A Manifesto of Sorts

book2.gif (3198 bytes)It happens to us all:  We read a book that opens up new worlds, new ideas.  We are transformed . . . but then we hear about the movie deal. And, regardless of who is involved, no matter how sterling their track record, not even if they've resurrected Hitchcock and Cary Grant just for the occasion, for one black instant the back of our throats dries up, our hearts skip a beat, and we murmur quietly, almost in prayer, "Oh God, please don't let them screw it up."

Sometimes they get it all right:  Jaws, Scorsese's breathtaking The Age of Innocence, Branagh's Henry VThe Remains of the Day . . . We drink in the vision that unfolds even as we breathe a welcome sigh of relief.

Sometimes, though, our luck runs out.  We suffer through Kubrick's The Shining, Carpenter's The Thing, Disney's recent The Three Musketeers.  We grind our teeth during First Knight, developing a pre-psychotic cheek twitch even as we applaud the pathetic U.S. gun laws that will make our vengeance so simple to achieve.  We regain control at the last minute--intense therapy puts us in a position to lead a normal life again. 

And then we see Howard the Duck.

Welcome.  This page is for movie adaptations of literature.  I suppose that to a certain degree I'll be reviewing the different adaptations, but the reviews are really secondary; what I'm really interested in is the dynamic involved in transferring a work of literature to the screen.  What makes Apocalypse Now brilliant while Demi Moore's The Scarlet Letter leaves Nathaniel Hawthorne writhing in his grave like the Tasmanian Devil on acid?

I'm not quite sure what the answer is; hell, I'm still not sure what the right questions are.  I hope to find them as this page progresses.

Just to give the illusion of control, I'll try to work with a theme--an author, a director, a particular work, or perhaps a particular genre.  Don't expect comprehensive coverage--I'd be hard pressed to find enough web space for a complete discussion of Arthurian films, and even if I could, there's no way in hell I'll ever watch First Knight again. Not sober, anyway.

    Current Theme:  Sleepy Hollow    

This might be a good time to explain how I watch movies.  By and large, I try to view a movie by its own terms--I don't go into a Van Damme movie and look for acting technique, for example (I don't go into Van Damme films period, but that's beside the point).  I suspend my disbelief, and throw myself into the movie's world.  As a result, most of the time I enjoy the movie I'm watching while I'm watching it.  You really have to work to destroy my suspension of disbelief (a few times when I did all but scream "Give me a break":  the end of Total Recall and everything in Armageddon after the opening credits (pretty much after the previews, actually).  I also scream during Old Navy commercials, but that's more from physical pain than anything else.

The true test for me comes after the movie is over.  As I start to think about the movie, does it continue to hold up?  It's always a bad sign when I start actively thinking about the movie during the movie.  It means than on some level the movie has failed to capture my attention.  Initially, Sleepy Hollow swept me away with it's lush visuals.  Unfortunately, as the movie wore on I found myself more and more thinking about the movie.  It's a visual feast, but for all Tim Burton's abililty he was unable to overcome a weak story.

Exactly how the plot fails illustrates some useful principles about 1.  adapting short stories, and 2.  making drastic changes to the source material.  Neither task is impossible, but they certainly are surmountable, if you're pure of heart.  Or something like that.

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On the horizon, I am slowly but surely working on an analysis of various versions of Shakespeare's The Tempest.  Unfortunately, I lost most of my notes for two earlier versions in the move; I don't think I'll be able to recreate the material from memory, so things are going to on hold until I can either see the two versions again, or rework the basic structure of the piece.  I'll be looking at a wide variety of versions this time, from one or two stage versions, to Prospero's Books, to the recent TV version with Peter Fonda, Forbidden Planet, and last, but most certainly not least, the final issue of Neil Gaiman's DC comic book, The Sandman.  

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome for this topic is the lingering aftereffects (hangover?) of watching Sphere, based on Crichton's novel, which is based on (trans.:  stolen from) Forbidden Planet, which itself is based on The Tempest. Should you ever get the urge to watch Sphere, let me encourage you to find some infinitely more enjoyable activity.  Like shoving your arm down a garbage disposal.

Also in the works is a look at The Three Musketeers.  There are a lot of different versions out there, ranging widely in treatment and quality.  I may do one installment on The Man in the Iron Mask, and another on The Three Musketeers.

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I'm putting the annotated bibliography of literature/film related books here, and am returning the book page to more traditional book reviews.

Previous Themes:

Shakespeare in Love



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