July 8, 2005

The shortest movie source material.

The previous post asks about movies and the books they were based on, and in the comments to the post, we are also talking about short stories that were made into movies. As has often been noted, short stories are better material for movies because you can cover all the material and even expand upon it. Books, you have to cut down, and so readers are often disappointed.

This made me wonder what the shortest written source material for a movie is. There must be movies based on a single sentence -- perhaps a squib of a newspaper story or a line of scripture or one famous quote. I know often a movie (like many books) begins with a written quote displayed on screen, but that doesn't necessarily mean the the quote was the basis for the movie. I'd like to hear about movies based on a really short, short source. Got anything?

38 comments:

Troy said...
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TRC said...

The movie Pi is based on 3.1415..., which is not even a story or a written source, but a number. I'll get scorn for suggesting it, but expect people to stretch to win this contest.

Joseph Angier said...

"The Decalogue" by Kieslowski? Ten one-hour movies based on the the Ten Commandments (although it's not always clear which film is tied on which commandment). Broken down: One sentence = one movie.

Troy said...

"Seven" was based on the 7 deadly sins -- or at least that was the MO of the serial killer.

b.sikes said...

renny harlin (?) director of deep blue sea (supposedly) sold the movie in one sitting with, "smart sharks".

Troy said...

smart sharks. dumb movie.

leeontheroad said...

hmmm. . . I like the Pi suggestion. How about BlairWitch Project. The one line is: "They found the footage of those disappeared student filmmakers."

Or how about Cleopatrabeing based on the single statement: "Veni, Vidi, Vici."

peter hoh said...

Woody Allen based a movie on a book title -- "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask." If I recall correctly, he paid for rights to the book, but all he really used was the title and the idea of starting each vignette with a question.

Ann Althouse said...

Peter: Great answer! You're right. The movie also takes the idea of a question and answer format from the book. A question, of the sort that was in the book, appeared on screen to introduce a vignette, but the vignette was totally a little work of fiction. One involved Gene Wilder and a sheep, to tie this post to two other posts of today.

Jeff: I think if it's a single idea like that it's too minimal, not even a story. Otherwise you could count every original screenplay with a one-word title.

BTW, I hate the movie "Pi."

Joseph: "Decalogue" is a good answer, but I've heard the films in "Decalogue" aren't really based on the commandments, contrary to popular belief.

B.Sike: It seems that the simple idea there is just the beginnning of the draft of an original screenplay, not a separate text that the screenplay was adapted from.

Troy: Good answer. (I think -- or is it subject to the same kind of complaint I made above?)

Dirty Harry said...

Peter, that's right about Woody. And the author was none to happy about Gene Wilder's scene with the garter wearing sheep either.

I'd forgotten about "Smart sharks"! And it was a dumb movie but entertaining dumb movie.

Robert R. said...

"smart sharks" - dumb movie, but I'm convinced that Sam Jackson's exit is a moment of genius.

The Decalogue is definitely based on the commandments. You can argue how closely it sticks to that format, but the central conceit is evident.

2001 is inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's earlier short story The Sentinel which is very short.

How about songs? Yellow Submarine, Alice's Restaurant, and Convoy all inspired movies. Not the shortest, but definitely worthy of honorable mentions.

Also, 12 Monkeys is inspired by the 28 minute short film La Jetee.

Ann Althouse said...

Robert: Songs -- that's a breakthrough answer. Didn't they make movies out of "Harper Valley PTA" and "The Ballad of Billy Jo"?

Dirty Harry said...

Tons of movies based on songs. How about the movie based on the shortest song?

Robert R -- now I gotta watch "Deep Blue Sea" again. Jackson's exit was inspired.

TRC said...

Ann: Regarding Pi, hey, it was worth a try. Somehow I knew it wouldn't fly.

Wow, that was a really bad case of unintentional rhyme.

Dirty Harry said...

"A line of scripture." I was at a film festivel held by a church where the participants had to base a short film on a line of scripture and make the film in 7 days. Write, produce, edit, the whole thing.

They call it the 168 Hour Film Festivel. The top twenty blew me away. Especially considering they were start to finish in a week.

Barbara Eden was in "Harper Valley PTA." Man, that song was popular. I still know the words.

There's another movie based on the Ten Commandments called "Commandments." In this movie Aidan Quinn tries to break them all.

digitalmule said...

The movie Wolf was based on Jim Harrison's novel's title only, Harrison was listed on screenplay credits but I couldn't see any relationship between the novel and the movie.

Robert R. said...

In the spirit of The Decalogue, Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy, Blue, White & Red based on the French Flag and the motto "Liberty, Egalite & Fraternity" (I know I butchered the French spelling.)

Pat Patterson said...

The Coen brothers said that "Miller's Crossing" was based on the image of a hat blowing across a clearing in a forest.

Pat Patterson said...

The quote "veni, vici, vidi!" is Julius Caesar's answer to the Senate when they asked him what he had been doing in Gaul. Cleopatra, the Egyptian, was much, much later.

Dave Crawford said...

Saving Private Ryan - is supposed to be based on a 2 sentence segment in Steven Ambrose's "D Day".

Adam said...

The Nic Cage lottery movie It Could Happen To You was based on the New York tabloid headline 'Cop Tips Waitress $2 Million'.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Ann,

I think Se7en fits because the 7 deadly sins actually are the structure for the movie.


Pat,

Right on the Caesar quote. But Caesar actually was an older contemporary of Cleopatra and they had a relationship. When Caesar was murdered, Mark Antony took up with her until they were defeated by Caesar's nephew Octavian (who became Augustus).

Pastor_Jeff said...

How about The Blues Brothers - based on an SNL skit?

Or Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid? A funny movie cobbled together almost entirely from film noir classics.

Chan S. said...

"The Pompatus of Love," based on the phrase from the Steve Miller song "The Joker". Haven't seen the movie and don't much like the song, but I always wanted to know how to spell "pompatus".

Troy said...

I'm a bit surprised that no one went for the obvious choice -- Truman Capote.

Unless Herve Villechaize wrote a screenplay...

Jim C. said...

IIRC, in the foreword to the play Equus, on which the movie was based, Shaffer says he based it on a very brief news item reporting that a horse was blinded by a disturbed teenager.

Mark Daniels said...

Tonight, during the AFI tribute to George Lucas, Steven Spielberg said that the entire Indiana Jones trilogy was built on the image of a man with a whip jumping onto a truck with Nazis inside of it.

Cap'n Ken said...

How about Caddyshack II, which was apparently based on the sentence "Caddyshack made money"?

Harkonnendog said...

lol.
but there are lots of bad sequels inspired by movies with shorter titles, I bet.

Ron said...

There are movies whose titles come from Hamlet's soliloquy:

To be or not to be
What Dreams May Come
Outragous Fortune
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Sleep of Death (Swedish Movie)
Slings and Arrows (TV series)
All Our Sins Remembered

plus,

This Mortal Coil (a band)

mango said...

This isn't a movie, but the musical "Follies" is based on a picture of a glamorous older actress in a gorgeous dress standing in the rubble of a theatre about to be torn down.

Kev said...

"How about The Blues Brothers - based on an SNL skit?"

True, and at least that's a good movie, especially compared to others based on SNL skits (i.e. Superstar, Night at the Roxbury, "It's Pat!" and so on). The only other SNL-cinema-spawn that I liked was Wayne's World.

Roger Sweeny said...

Chan S.,

The mystery of pompatus revealed:
http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_065.html

HaloJonesFan said...

Pi isn't short; it's infinitely long!

As for the topic, I'd say that AntZ was based on the shortest source material you could find. (Maybe they could have used eyelash mites, though, I think those are even shorter than ants.)

ID Delenda Est! said...

O'Henry's The OxBow Incident - Mader into a very bad 50's era Western.

AnnsFuseBox said...

What about the musical Cats (and the worst filming of a musical in the history of theater). That's based on a handful of page-long poems.

Mikhail said...

Panic in Needle Park (1971) reportedly was based on a five-word treatment by John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion: "Romeo and Juliet on smack."

luagha said...

To be more realistic, many of the James Bond movies are based on Ian Fleming short stories - ten to twelve pages.