Withering Bites

“‘Lucky Jim’ Goes to the Internet”

Captain Blood: Then, Then, and Soon. February 13, 2009

Filed under: Adaptation,Captain Blood,Courtney,Michael Curtiz,Raphael Sabatini — noisyhope @ 11:05 am

I apologize for the lateness of the post and its apparent spottiness.  I have neither the book nor the film in front of me as I type.  I do, however, have much of the film memorized; it’s one of my favorites and I can be assured that it will improve my mood after viewing.

The 1936 film starring Erroll Flynn was based off a novel by Raphael Sabatini, who penned the adaptation I will discuss next week, Scaramouche.

The differences between the original text and the film are remarkable.  Characters are missing, stories are dropped, and Curtiz delivers only a fraction of the story.  Lavasseur’s arrival in the plot feels about as haphazard as the arrival of the evil vampires in Twilight, the novel.  Something just doesn’t qutie ring true about “Hey, we’re both pirates in Singapore, let’s work together, this can’t end badly!”  It does, however, give us another opportunity to watch Basil Rathbone lose a duel; and root for Olivia de Haviland as she spurns Flynn in a way that Miss Melanie Wilkes would most certainly not approve.

I also feel far too biased to really talk about whether or not the film is a successful adaptation.  I feel like it should say “inspired by,” perhaps, as it can be seen as a very loose translation.  I read the book two years ago, but after the movie had been in my life for twenty.

I think what people would first remark upon would be Flynn as Blood.  While he does carry out many of Blood’s personal traits; his cunning, his acerbic wit, his dedication to his fellow man and initial reluctance to condemn himself and his men to a life of piracy; he bears no physical resemblance to the character’s description.  I am going from memory here, but I recall Sabatini describing him as short, with dark feature and barrel chested.  Hardly what you see here.

I know I’m not giving the best analysis, but hey.  It’s Friday the Thirteenth, and I’m sure we all have a helluva weekend planned.  My inspiration behind posting this is that there are now rumours (and a blocked off iMDB page) of “Captain Blood” to be released in 2011.  I’m still  pondering if I want to see the book adapted, or watch someone try to top Flynn and deHaviland’s performances.


Pride & Prejudice and Adaptation: Less is More February 3, 2009

Filed under: Adaptation,Courtney,Jane Austen,Joe Wright,Pride & Prejudice,Text — noisyhope @ 7:57 pm

Apologies for the delay, the common cold with extra fatigue kick kept my brain and I from delivering a particularly promising post over the weekend, so I will do my utmost to give you a double whammy post to make up.

Any interest and/or tolerance of Pride & Prejudice is due, largely, to the 2005 adaptation by Joe Wright, and the promise of my colleagues from SLC to make good on one of my more rash oaths.  That is, that I would never watch it without a bottle of wine.  Once the DVD was out, I was summoned to their house where their flatscreen and a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc waited for me.  And it wasn’t that bad.  (It has also since become a tradition we like to call Pride, Wine, & Prejudice.)

Since then, I have read the book for a second time (for class), and watched the BBC adaptation (due to a mixup when I asked for the DVD myself).  I’ve never seen the Olivier adaptation, so I’m afraid I can’t give my full analysis, but I feel like the film, executed by Wright, easily trumps that of Simon Langdon (the BBC one with Colin Firth).  Why?  Because there is so much to be missed.

Langdon gives his audience every single word of the book — within reason.  Not a single moment or jibe (from the characters) is missing.  Every beat of every act is laid out before you to enjoy.  And I’m sure if you concentrated really hard and limited your distractions and bathroom breaks, you could read the whole of the book in the time it takes to enjoy the iteration featuring Colin Firth’s floating head

Wright remembers (as many of us seem to forget) that Austen’s second work is a comedy.  And you may cut in the interest of time, but you never cut funny.  Not only do you never cut funny, if you can add funny – you keep it.  As a result, characters go missing, time is compressed (as it often is as we only see in the movies), lines are reassigned (Mary takes on some boorish lines that belong to Lizzy in the book), and that which made you smirk in text, can at the very least elicit a chuckle when laid out in plain view.  I shall discuss each of these elements: lost characters, compressed time, reassigned lines/roles, and the visual joke to explain what makes Wright’s vision of Hertfordshire such a success.
The first characters the avid Austenphile would notice missing are Louisa and Mr Hurst.  While Mr Hurst is carried off perfectly by Rupert Vansittart (awesome name, that), best remembered by American audiences as the guy Hugh Grant meets up with in the Boatman right before he meets Andie Macdowell in her room in Four Weddings and a Funeral, in the BBC version, he and his wife are not missed here.  You know why?  They weren’t that funny.  Caroline Bingley can carry on flinging herself at Darcy without their help.  And Louisa’s one remarkable line about Elizabeth’s skirt being “six inches deep in mud,” is carried off so well by Kelly Reilly, best known to American audiences as the prudish girl from England in L’Auberge Espagnole, that personally, this viewer doesn’t miss Mrs Hurst for a single moment.  The Phillipses are also absent, leaving the Bennets with only one family to claim as their extended relations beyond Mr Collins (more on him later).  Again, they are not lost.  While Mrs Phillips proves to be a confidant of both Jane and Elizabeth regarding the men in their life, especially Whickham, she contributes little to the story, and to give them one family, the Gardiners, to both house Jane in London, and take Elizabeth along on their travels, is just more convenient.

Compressing time is another simple “just because it’s easier” move.  Not only that, but it raises the stakes.  While Jane is convalescing at Netherfield, it seems as if she arrives one day, Elizabeth the following, Mrs Bennet and the younger sisters visit, and then their arrival seems to speed Jane’s recovery along quite quickly, reminding the audience just how awkward and off-putting their mother really is.  (Side note: I am so sorry I cannot speak more about her.)  The other great example of this comes at the end of our tale: Jane accepts Bingley’s proposal.  That night, Lady Catherine arrives at Longbourn to tell Elizabeth to refuse any proposal from Darcy and well, we know how that goes.  By bringing Lady Catherine to the estate at such an “unacceptable” or at least, unsociable time, it makes her arrival carry even more weight than when she arrived in the evening and Elizabeth shows her the grounds.  It also makes Darcy’s renewed proposal at dawn all the dreamier.

Where was I?  Line-reassignment.  Personally, I’m a huge fan because occasionally these changes can tell the audience something about a character or situation they would get from a paragraph of very internal text.  When Mr Collins dines with the Bennets and discusses the compliments he pays Lady and Miss deBourgh, the responses from Mr Bennet and Elizabeth are taken from those originally belonging to Mr Bennet alone.  For fans of the book, this can be taken to better demonstrate the kinship between Lizzy and her father, and for those who are watching it for the first time, this relationship is well established through their similar snide remarks.  Mary is a character who picks up many lines belonging to her other sisters.  In the novel, I often imagined these lines (especially those belonging to Elizabeth or Jane), to be delivered with a healthy grain of salt, best illustrated with the line “What are men compared to rocks and mountains!”  You know she means it, while Lizzy would snark.  So much of Mary’s character is written internally in the novel, these moments better illustrate just how boringly pious she is.  (Piously boring?  That could be a six of one, half dozen of the other sort of situation, could it not?)

And finally, that above all else.  The visual.  I’ll admit Wright’s P&P contains so many single moments that convey pages of painstaking emotional upheval, I know I’ll leave some out.  My personal favorite is the moment Elizabeth first sees Pemberley.  The audience is given a shot of a low horizon with the sound of a carriage’s arrival.  It stops.  Elizabeth pops into frame, looking at something beyond the camera, and then lets out a nervous laugh, covering her mouth.  Then steps down.  Her aunt and uncle rise out of the coach, aghast.  In the book this feeling is best described when Elizabeth panics at the sight of Darcy, wondering how best to relate her feelings at seeing his home.  Austen takes time to describe what Wright shows us in a few seconds, the feeling of: “Oh God.  I could live here by now.  What.”

And I’ll offer one final moment of visual brilliance, again featuring our friend Mr. Collins.  He appears in a moment of, what a former colleague would be too eager to describe as: comedy of disproportion.  At the Netherfield ball, he recognizes Mr Darcy as his patroness’ nephew.  He approaches him from behind, and tries twice, to address Darcy.  This works beautifully because Tom Hollander (Collins) is short – average height, while Matthew Macfayden is quite tall.  When Collins attempts to clear his throat, every time, I keep thinking/hoping he’s going to knock on Darcy’s back like a door.  Alas, he only clears his throat and Macfayden turns to stare poor Hollander down.  It’s beautiful.

(Also, I just looked it up.  Hollander and Macfayden are 5’5″ and 6’3″ respectively.)

Anyway, I have more than fulfilled my superpost promise, and apologize for my loquaciousness, lack of clips (I may add in later), and neglect of mentioning “the hand thing” that m’colleague so adores.

Thank God, P&P is over, I’ll be writing more, and on schedule next Monday when we discuss The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard.


I feel like James Harvey.* January 23, 2009

Filed under: Adaptation,Catherine Hardwicke,Courtney,Stephenie Meyer,Twilight — noisyhope @ 12:02 am

I will first take the time to confess: I have read all of the Twilight books.  Including the leaked incomplete manuscript of Midnight Dawn Sun or whatever it’s called. I liken these books, and their films, to Cheetos.  Neither sparkly vampires nor… Cheetos are doing me any favors, they don’t even taste that good, but I can’t put them down.

That said, I feel I have sufficient authority to say the film is a great improvement over the books.

For one thing, so much of Twilight goes on our heroine’s head.  We go with her every step of the way, wondering what the hell is the problem with the really hot pale guy.  Wondering where he went.  Wondering why he can’t go to the Reservation.  Wondering if he’s a vampire.  (And let’s face it, you’re already screaming that he is from the first time he shows up – the dust jacket doesn’t help by including of the line “Of three things I was absolutely positive.  First, that Edward was a vampire.”  Uh, spoiler.  Thanks, book.)  After we all discover that Edward is a vampire – but the good sparkly kind – something like plot comes along in a half-assed attempt to throw in some real evil vampires wandering in during the happy vampires’ baseball game.  Yep.  Vampires and baseball.  (Note: The baseball scene in the movie is kind of awesome.)

So, this is where I doff my cap to Catherine Hardwicke and weep at how I could really miss her by the time New Moon comes out.  First, she made all of the side characters (you know, Bella’s friends who are neither vampire nor werewolf nor… nope, that’s it) actual people.  Jessica is a bit of a vapid skank, and Angela is the well-meaning hip-attempting geek.  (See: Yours truly in high school.  Complete with emo glasses.)  Mike is a loudmouthed jock who really just wants to be with the new girl, and Other Dude (IMDB tells me his name is “Eric”) is a nerd who fails harder than his soon-to-be-gf at being cool.

Given these details, the high school scenes are perfect.  Just as awkward and uncomfortable as I remember high school, which satisfies my nostalgia in a way I shouldn’t find so gratifying.  A friend thinks there should be a word, like schadenfruede, to describe reaching a good deal – in which both parties are completely satisfied.  I feel like that word would apply to this aspect of the film: Hardwicke has successfully conveyed, seemingly effortlessly, Bella’s discomfort in her new environment.  And I, the viewer, feel that discomfort and empathize.  I guess in circumstances like this we call it “pathos.”

Even more than giving life to the characters of Stephenie Meyer (oh if only she could have done that for Bella and Edward!), Hardwicke creates actual suspense.  I don’t know if it’s because Edward’s vampirism is just that apparent, or she relied on the fangirls of the series to flock to the screens, but Hardwicke builds the arrival of the evil vampires.  A “mysterious death” at the mill, Waylon’s murder (can I just say, I love how they take his clothes – great detail), and Charlie’s involvement with both as police chief are all information we have before they drop by the baseball game.  So by then, you don’t feel like the plot finally got there, you’re excited to see these two lines converge.

Other improvements? (Since, once again, I’m over the limit.)  Bella’s goth fantasies about Edward, Michael Welch as Mike Newton (I loved him when he was Luke in “Joan of Arcadia,” there I said it), and how totally uncool Charlie and Billy are as parents.  Downsides?  About any scene of Bella and Edward alone follows the book far too closely and reminds you being fifteen, but in a way that is much less gratifying than any scenes in the actual school.

In short, see the movie; thank me later.

*James Harvey is the author of Movie Love in the Fifties.  I have never read any film historian who wrote with such contempt for other writers’ characters.


The Dante Connection: The Puppets, Vernacular, and Me January 16, 2009

Filed under: Adaptation,Courtney,Dante,Inferno,The Divine Comedy — noisyhope @ 12:02 am

Sometime between 1308 and his death in 1321, Dante wrote The Divine Comedy. Today it is praised for its beautiful allusions and similes, and remarkable for its time as a work of literature written in the vernacular (the Florentine Italian, as opposed to Latin).

In 2004, Marcus Sanders’ translation of Inferno is published in the “American vernacular” accompanied by illustrations by Sandow Birk, parodying those by Gustave Dore.

In 2006, desperate for material to discuss with my professor regarding a proposed paper on the afterlife in film, I found dantefilm.com.

And in late 2008, seven hundred years after the reported start of the Divine Comedy, I saw Sanders’ American iteration of Dante’s epic poem come to life… sort of.

You see, the entire thing is done in “toy theatre;” that is to say, little paper puppet cut-outs of figures.

As a nit-picker by nature, and a devotee of Dante by education, I have to say, it works perfectly.

The contrapasso (punishment to specifically address the sin in question) has been changed. For example, the Lustful are forced to engage in sexual acts for eternity, instead of suffer an eternal whirlwind. The souls in Limbo are homeless, living under a highway. However, you pure of heart (or those of you who only remember Inferno from Sophomore Honors English): Yes, the suicides are still trees.

The “Who’s Who” of Hell has also come to include figures we would recognize as easily as Dante’s first readers: they now include Lizzie Borden, Strom Thurmond, Jim Jones, and Dick Cheney (with a perfectly executed explanation I won’t spoil). The filmmakers still include some of the classic figures a Dante scholar would want to see: Farinata (now a landlord), Latini is handled with Dante’s same heartbreaking grace (more on him later), Ulysses tells his story, and Ugolino’s sad tale is referenced, if only as a nerdy punchline (“He’ll chew your ear off.”* I invite all Dante scholars to join me in a chortle).

From the perspective of a prospective Dante scholar, I feel like the medium chosen was perfect. Inferno does not have a typical three act (or for that matter, any act) structure. Dante’s Inferno, as Meredith and Birk created it, is just as much about the art and beautiful puppetry as Dante.

The “American Vernacular” successfully describes Dante’s journey as simply as possible. He and Virgil leave at “the time when beers are drained and time cards are punched,” and, as he warms up to his guide, refers to Virgil as “Virg.”

Dante’s encounter with Brunetto Latini mirrors the episode in the original poem — Dante is heartbroken to discover his teacher in Hell among the sodomites, and their conversation plays like two friends of catching up. Latini’s departure continues to follow its description in the poem, where the Sodomites are punished by running from a fiery rain, in Meredith’s vision they are condemned to a rave for eternity. Dante describes his mentor’s departure as more similar to an athlete in a marathon than a condemned man. Our 21st century pilgrim recalls his former teacher as the best dancer on the floor. Well done.

Long story long, “Dante’s Inferno” is perfectly executed and one of the best adaptations I have seen in a very long time. I highly recommend it.

And I promise, next week I will deliver the Twilight analysis. I apologize now.

*You see, it’s perfect because his story takes two cantos, so it’s long, and when Dante first sees him (in poem and film), he’s literally chewing someone’s ear! It’s brilliant!