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By Don Makatile | Jul 08, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

NEVER judge a book by its movie, said JW Eagan.

Well, he did not live long enough to see Disgrace, John Maxwell Coetzee's book that was made into a movie.

Disgrace, the book by the Capetonian better known by his initials and now a naturalised Australian, was a winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1999.

It won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2000.

As if this was not enough, it was voted the best book of English fiction over the past 25 years in, wait for it, the world!

Now the movie, shot in South Africa and Down Under, is due out next month.

It stars that mad genius John Malkovich as David Lurie, a divorced professor of romantic poetry in post-apartheid South Africa who shags everything in a skirt - with varying degrees of consequence.

If you own a copy of the book and thought Lurie was a nutter, a gem, you should see Malkovich!

Forgive my ranting but, with movies and books, I am not sure if this is pissing against the wind.

An attempt, if you may, at marrying chalk to cheese which, as you may well imagine, is as futile as trying to mix water and oil.

Or so I thought.

But if books are born of the written word, flicks, by virtue of the lines actors have to commit to memory, owe their very being and the paper their scripts are written on to the word as well, albeit spoken.

Now with Hollywood having perfected the art of borrowing the written word to bolster flicks, South African writers are adding their own voice to this illustrious list of authors with books adapted into movies.

After The Pelican Brief and The Last Juror, I swore I would never read another John Grisham novel. Then I chanced upon a group of friends huddled around the dying embers of a fireplace with a DVD rolling in the machine.

A Time to Kill, they told me it was. When I saw the pain etched on the black face of the man, Lee Hailey, the character played by Hollywood A-list giant Samuel L Jackson, I knew I had not had the last of Grisham, now the proud author of 18 best-selling books.

There's a picture that has stayed in my mind from watching A Time To Kill. It is one of the grimacing and emotion on the faces of my buddies as they toiled with the Jackson character and cried with him for his young girl raped by two white louts.

A native of Mississippi, it is only Grisham who can document the racial imbalance of the time in that part of America, as Martin Luther King refers to it in his I Have a Dream speech "a state sweltering with the heat of injustice".

After this, I have made it a habit to watch every film adapted from a book.

But, to put the shoe on the other foot, why aren't those who swear by the big screen inspired to read more books?

If the stats are to be believed - and I have no reason not to believe them - only 14percent of adults read books.


What is the percentage of adults who, popcorn in hand, go into the cinema to watch a film with a lover or spouse?

Like Grisham, our own Peter Harris and Chris Marnewick are lawmen.

The former was born in Durban in 1956 before moving to Johannesburg to work as a lawyer soon after qualifying, while the latter is still an advocate in the Banana City.

Their publishers, Umuzi, an imprint of Random House, are beside themselves with joy over Harris' book In a Different Time and Marnewick's Shepherds & Butchers.

Harris practised law for 15 years and represented Jabu Masina, Ting Ting Masango, Neo Potsane and Joseph Makhura in the apartheid-era trial that came to be known as the Delmas Four.

My copy is autographed. "This is our song. Sing it," says Ting Ting in his scrawl.

"Let us not forget those who did not make it," Makhura writes.

In his indecipherable handwriting, Judge Marius de Klerk, who defied apartheid statutes and sentenced the MK quartet to jail instead of their deaths, autographs another ode.

Harris remains eternally modest: "To Don, In humility." Then he signs his name.

The only wordy thing Harris says is in the Author's Note: "This is a story that has never left me. It has visited and haunted me from the very days the events took place."

I don't know who is going to play Harris but this line in a movie is going to be as memorable as Arnie Schwarzenegger's "I will be back" or as chilling as apartheid South Africa's police chief Jimmy Kruger's unsolicited confession: "Biko's death leaves me cold."

Umuzi publisher Frederik de Jager is understandably ecstatic: "Both these books are not only great reads but are naturally filmic and should make wonderful movies."

Shepherds & Butchers has been sold to renowned movie maker Anant Singh, while the movie rights to In a Different Time were sold to Two Oceans Production.

Who will ever forget the sad demise, by his own hand, of photographer supreme Kevin Carter?

It remains to be seen what The Bang Bang Club - the flick - will do for its book cousin.


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