has been my recent viewing of The Caine Mutiny, which differs from the book insofar as Humphrey Bogart is considerably older than his character, Capt. Queeg.

In theory, this should be a problem, but in fact it makes for a much better story.  In the book, Queeg is a jerk and a coward, a villain devoid of any redeeming qualities.

For the film adaptation, the character was subtly changed - Queeg is a seven year veteran of the Navy, but there is a remark that he has 14 years "at sea," which means he was a merchant sailor prior to joining the service.

Bogart wears a class ring, so presumably Queeg went to the Merchant Marine academy, captained a merchant ship and then decided to pursue a direct commission into the Navy - perhaps because the Great Depression was hurting trade.

This career path is very similar to the one followed by James Cagney's character in Mister Roberts.  Both men have a chip on their shoulder, both are older than normal for the rank they hold, and in the case of Queeg, the strain of combat duty has proven too much.  This makes Queeg much more sympathetic and interesting.

It also met the Navy's requirement that the story be altered in order for them to participate.  The book painted a very unflattering picture of the Navy, particularly in who could rise to positions of authority.  Herman Wouk might well complain that the integrity of his work was compromised by self-interest and politics, but I think the result is far superior.

There is a tendency for people to treat books as authoritative, particularly if they are fictionalized accounts of historical events or experiences.  With greater creative freedom, books can "go there" and reveal the dark sinister truths that otherwise would be unspoken.

This view is particularly prevalent in the military, where disparaging one's service can be a career-ending experience.  However, the shield of creative license can also be used as an offensive weapon as well.  Using a thinly-disguised work of fiction to settle scores is a time-honored way to skirt libel laws (particularly when they were more rigorously enforced).

For example, Pat Conroy's The Great Santini was a bitter, angry attack against his father.  When it was made into a film, the decision to cast Robert Duval necessarily make the character of Santini more sympathetic, and some changes were made to the story to make him  more likeable. 

In the process, the character became more believable.  Again, the artist's vision (and goal) of vicarious character assassination was thwarted, but with the result of making a better work of art.

Don't be surprised to see a longer discussion of this in the near future, because I think it's worth examining.



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