The Bridges of Madison County is a 1995 American one-true-love romance. The film is based on a 1992 best-selling, terribly written novel by Robert James Waller.
Stephen King gives the novel a roasting in his well-known book On Writing. Almost everyone who wants to be a writer seems to have read King’s writing book, part autobiography, part how-to guide. In the appendix, King includes a list of excellent novels and a list of terrible ones. He says writers must read bad writing before fully comprehending what makes good novels good. I feel Stephen King is too powerful to be so callous about others. But here’s what I’ve also noticed: Most powerful people came from nothing, and forever see themselves as ‘outside the establishment’. For them, there’s no epiphany in which they realise, “I’m big cheese now. I’d better be careful who I roast.”
Then again, Bridges of Madison County did sell 60 million copies. Maybe if you sell that many books, you’re a peer of Stephen King.
Is ‘Bad Writing’ Simply ‘Screenplay Writing’?
I have nothing like Stephen King’s clout. So I’ll tell you this. I picked up Robert James Waller’s novel Bridges of Madison County at a second-hand store for fifty cents. I took it home and sat down to read it. If Stephen King made it all the way through that novel he did better than me. I couldn’t make it past the first five pages. I’m inclined to absorb the style of whatever I’ve been reading lately, and the prose was so cringe I was worried it would infect my own prose. The guy wrote the novel in 11 days and it shows.
The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that it’s easier to make a good movie from a bad book than from a great one. That’s probably true. No one has ever gotten The Great Gatsby right. A Confederacy of Dunces has allegedly driven some who’ve tried to adapt it mad. Did you hear that James Franco made a film version of As I Lay Dying? Exactly.Phillip Martin, Arkansas Online
The book is written as badly as a screenplay. Ergo, it makes for a great screenplay. (Screenplays are work documents, never intended to be enjoyed for their line-level beauty.)
Who Gets To Be A ‘Good Writer’?
Stephenie Meyer is another romance writer whose best-selling vampire novel Twilight is frequently held up as an example of poor writing. Readers who love her work (mostly teenage girls and adult women) are assumed incapable of seeing bad prose for what it is. This isn’t true. Many of Twilight’s biggest fans write sophisticated think-pieces about the series’ problems, ideological and stylistic. Many will likewise point out that the prose becomes better as the series progresses.
There are clearly gender issues affecting pop criticism of pop books. There are also publishing industry issues at play. Why wasn’t the first Twilight book better edited? Why aren’t publishers spending more on editors in general? Well. Why aren’t readers spending more on books?
Genre Blend of Bridges of Madison County
The editors at Story Grid did an episode of The Bridges of Madison County. They consider this story an example of a Courtship Love story.
What Makes A Good Story?
There are many aspects to a great story. All aspects interrelate, but beautiful prose is just one thing, and maybe not even the most important thing to people who read one or two books a year.
Plotting and characterisation are separate from a novel’s line-level beauty. When ugly prose is adapted for film, the prose is no longer an issue. Now other aspects are allowed to shine (or fall flat). At least, this is the case when adept actors are cast in major roles. Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood do a marvellous job of elevating cheesy dialogue of The Bridges of Madison County. They also share superb onscreen chemistry.
Clint Eastwood clearly saw the adaptive potential of this story. He produced it, directed it and starred in it. The movie is a particular type of satisfying. But because the line-level cringe has all but gone in the film, other issues reveal themselves.
On Setting and Authenticity
While audiences will accept films made with CGI or filmed against backdrops inside Hollywood studios, there’s a special appreciation reserved for movies filmed on site in off-the-beaten-track locations.
The Bridges of Madison County is authentic to its setting. True Grit is also set partly in Iowa, but The Bridges of Madison County looks a lot more like the actual place, being filmed there and all.
I’m giving this old story some fresh attention because three decades later audiences continue to enjoy the film, and theatres around the world continue to adapt the story for stage.Continue reading “The Bridges Of Madison County Film Study”