Great film adaptations

Here's the place to talk about DVDs (or VHS) films and movies you have seen on television and recommend or don't recommend. Discuss actors and scores, too.

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Tarantella
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Great film adaptations

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 24, 2013 4:43 pm

I've been discussing this issue recently and am wondering what you all think: what is the best filmed adaptation of a novel or play? What makes a 'faithful' film adaptation and should we get a sense of the original as being great; for example Tolstoy's "War and Peace" - a great novel which became a mediocre film and did not reflect the scope of the novel, nor its depth and intensity. Is this, in fact, too hard an ask?

For me, the most outstanding adaptation of a novel is "To Kill a Mockingbird". Why? Because it captures the innocence of the children and the narrative 'voice' so accurately. The film is about intimate relationships and in that sense it's canvas is small. I always think of the film as a 'chamber' piece. So understated, so magnificently acted and very very dear to me, "To Kill a Mockingbird" was also aided by a sublime score from Elmer Bernstein.

What about your choices?

John F
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Re: Great film adaptations

Post by John F » Sun Nov 24, 2013 7:58 pm

I couldn't possibly pick one best, and since I don't see many movies any more, I'm far from up to date. One outstanding film adaptation is "King Lear" with Paul Scofield, directed by Peter Brook. Not a note of music. Another, I'm reminded of it since I'm now listening to the BBC's radio dramatizations of John Le Carré's Smiley novels, is "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold." There's a music credit for Sol Kaplan, but I don't remember that the movie had any music at all. There are many others that I might name, but I chose these as they relate to other threads about movie music and its effect.
John Francis

jbuck919
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Re: Great film adaptations

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 24, 2013 8:53 pm

Tarantella wrote:I've been discussing this issue recently and am wondering what you all think: what is the best filmed adaptation of a novel or play? What makes a 'faithful' film adaptation and should we get a sense of the original as being great; for example Tolstoy's "War and Peace" - a great novel which became a mediocre film and did not reflect the scope of the novel, nor its depth and intensity. Is this, in fact, too hard an ask?

For me, the most outstanding adaptation of a novel is "To Kill a Mockingbird". Why? Because it captures the innocence of the children and the narrative 'voice' so accurately. The film is about intimate relationships and in that sense it's canvas is small. I always think of the film as a 'chamber' piece. So understated, so magnificently acted and very very dear to me, "To Kill a Mockingbird" was also aided by a sublime score from Elmer Bernstein.

What about your choices?
I think your choice is an excellent one and so is your counter-example, to which you could have added any film adaptation of Anna Karenina. What Tolstoy is not to film adaptation, Dickens is. This may be heresy to English majors such as might lurk around here :wink: , but Dickens always seems to me to be writing scripts that just took a while to be properly edited to make a good movie, something I would not say of Thomas Hardy.

If we're talking about great or at least lastingly famous literature, Shakespeare movies might be discussed in a category by themselves. If we're talking about less than that, the number of great movies made from possibly famous but ultimately small-art books is endless, starting with Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. I can't remember whether it was here or on Facebook, but recently I offered my opinion that Sophie's Choice is a great movie out of all proportion to the slog-through of the novel (and my opinion was roundly contradicted by someone who loved the novel just as much).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
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Re: Great film adaptations

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 24, 2013 10:00 pm

Thanks, John x 2!! Great comments. What makes an adaptation excellent is a pertinent question and, as you say jbuck, Shakespeare belongs in his own category - though JohnF has identified "Lear" (Schofield) as a standout. I haven't read "Sophie's Choice" but last time I looked we still lived in a democracy and people were/are entitled to their opinions!!

Has anybody read Nabokov's "Lolita" and then seen the film? I wonder how that stacks up as an adaptation?

It's funny that you mention Dickens!! His novels translate really well to screen - think Lean, think "Great Expectations". As to whether one gets a sense of the greatness of the novel, well that's another question. Co-incidentally, I wrote this recently on another messageboard about Dickens and nobody commented: and here's British humour at its best!!

DICKENS AS CINEMATIC MANQUE

Years ago when I was studying literature at university I remember suggesting that Dickens was a very 'cinematic' author - in fact, the first such author. Few agreed or cared to take up the discussion. Same in the staffroom when I was teaching; I held onto my belief despite zero enthusiasm for the idea from my colleagues (I taught it to my students anyway!).

Today I have stumbled across something quite wonderful and, at last, I feel vindicated. It comes from no less a figure in cinema than Sergei Eisenstein, the great Russian director who perfected the art of 'montage'. In a translated essay of his entitled, "Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves" in the anthology "Film Theory and Criticism" (Braudy and Cohen, 2009), Eisenstein writes of Dickens' novels:

"they made the reader experience the same passions, making the same appeal to the good, the sentimental; like film, they made him shudder at vice, and provided the same escape from the humdrum, prosaic and everyday into something unaccustomed, unusual and fantastic. And, at the same time, it appears as nothing other than the everyday and prosaic....

Hence there was the same fascination for Dickens' novels as there is now for film...And perhaps the secret is that what links Dickens to cinema is the astonishingly plastic quality of his novels. Their astonishingly visual and optical quality. Dickens characters are just as plastically visible and ever so slightly exaggerated as the screen heroes of today. Dickens characters are just the same - that gallery of Pickwicks, Dombeys, Fagins, Tackletons and others that have been unerringly plastically captured and sketched with pitiless sharpness"(364).

It must be remembered that Eisenstein was at the height of his creative powers in the 20's and 30's, and during the silent era cinema would certainly have been over-represented with the (humorous) grotesques who characterize so much of Dickens' work. Nevertheless, I think the argument about the relationship between Dickens and his cinematic writing style is just as relevant today.

Here's an example from "Oliver Twist", Chapter 11:

"By the time they had turned into the Bethnal Green Road, the day had fairly begun to break. Many of the lamps were already extinguished; a few country waggons were slowly toiling on, towards London; now and then, a stage-coach, covered with mud, rattled briskly by.." (Dickens uses image AND sound!)

AND, "Great Expectations" - this time pure slapstick, when Mr. Wopsle plays "Hamlet" in an amateur production. Here's part of the scene where Hamlet's father, the murdered King, appears as a ghost:

"The late King of the country not only appeared to have been troubled with a cough at the time of his decease, but to have taken it with him to the tomb, and to have brought it back. The royal phantom also carried a ghostly manuscript round its truncheon, to which it had the appearance of occasionally referring, and that, too, with an air of anxiety and a tendency to lose the place of reference which were suggestive of a state of mortality. It was this, I conceive, which led to the *Shade's being advised by the gallery to "turn over!" - a recommendation IT took extremely ill. It was likewise to be noted of this majestic spirit that whereas it always appeared with an air of having been out a long time and walked an immense distance, it perceptibly came from a closely contiguous wall. This occasioned its terrors to be received derisively".

(*unsubstantial or unreal thing)


Tarantella
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Re: Great film adaptations

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 24, 2013 11:42 pm

As John has already alluded, film is also about music and novels and plays do not contain music. Therefore, by virtue of that fact a film cannot be a 'faithful' adaptation of another text because it has a musical aspect. I do feel, though, that the score for "To Kill a Mockingbird" does not impinge upon its 'faithfulness' to Lee's novel. Perhaps this is because it is so subtle, whereas an adaptation like "Gone With the Wind" is, to me, opera without singing - such is the extent to which the music overwhelms the film and draws us further away from Margaret Mitchell.

In my research for Bernard Herrmann I've come across this today. He wanted to write an operatic version of "Wuthering Heights". Using the 1939 Wyler film as a kind of template, these were his considerations in the operatic adaptation of Bronte's novel:

"He (and Lucille) agreed that, like the 1939 film of the novel, they would omit the book's second half and end their version with Cathy's death. They also decided that whenever possible, the libretto would quote dialogue from Bronte's text and interpolate descriptions from the novel. Where further material was needed, especially for arias and other soliloquies, Emily's poetry - recently republished, and much of it related in mood to the novel - would be incorporated". The opinion at the time from Herrmann's contemporaries was that the novel was too complex and "there was far too much plot" for Herrmann to attempt a direct adaptation.

I don't know Herrmann's opera, but the 1939 film was pretty faithful to Bronte because of it's gloomy characters, steely moors and ghostly insinuations. Like Dickens, it lent itself to the visual precisely because of, and not in spite of, its gothic extravagances and poetic morbidities.

I know, I'm talking to myself here...I'll stop now!!

jbuck919
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Re: Great film adaptations

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Nov 25, 2013 12:37 am

Wuthering Heights (the classic film) is a pretty good example of a movie that doesn't do justice to the novel, and probably could not have done. Jane Eyre is more problematic, because the novel is less of a work to measure up to. It is the difference between a novel that artfully leaves crucial things up to the reader's imagination when no movie can ever do that and therefore ends up (the movie, I mean) being a soap opera, and a novel that is basically a soap opera in the first place and films that way even with a great cast and production. Not that there's anything wrong with great filmed soap operas--some of the best movies of all time are basically that.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
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Re: Great film adaptations

Post by Tarantella » Mon Nov 25, 2013 1:18 am

What you've outlined are some of the inherent problems of adaptation anyway. I think "WH" is more adaptable than "Jane Eyre". I watched the 1943 production yesterday, music by Herrmann, starring Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Peggy Ann Garner, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O'Brien. To all intents and purposes it was "Citizen Kane" revisited - the same chiaracuro lighting, expressionistic mise-en-scene, oversized interiors (especially the fireplace) and a brooding, somewhat threatening Rochester (Welles). George Barnes's cinematography was straight out of the Gregg Toland manual! The character of Jane was less sympathetic and more obsequious to Rochester than I'd remembered in the book. It is short on plot per se, but I think this actually should help its transition to film. The music of Herrmann was again very reminiscent of "Citizen Kane" - especially in the deep brass, extended notes - and I felt detached from the action because I felt the film was derivative. I don't think of "Jane Eyre" as a 'soap' necessarily, but it is the weaker of the Bronte novels - and written by a different sister, of course.

lennygoran
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Re: Great film adaptations

Post by lennygoran » Mon Nov 25, 2013 8:25 am

Tarantella wrote: What makes an adaptation excellent is a pertinent question and, as you say jbuck, Shakespeare belongs in his own category
Sue I had mentioned in another thread PBS was doing these:


The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare's History Plays
About the Series

The Hollow Crown is a lavish new series of filmed adaptations of four of Shakespeare’s most gripping history plays; Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V on THIRTEEN’s GREAT PERFORMANCES beginning Friday, September 20 at 9 p.m. (Check local listings.)

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/ ... ries/1747/

I have them all on my DVR but haven't watched a single one yet. :(

Regards, Len

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