A screenshot from the 1962 film Chased by the Dogs, based on Naguib Mahfouz’s novel The Thief and the Dogs
âAdaptation: from literature to cinema – stops along a common historyâ is the title launched at the beginning of the year by Al-Maraya for cultural production. This book of just over 300 pages is essentially an assemblage of narratives on the issue that have been shared by concerned scholars who have examined not only the parallel histories of novel writing and film production in Egypt, but also the influences of the two artistic mediums – and for which the industries certainly rely – on each other.
Salma Mobarak, Professor in the Department of French Literature at Cairo University and Walid ElKhachab, Professor in the Department of Liberal Arts at York University have co-edited this very informative volume.
During an online seminar on the book that the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations at the American University in Cairo, hosted by AUC professor Dina Heshmat on Sunday, Mobarak and ElKhachab argued that one of the points Key to this volume is the futility of all attempts to try to put literature as superior to cinema – or for that matter the other way around.
The concept of artistic hierarchy among various mediums, Mobarak argued, should be ignored simply because it is an artificial assumption about art in general.
In the case of Egypt, the book recalls that the course of the evolution of literary and cinematographic production has been almost entirely simultaneous. In 1913, the book recalls, Mohamed Hussein Heikal wrote what is arguably the “first” Egyptian novel – “Zeinab “. Only 10 days later came “Barsoum looking for a jobâAs the first entirely Egyptian silent feature film produced and directed. It is still a decade later that Mohamed Karim, the beginning of the 20e director of the century, extinct Zeinab in a silent movie. And it took Karim himself a few more decades to portray his own film in a sound film.
During these two decades, several films were produced from literary originals – novels and plays. The adaptations came mainly from foreign literature, especially French. However, with the expansion of the volume of Egyptian literature, more and more adaptations were made to Egyptian literary production. This, in a sense, as the chapters of the book suggest, was almost an act of national pride: to advance the Egyptian film industry and rely more on the also developing Egyptian literature to produce storylines or even just themes. for these films.
With the emphasis increasingly placed on the call for ânationalismâ after 1952, the authors of the book repeatedly suggest, it is increasingly Egyptian literary production that gives head when the big screen looks for information. securities. The novel by Latifa ElZayat (AlBab AlMaftouh) (The Open Door) which reflected the national liberation movement from British occupation was quickly made into a film after its release. The book came out in its first edition in 1960 and the film was in theaters in 1963.
Hala Kamal, professor of literature at Cairo University, in her chapter on The Open Door, says the director has given himself some liberties while doing his job.
According to Heshmat, this may be just one of the other examples where the director and sometimes the writer also gives up on the commitment to the original text. For Mobarak, however, a film production should never be considered to examine whether or not the director was faithful to the original text. That, she said, would miss the point on the making of the film.
Ultimately, according to AlKhachab, under the reign of the “amateur film”, the French expression which aims to showcase the artistic personality is inevitably dominant. That, he added, could well be the case when directors with a strong artistic imprint do the adaptation. At Youssef Chahine Hadouta Masria (An Egyptian story) which is “inspired by / drawn from,” argued ElKhachab, is a prime example.
Deviating from the original text, according to the book, is not always a function of the influence of the director’s style, however. It is also sometimes, the book notes, a function of the political context and / or calendars. Some of the films produced in the 1960s, especially after the military defeat of 1967, were “corrected” for political reasons.
In his chapter on Tawfik ElHakim (Youmeyat na’eib fialaryaf) (A Maze of Justice: Diary of a Country Prosecutor) which was first published in 1937 and made into a movie in 1969, the book revealed the hassle that Tawfik Saleh had to go through when adapting the movie. to adapt to the wish of the Ministry of the Interior, at the time, to avoid any association between the accounts of injustice reflected in the novel with the Nasser era. Saleh eventually edited a film with a 1930s setting. However, to get his message on the state of justice in Egypt under Nasser, Saleh got the 1960s decoration for the court sets in his film.
AlMaraya’s book indicates a deliberate influence of literature on the big screen – sometimes. According to the AUC seminar, there was also a deliberate influence of the films, or later soap operas, on the books from which they were adapted. The recent adaptation of Nagubi Mahfouz Afrah AlQoba (Joys of the Dome) in a soap opera gave importance to a book that never received due attention when it was published. Likewise, ElKhachab added, this was the case with Ibrahim of Sonallah. Zaat.