Humanism and Post-structuralism in Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series makes perfect sense to translate from novel to film.  They storylines follow archetypes that are simultaneously familiar and fresh.  JK Rowling, whether intentionally or not, had her characters literally grow up with my generation.  Essentially, the plotline follows Harry Potter and his close friends as they grow from children into young adults.  The first two books, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” were written for a young audience.  The central characters were never over the age of twelve and the majority of their issues were shown as daily or mundane school problems.  Being late to class.  Having to deal with difficult homework for the first time.  Three-headed dogs guarding a secret door.  Though in both of these novels Harry Potter confronts the ultimate form of evil, Voldemort, the books remained lighthearted and easily-accessible.  For this reason, the first two books were easily brought to the big screen by Chris Columbus with a lighthearted and family-oriented atmosphere.  Columbus gives the audience a humanistic story: binary dichotomies between good and evil.  However, with “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” we see a new Harry Potter.  This is a slightly more angst-ridden teenage Harry Potter.  The themes become darker and more complex: betrayal, revenge, confronting fear, and a loss of innocence.  To bring this film to the big screen, a new director was brought in to adapt the novel to film, yet provide a darker and more mature mood.  Alfonso Cuaron created a provocative film that met mixed reviews.  Here, we can see that he used visual imagery to break down the barrier between “muggle” audience and the “wizards” on screen. 

            JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” was released in 1999.  The story focuses on thirteen year old Harry as he returns for a third year to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Only this year, things are starting to change.  There is an escaped “madmen” from the Wizarding prison Azkaban, a deranged killer named Sirius Black.  Ghostly “Dementors” are guarding the school grounds, protecting the students from this dangerous fiend.  Not surprisingly, there is another new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher in Professor Lupin, a kind fater figure to Harry with a dark secret of his own.  As the novel progresses we learn that Sirius Black is actually Harry’s godfather and he is blamed responsible for his parents’ death.  Lupin teaches Harry how to avoid the Dementors, as they prey on his troubled background.  The Dementors force Harry to mentally relive the most terrible parts of his past, the death of his parents. Here, we see Harry confront entirely new aspects to his newfound wizarding world.  While he’s lived knowing that Voldemort is the epitome of evil, Harry has not seen such complex gray issues before.  The wizarding world, like our own, is not a black and white or good and evil one.  The reader learns that Professor Lupin is a werewolf and loses his job because of this.  Even in a world like Harry Potters, there is discrimination and prejudice.  Additionally, we see that Sirius Black was actually not guilty of murder and was wrongly sentenced to years in prison.  Though Voldemort’s shadow is consistently looming over the characters, Harry is learning that “good” and “bad” are not as simple as he once believed. 

            Symbolism is present throughout “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” especially the ominous and reoccurring theme of eminent death.  Harry sees the Grim, a huge wolf-like dog that, when observed, predicts an untimely death.  Harry’s class begins Divination, in which his professor also predicts Harry’s soon and unfortunate death.  Additionally, Hagrid’s precious Hippgriff slashes Draco Malfo and is sentenced to death by order of the Wizarding Government.  The constant presence of the Dementors gives students chills and are a reminder of fatality, decay, and fear.  Sirius Black apparently slashes the “Fat Lady” portrait and terrifies many of the students while they sleep.  The Dementor’s especially strong power over Harry has him constantly reminded and reliving his past; he hears his mother scream her final words before being murdered.  All of these elements, and the reoccurring theme of death, needed to be reproduced in order for a film to be considered a “faithful” adaptation.  Additionally, one of the aspects that has been consistent throughout the Harry Potter series is a focus on the everyday and routine aspects of these characters lives.  Rowling will often give descriptions of what the character are eating in the great hall, or will ground the characters with scenes that do not necessarily contribute to the plot, but provide a view into the norms in Hogwarts.  The conversations in class, the anxious feelings before quidditch games, the characters are wizards but their emotions are human.  This is another essential aspect of the story that is needed to successfully adapt the novel to film. 

            Literary critics have discussed the importance of Harry Potter in our modern world for it “parallels” many issues that we face today.  Stephen Deets, form Babson College, states that using Harry Potter in a classroom can help students to better grasp many concepts that are vital to our modern world.  Deets states that, “through its seven books, it creates a well-developed parallel world.  Furthermore, the entire plot is driven by ethnic tensions, questions about social responsibility, and fights over political power” (Deets 742).  Specifically with “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” such mature themes and underlying commentary on racism, sexism, and homophobia, the film adaptation would have to honor such mature and relevant issues.  These books have a focus on youth, and by providing allegories to such dense issues as homophobia, have the ability to prompt change early on in young men and women.  The films would reach a larger audience and would need to promote similar ideas.  As Meredith Cherland states, “many teenagers want to know: why is the world the way it is, and why is it so difficult to change?” (Cherland 273).  To address this, Cherland confronts the ideas of Humanism and its relation to the wizard world.

            Cherland describes Humanism as “our common sense… that we now accept as natural and normal” (274).   She also believes that Humanism, through the conception that there is a stable, unified and individual self, is dangerous because it presents “life and the world as simple, as certain, and as structured in inevitable ways.”  (274)  So how exactly does this relate to Harry Potter?  Cherland asserts, relating back to Deets, that humanism “supports the existence of social structures like patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ageism… (these beliefs) are harmful to women and other groups.” (274)  What Cherland hopes books like “Harry Potter” can do is help younger generations engage with “engage with the uncertainty and ambiguity of our times so that they are equipped for living now.”  (274)  Finally, Cherland asserts a similar idea to Deets, in that Harry Potter Novels “present readers with the cultural discourses and story lines of our own times and of times past.” (275)  This interweaving of humanism and poststructuralism are what create the issues found in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.”  But how does Alfonso Cuaron bring these issues into his film adaptation?

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” was the first Harry Potter film not to be directed by Chris Columbus and was significantly darker both visually and in character development.  In contrast to the clean Columbus versions of Harry Potter, Cuaron gives an artistic and gritty Harry Potter.  Specifically, as Matt Connolly states, Cuaron “maintained a balance between character and milieu through long takes and exploratory tracks—an organic style missing from the character/effects- shot dichotomy prevalent in Columbus’s direction” (Connolly).  Additionally Connolly states that Curaron’s take on Harry Potter was “at once looser and more focused” (Connolly).  This seems to parallel the relationship between Humanism and Poststructuralism that Cherland asserted was fundamental to the Harry Potter world.  Cuaron beautifully captured the struggle between father figure and werewolf in Harry and Professor Lupin.  Though they allowed for “jokes” in the film, we are still presented with a man that is considered by some to be “dangerous” to society.   This may have even been a direct representation of homosexuality.  To some homosexuality is seen as wrong and immoral; there are parents that may be uncomfortable with a teacher that is homosexual.  In reality, this is an outdated and almost silly assumption.  Lupin’s character, though a ‘dangerous’ werewolf, helps Harry immensely in overcoming his fear of the Dementors and acts as a surrogate father.  Just as a werewolf bites others to spread his “disease,” it is similar to some parent’s fear that you can “become” gay though another’s influence.  While the issue is certainly much more complicated than that, the Harry-Lupin relationship sheds light on the modern fact of homophobia, but also critiques its very existence.  Rather than showing his werewolf as a menacing and horrid figure, Cuaron makes his werewolf thin and still very human.  Even with his “disease,” Lupin is human and deserves treatment as such.  Yet, the wizarding community is unable to provide that.

            While Cuaron succeeded in demonstrating the complex Humanism and PostStructuralistic aspects of the novel into his film, he lost some of the charm in Rowling’s writing.  Unfortunately, this is likely the result of cutting the original work down to a more manageable size.  Overall, Cuaron was able to capture the essence and themes of the novel through his adaptation; rather than emphasizing the mundane through dialogue he was able to put much of the magic as secondary to the story. 

Cherland, Meredith. “Harry’s Girls: Harry Potter and the Discourse of Gender.”  Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 52:4. 273-282. Dec. 2008-Jan. 2009.  < http://www.jstor.org/stable/40058129>

Connolly, Matt. “The Great and Powerful Wizard.”  Reverse Shot.  Issue 32. <http://www.reverseshot.com/article/harry_potter_and_halfblood_prince&gt;

Deets, Stephen. “Wizarding in the Classroom: Teaching Harry Potter and Politics.” Political Science and Politics.  42:4. 741-744. October 2009. <http://dx.doi.org.proxyum.researchport.umd.edu/10.1017/S104909650999014X >

Watchmen.

“Watchmen” is a graphic novel published in 1986 written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons.  “Watchmen critiques and reflects upon the conception of “Superhero,” using an alternative U.S. History.  The storyline follows the lives and the deaths of a group of superheros as they face the changing realities of the (alternative) post-Vietnam War U.S.  There is tension with the Soviet Union, President Nixon never left the office, and the superheros are known as vigilantes and are outlawed by the government.  The graphic novel itself is non-linear, the plot moves between the different characters and goes back and forth through time. “Watchmen” has been universally acclaimed as both a graphic novel and as a piece of poignant literature.  It has both beautiful artwork accompanied by a storyline that transcends many expectations for non-graphic novel oriented readers.

In 2009, “Watchmen” was adapted into a film, directed by Zach Snyder.  Snyder has carved out his own niche in Hollywood, adapting other graphic novels to the big screen such as “300.”  His style transferred over to “Watchmen;” Snyder used many of the same shots as panels from the novel.  However, Snyder had to rearrange some plot points to make the storyline accessible to an audience unfamiliar with the source material.  Additionally, Snyder increased some of the violence or gore from the novel, putting his own spin into “Watchmen.”

As far as how well Snyder adapted the famous graphic novel, there is much debate.  Alan Moore is famous for denouncing any attempts to bring graphic novels into Hollywood; he feels that there is never enough justice to the source material.  Snyder stayed almost perfectly within the realms of the source material, using panels and dialogue directly from “Watchmen.”  However, this may have actually been his downfall, proving Moore’s point.  “Watchmen” as a graphic novel may have purely been too grandiose for a film.  Some viewers may have found the adaptation confusing or too long.  As a story, every aspect of a graphic novel is intentionally created a specific way.  It is impossible to recreate the panels that Moore and Gibbons originally designed.  While Snyder was very true to the source material, “Watchmen” proves too complicated and textually-oriented for a film.

http://thephoenix.com/boston/news/77803-interview-alan-moore-author-of-watchmen/:

In an interview, Alan Moore directly discusses the concept of a cinematic interpretation of “Watchmen.”  He states that “If you concentrate on the similarities between comics and cinema, what you’re left with is films that don’t move.  What we wanted to establish with ‘Watchmen…’ was territory that was unique to comics00 the thigns tha comics can do which no other medium can.”  This shows that one goal of Moore’s was to make something that was specific to the graphic novel canon and not able to be recreated with film.

 

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20213257_2,00.html

Zach Snyder had commented that the increased exposure in super hero movies will allow the average viewer to understand the commentary of “Watchmen.”  “We all know about superheroes now… You’re getting to that saturation level where superhero movies, it’s hard for them to figure out what more to do.” 

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/jul/20/watchmen-zack-snyder-clip

After receiving mixed criticisms, Snyder feels that maybe audiences weren’t ready for “Watchmen,” even the critics.  “The thing I find fascinating about the whole way ‘Watchmen’ was received is that 10% or less of the critics seemed to have actually read the graphic novel… because it really is not a movie, in a traditional sense.  And if you try to analyze it in those terms—and not in terms of the relationship to pop culture—then you kind of miss the point.”  Snyder hoped that it would be marketed as a normal “superhero movie” but push the audience into confronting standard conceptions of superheroes.

 

One scene in particular that changed from the graphic novel to the film is when Dan and Laurie beat up the muggers in the alley.  In the film they are triumphant but in the novel they are remorseful and consider the impact of their actions.  Here, Snyder may have attempted to give his own “signature” style into the film; he is known for gore in other films.  He didn’t necessarily sell out, but may have missed the overall significance of that scene to the novel.  That part was meant to push the characters to consider a fundamental question, “can we live ‘normal’ lives outside of being a superhero?  How should we react to our potential?”  I believe Snyder felt this scene was interchangeable and wanted to put his own stylistic attitude into a film where many shots are exact replicas of the graphic novel.

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the Best Harry Potter Film Adaptation?

harry potter

JK Rowling published “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” in 1999, the third of seven “Harry Potter Novels.”  The story centers on the wizarding world of Harry Potter as he and his friends enter their third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The story, while mentioning Lord Voldemort, has a different antagonist in Sirius Black.  As the characters are growing older, around the age of thirteen or fourteen, the themes become darker.  Revenge, betrayal, and confronting your most intimate fears are all present in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.”  Introducing Professor Lupin, the kind and intelligent werewolf, also presents some of the less glorious aspects of the wizarding world.  He is discriminated against and once the fact that he is a werewolf is revealed, parents no longer want their students to learn from him.

Alfonso Cuaron, a highly regarded and awarded Mexican filmmaker, took on JK Rowling’s acclaimed “Prisoner of Azkaban” in 2004.  The film was the first Harry Potter film to not be directed by Chris Columbus.  Attempting to maintain the spirit of the novel, Cuaron presented a much darker version of Harry Potter’s world.  While Columbus gave the audience a crisp, clean, and upbeat Harry Potter, Cuaron provided an artistic, gritty, and “British” Harry Potter.  The tone and the visuals of the film are simply just darker; no longer is Harry Potter an upbeat but downtrodden young 12 year old.  Now, Potter is a teenager and his newfound wizarding world is beginning to demonstrate its darkness.

Cuaron really captures one essence of the original novel in his adaptation.  In the previous two novels, Harry Potter’s journey into Hogwarts was an escape from his muggle life.  The pain Harry experienced for the first twelve years of his life was blocked out once he became a wizard.  However, in this film we see that the wizarding world is not without its own darkness.  While Harry had met Voldemort before, the epitome of evil, he now meets a more complex evil in Sirius Black as well as the dementors.  Black not only betrayed his parents, but is a more tangible and real evil to Harry.  Cuaron really captures this essence.  Additionally, one of the best aspects of his film is he matures the magic.  By this I mean that JK Rowling always emphasized that magic was a part of life for the characters, they were not wowed by it.  The novel is character-driven and the magic is secondary to the story.  With Columbus’ films, the magic was meant to bring the audience in and “wow” them.  Cuaron has the magic secondary to the characters, it is just a regular part of their lives.  Finally, Cuaron truly understood the role of Professor Lupin; he is a metaphor for prejudice within a segregated community.  The whole wizarding world is a segregated community for the rest of the world, a community that Harry finds comfort and acceptance in.  However, Lupin shows Harry that his accepting community is actually not-so-accepting.  Lupin as a werewolf destroys Harry’s innocence.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2004/06/01/alfonso_cuaron_azkaban_interview.shtml:  Cuaron states that an important aspect of this film is that the characters are teenagers.  “Teenagers recognize other teenagers.  From the moment I read the material, it was something that I connected with.  This is a the story of a kid who is seeking his own identity as a teenager.”  Additinoally, Cuaron felt that he really wanted to “ground” the magical universe by choosing Michael Seresin as the cinematographer.  “One thing that I felt was perfect for Michael was that we have this magical universe that we could really ground.  Because he has got that grittiness, and that grittiness comes from the fact that he is a single-source light cinematographer.”  Finally, Cuaron says that he gave the film a more “British” atmosphere because he stuck so close to the material; he didn’t have to tinker much to give it that feeling.

http://movieline.com/2010/11/03/why-does-everyone-think-alfonso-cuarons-awful-harry-potter-adaptation-is-great/:  Christopher Rosen feels that Cuaron’s film was “mostly trash,” failing as both a movie and a good adaptation.  He feels that the film never “captures the spirit of Harry Potter.”  One of the main things that Rosen states is that the relationship between Sirius Black and Harry is never truly fleshed out and that the later films suffer because of this.

http://thefairytalesite.net/2012/11/harry-potter-flashback-an-interview-with-azkabandirector-alfonso-cuaron/:   Cuaron states in a separate interview aht all he hopes to do with his film is not to make an “Alfonso Cuaron Movie, just to serve the material.”  This is advice he received from Guillermo del Toro.  He found it a great deal of fun to transition from Columbus’ world to his own.  He made sure that people didn’t feel like they were “suddenly in an alien world.  You want them to feel as though they’re in the same universe.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is considered by some critics to be the best Harry Potter film adaptation. It is considered by other critics to be the worst. What do you think? (This question implies familiarity with both the books and the films).

Overall, some critics have claimed this version of Harry Potter to be the best adaptation of the books.  Others claim that it is one of the worst.  I feel that this movie, apart from perhaps “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. II,” is the best adaptation.  Like stated, I feel Cuaron did the best job of putting the characters and the storyline first.  The characters used magic as part of their lives and not as a method of keeping the audience interested.  Additionally, he made the film feel inherently British and “grounded” the magic.  The main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, truly felt like teenagers.  Cuaron got them out of their wizard robes so that the audience could better identify with them as people, not just as wizards.

Paranoia in Modern America: An Examination of “A Scanner Darkly.”

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Philip K. Dick published “A Scanner Darkly” in 1977, a science fiction novel based on the drug influenced culture of a post-Vietnam United States.  Dick used his past experiences with drugs as a basis for many of the novel’s themes.  After Dick was treated for his drug use, writing “A Scanner Darkly” was a warning to other drug users and society at large.  The novel acknowledges many of Dick’s acquaintances that committed suicide or had their lives ruined by drugs, appealing to the potential realism of his created dystopia.  Though the most basic concept to take away from the novel is the negative influence of drugs, there is much more.  The novel also provokes the reader to consider their own reality, pushing the boundaries of typical black and white, good and evil. 

Robert Linklater took on Dick’s novel in 2006, adapting “A Scanner Darkly” for the big screen.  Many of the primary themes present in Dick’s original work are infused into the film.  However, as Dick’s novel is focused on the lost trust in government and the drug craze of the 1970s, Linklater updates the themes into a dystopic future United States.  This adaptation is suggests that such themes from the 1970s are present today, maybe even extrapolated.  The focus on paranoia in a futuristic, yet negative, United States conflicts with the theme of hope that many people associate with the future.  Visually, in Linklater’s adaptation, our world is not dramatically different; yet, our culture is slowly slipping further into a conflict of morals.

Linklater used a digital reworking of an old animation technique called rotoscoping.  Rotoscoping is difficult to describe, but animates the characters into forms that are simultaneously human and inhuman.  We as viewers can tell who the actors are but are drawn to the cartoonish realism of the rotoscoping.  Linklater may be suggesting that the hallucinogens produced by drugs are nothing more than the reality we all succumb to.  This visual technique separates the film from the novel in an artistic manner, yet remains true to the spirit of the source.  The visuals make the viewer almost uncomfortable, as though paranoia from drug use is leaking into sober minds.  He may be suggesting that if we continue on our paths, paranoia will become so infused into our society that it becomes assumed.

 

Video: http://www.spike.com/video-clips/kmdxty/a-scanner-darkly-interview-with-richard-linklater-and-keanu-reeves: Here we see an interview with both Richard Linklater and Keanu Reeves.  They discuss the policing in the film and an association with “freedom of speech.”  Linklater states that he feels Dick was hinting at the future, which is why he felt it was appropriate to make this film when he did.  Additionlly, the use of Robert Downey Jr. was especially helpful for he wrote and improvised many of the dialogue scenes.  His background was especially helpful in creating the mood that we see in “A Scanner Darkly.”

http://www.infowars.com/articles/media/scanner_darkly_linklater_its_world_were_living_in.htm:

In another interview, Linklater states that “we’re living in science fiction right now… what’s the next step- you cross the street at night and you get a ticket for jaywalking because biometrically it can read who you are?”  Linklater addresses some interesting questions about the setting of his film and the path our society is heading toward.

http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=507: One blogger praises Keanu Reeves, stating that “more than in almost everything else he’s ever been in, (Reeves) turns his congenital inexpressiveness into a virtue, as his character slips (without quite realizing it) into an ever-more-befuddled state of paranoia, ccognitive dysfunction, and split personality…”  Mckenzie Wark, the author, thinks that the rotoscoping helps to define the look and feel of both surveillance as well as addiction.

To answer the question of whether “A Scanner Darkly” is an anti-drug parable or an anti-government parable, the answer is up for interpretation.  I believe the novel was more anti-drug, from my understanding of it at least.  The novel was a self-examination for Dick, a novel of catharsis perhaps for a previous drug addict.  The film allowed the themes of government and self paranoia to be explored in a more negative fashion; as though hinting at the potentially disastrous paths our government could take.  Overall, both the novel and the film deal with anti-drug and anti-government parables.

Passion in Film and Literature, How Do We Define Beauty?

adaptation-movie

“The Orchid Thief” (1998) is a novel by Susan Orlean.  The novel is based on the time Orlean spent in Florida investigating the arrest of John Laroche.  Laroche and a group of Seminole Native Americans were poaching orchids; Orlean found true passion in Laroche’s obsession with the orchids.  Additionally, the novel deals with the odd dichotomies in Florida, such as the distinction between wild and urban.  The novel is classified as creative nonfiction, utilizing a more innovative writing style and voice.  The line between artistic literature and a straightforward story is blurred.  This style makes the transition from novel to cinema much more difficult, or as some may say, almost impossible.

Similar to other nontraditional “novel to cinema” transitions previously studied, “The Orchid Thief” was adapted to the big screen in an unconventional way.  In 2002 Spike Jonze released “Adaptation,” a film that uses the back story of “The Orchid Thief” to examine the topics of art, depression, and the filmmaking industry.  The story itself transitions between Meryl Streep portraying Susan Orlean in her study of John Laroche and Nicholas Cage as a screenwriter struggling to bring Orlean’s story to the big screen.  The theme of “adaptation” is intertwined into all of the different stories, as Charlie (Nick Cage) tries to adapt his conception into a melding of art and film, Laroche adapts to his changing lifestyle as you learn more about his life, and Orlean adapts to a new life mentality that she learns through Laroche.  The film transitions between Charlie’s thought processes and the actual plot, literally showing his mental adaptations to the world around him.  The viewer can witness the arguments he has with himself before he actually reacts.  The relationship between Charlie and Donald represents the tension inherent in writing for a mass audience.

In terms of being an actual adaptation of “The Orchid Thief,” the film makes a great effort to create a separate entity from the book.  Orlean’s writing style transcends typical narrative styles; her approach is idiosyncratic  and artistic.  In order to translate the themes that she goes through, the filmmakers used the characters of Charlie and Donald to contemplate what the meaning of beauty should be in a big-budget film.  This parallels the idea of finding beauty that someone else may not understand, as Streep’s character often questions Laroche about his obsession with flowers.  Some critics felt that the film did not truly grapple with the themes of the book, stating that it is impossible to bring books to the screen.  Rather, if we hope that the book lines up with the exact purpose of the author, there will always be disappointment.  This film takes on the themes of the novel while creating its own identity as a film itself.  The film may not answer questions around the tension between films and beauty because there isn’t an answer.  Rather than criticizing the film, it should be applauded for bringing this to the attention of the audience.  This film does not attempt to be a documentary, it is an emotional journey and examination that is distinct from the novel and other films.

Meryl Streep was quoted to be a huge fan of the script itself, praising its “ambition and its inventiveness.  IT’s very densely written.  It’s dense visually, but also in terms of its ideas and its emotions…it’s not like a straightforward story. “  Additionally, she purposely did not intent to meet Orlean before portraying her in a film, maintaining a distance that helps make “Adaptation” its own creation.  Additionally, the real-world Charlie Kaufman states that he hoped to make the character a separate person, intentionally creating his apprehensions in a specific way.  He also stated that he was worried that the film may have never been shot for its satire of the film industry, but they surprised him.  The studio stated that “they connected to it (the film).  They read it and saw that it was true to somebody they related to, in terms of struggling to do something you believe in.  They respected that.  Their concern was that it was so complicated structurally that it might not work emotionally.  That was their biggest concern.”  What is interesting about this film is that it is so emotionally driven that the studio considered that off-putting.  That adds an interesting spin to the desires of film companies, there are expected character relations and any film that doesn’t meet those outlines is deemed as potentially un-filmable.  Peter Rainer from New York Magazine discusses the purpose inherent in “Adaptation;” the film “picks apart the myth that nothing good ever domes out of Hollywood.”  The film reverts to themes of disconnection; characters like Charlie and Laroche do not adhere to societal convention yet are so identifiable.

Some claim that using voice-over narration in a film is a “cheap” gimmick, a technique used when a filmmaker doesn’t know how to deal with intimate emotions.  However, “Adaptation,” uses the technique to better understand Charlie’s insecurities.  Additionally, by having a “professional” screenwriter in the film deny the technique, the filmmakers are showing us that trying to define what is “good” or “bad” filmmaking can not be defined.  It is all about context.  There are times in which a voice-over may seem cliché or unnecessary, but in a film like “Adaptation,” it works.

Sources:

http://movies.about.com/library/weekly/aaadaptationinta.htm

http://movies.about.com/library/weekly/aaadaptationintb.htm

http://nymag.com/nymetro/movies/reviews/n_8075/

Intertwining Stories and Madness: Daldry and Cunningham Address Virginia Woolf

the hours

“The Hours” is a novel written by Michael Cunningham, a very well known homosexual author.    The novel is based around “Mrs. Dalloway,” published in 1925 by Virginia Woolf.  “Mrs. Dalloway,” is universally understood as one of the earliest and most famous examples of an English novel using stream-of-consciousness.  This is a narrative technique that is mean to demonstrate how the character’s mind is working; the reader is enveloped into the thoughts of the character.  Because of this, the style is written in a stylistically original manner, with word flow that defies convention and traditional writing methods.  This style often uses rhetorical questioning and thought processes.  “The Hours” acknowledges the impact of Virginia Woolf’s style.  A story of three women from different time periods whose lives are interwoven, “The Hours” also reflects upon the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

Michael Cunningham’s novel was adapted to the big screen by director Stephen Daldry.  The cast is filled with well known and talented actors and actresses such as Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Ed Harris.  The film delves into the AIDS epidemic, but not to the extent to which the novel does.  However, the stream-of-consciousness technique is mirrored by the flawless interweaving of the three main characters lives.  The themes of imprisonment and regret are in each of the women’s lives, Ed Harris as well.  The imagery of repeating tract homes, neighborhoods of small, identical suburban homes, imprisons Laura just as Virginia Woolf feels immobile in her home outside the city.  For each character, suicide is seen as a recurring theme as well.

Translating any novel to a film is always difficult because there is a guaranteed loss.  With “The Hours,” it is almost impossible to keep a film audience engaged while using a stream-of-consciousness style of filming.  Rather, the Daldry uses intense scenes to portray the mood of the “stream-of-consciousness” rather than words.  However, because you can only see the actors, you lose some of the mental complexities that are found in the original novel.  The actors do a phenomenal job, and the film addresses many of the same these as the novel, but as we’ve seen in other films, the movie can only portray so much of the original work.  While some such as Daniele, claim that film and literature are the same, they truly are just different forms of entertainment.  Film is more akin to immediate gratification, hence huge blockbuster films.  Though there are certainly overlaps, films can create mood and build suspense, but they typically are not as introspective as a longer written work.  However, all the cinematography and other aspects of film can be appreciated in their own way.  This is why film and literature may be similar, and at times overlap, but are distinct works of art.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2003/feb/12/oscars2003.oscars

Here, Stephen Daldry is interviewed about his feelings on the film.  He states “I don’t want to deny anybody’s response to it (the film).  What I’ve enjoyed about following the film about a little bit is that people have responses we never thought about and are often quite imaginative and emotional… I suppose that at its core it’s about the very difficult choices people have to make in order to make their lives possible…the cost of the choices that, it seems to me, these women make, felt very truthful.”  Daldry is demonstrating that this film can be introspective, much like Virginia Woolf’s own work.  There is not a linear plotline to follow, leaving much more room for interpretation.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2002/dec/08/features.review

“The Guardian” examines the film and interviews Daldry as well, stating that Daldry loved the challenge of the original novel and translating that to film.  Additionally, he states that he did not want to address Virginia Woolf’s prose style, choosing to make his own film apart from Woolf.

http://inharshlight.com/2011/11/22/old-review-the-hours/

Richard Sanchez gives the film four out of five stars, claiming that “Daldry has succeeded with orchestrating three very disturbing stories that ironically give living life a viable experience in the face of death… these themes of how life is defined by death are given color and feeling.”  He claims that the tone that extends into each of the three periods all link back to Woolf’s novel, using omniscient, “over-arching” tones of sadness.

Overall, the themes of madness and suicide are all themes that we find intersecting throughout the film.  While some may see it as “too much” or “melodramatic,” the film is hoping to address these issues so of course it is going to be dramatic.  The film requires multiple viewings to pick up on some of the nuanced references to Virginia Woolf.  Each time frame provides a distinct story and way of confronting self imprisonment as well as feminism.  The overarching themes can be identified for each time, but are unique to each story as well.

-Patrick Belson

Tristram Shandy: Self-Reflective, Unfilmable, and Absurd.

tristram shandy

How does one chronicle a life? Where do you even start? These are some of the questions that Laurence Sterne delves into with his novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.” Sterne wrote this novel, actually a series of volumes, throughout the mid-18th century. The story follows the life and events of the main character, Tristram Shandy. However, this becomes much more convoluted; Sterne challenges the traditional methods of storytelling. Sterne has Tristram narrative the plot of his own life, but provides so much context and description that the story barely even touches on the events of his own life. Tristram will often provide his own thoughts and feelings on events that take place even before his birth, bringing the reader upon a long and descriptive journey through much more than simply the direct life of Tristram Shandy. Specifically, much of the novel deals with Tristram’s father and his influence upon Tristram’s life. Considering the era it was written, 1759-1767, “Tristram Shandy” was clearly ahead of its time. Sterne appeals to what would later be considered modernistic and post-modernistic approaches to literature, demonstrating the innate humor and absurdity of life itself.

Taking into consideration the length, indecipherability, and detail of Sterne’s novel, it seems impossible to adapt into a film. However, Michael Winterbottom’s film, “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,” provided a simultaneously intelligent and hilarious take on Sterne’s famous character. Rather than attempting to narrate Shandy’s story in film, Winterbottom concurrently satirized modern film while finding a way to present a modern take on the themes found in Sterne’s novel. “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” is a sort of mockumentary, in which the actors are playing as actors attempting to actually turn the novel into a film. Winterbottom demonstrates the absurdity of transferring this literary work onto the big screen, shown by this “film-within-a-film.” The audience can see the creation of a “fake” “Tristram Shandy.”

Using this self-reflexive style, Winterbottom is not only modernizing Sterne’s primary theme, but simultaneously critiquing modern big-budget films and producers. The film touches upon this; forty minutes into the film, the main actor is questioned about “why would you put certain aspects into a movie?” This relates back to Sterne’s novel itself, with the vast amount of detail that is given to further understand Tristram’s character. Winterbottom also explores humanity’s need for the grandiose, another theme examined in the original “Tristram Shandy.” The filmmakers/producers within the film are searching for a love story or battle scene to bring in more money for the film; similarly, Tristram Shandy’s story itself is almost self-indulgent. The sheer amount of unnecessary detail in telling his own story is modernized by Winterbottom’s critique of filmmakers sacrificing storyline for unnecessary elements. Winterbottom succeeds in making a film that was thought to by unfilmable by avoiding telling the direct narrative itself.

Reviews for the film have all been, for the majority, very positive. One review describes the film as a “silly, often confusing, and continuously endearing experience that is the human adventure” (Spirituality and Practice). BBC’s Adrian Hennigan called the film one of the “funniest British films in years,” but demonstrates that the themes of the original novel are present without much of the plot itself. “More an irreverent take on the world of filmmaking than a period drama…the actual novel gets pretty short shrift.” Here, Hennigan demonstrates that the original point of the novel, the absurdity of chronicling the human condition, is still relevant today in the film industry. Peter Travers of “Rolling Stone” magazine claims you learn “all sorts of academic things” but refused to delve into the actual themes explored. He states that “Lillian Anderson and Jeremy Northam add to the wicked mischief in ways I couldn’t possibly explain. Don’t ask me.” Essentially, Travers shows us that a general understanding of the novel is necessary to fully appreciate what Winterbottom is doing in his film. While you may learn some though the film itself, much of his satirical intentions go unnoticed or may seem confusing without context (Rolling Stone).

“How is the film a mockumentary (a documentary parody), a parody of “making of” film, or a satire of reality programming? And is such a project within the spirit of Sterne’s novel?” As the reviews above show, even with a lacking foundation of Sterne’s work, an audience will appreciate the satire of “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.” The film ridicules many of the “necessary” elements of modern Hollywood films; the search for a love story or war scene within the film is the best example of this. It mocks modern actors for their self-centered behavior, competing for lead roles. These maintain the spirit of the original novel by demonstrating their absurdity. The film modernizes the themes of the novel. The self-reflexive nature of the film helps the audience to understand that all films are fake, even a reality program or a documentary. Every decision that you see on screen, for the most part, is intentional. This is self-reflexive of the film-within-the-film as “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” is a film itself. It shows the creation of a film though a film.

http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=10061
http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/tristram-shandy-a-cock-and-bull-story-20060123
http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2006/01/16/a_cock_and_bull_story_2006_review.shtml

A Brief Analysis of Film and Literature

A Brief Analysis of Film and Literature: Bride and Prejudice

Bride and Prejudice

Jane Austen published her famed novel Pride and Prejudice in 1813 and has been considered to be one of the most important novels of the time. Pride and Prejudice takes the audience into 19th century England, a time in which education, marriage, and class were the main means of social interaction and classification. The story follows the family of Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters as they go through the motions and stresses of British class relations. Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy, who belongs to a higher social class than Elizabeth, and must overcome her prejudices in order for their relationship to work. On the other hand, Mr. Darcy must overcome is pride that stems from Elizabeth’s lower societal position. These present the primary struggle, as well as the title itself, of Austen’s novel. These characters must handle, and conquer, the varying differences of class and wealth that create separation in British society. The potential Bennet marriages demonstrate a critical theme of Austen’s work, in that marriage is tied into legality and formality. Additionally, the loneliness and shallowness of this British class system is demonstrated as the novel continues. The marriage of the Bennet daughters demonstrates the emphasis placed on maintaining wealth, status, and the estate.

Austen’s novel has remained incredibly popular throughout the past two hundred years. As time has progressed, the medium of telling Austin’s famous tale has changed. There are plays, television programs, and even movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice today. Of these, Gurinde Chadha’s romantic comedy film Bride and Prejudice is one of the most interesting modern adaptations. Bride and Prejudice uses the very basic same storyline as Austen’s original, but updates the time and context to modern day India. Shot in the Bollywood style, essentially Indian or Hindu filmmaking, Chadha also uses musical scores and modern adaptations of the original themes to update the story. The main character Lalita, Elizabeth’s modern counterpart, is an Indian woman whose mother is hoping to marry her and her sisters off into wealthy families. Mr. Darcy is an American businessman that is travelling to India and meets Lalita and her family.

Bride and Prejudice succumbs to the trap of many other romantic comedies, in which the male and female leads originally find one another irritating but overcome their differences to fall in love. However, Chadha’s film sets itself apart from other Western romantic comedies. The Bollywood style, musical scores, and portrayal of modern multiculturalism/imperialism all provide twists to the original Austen story while changing the usual mold of romantic comedies. Chadha helps demonstrate that basic themes of Austen’s day, such as the importance of class and the categorizing of society, are still relevant today. Additionally, using the Bollywood style of film making and employing a multicultural cast, Chadha shows the modern overlapping of cultures. We live in a global society very different from that of Austen. The class differences from culture to culture are shown between Mr. Darcy and Lalita. The dinner scene between Mr. Kholi and Lalita’s family also shows the tension between “Western” and “Eastern” Indian families; Mr. Kholi travels to America, part of the Indian diaspora, to get a job but returns to India to find a wife. Because his character is used for humor, some may find him contrived or even offensive. Though this is an interesting take on Austen’s story, the musical score may be distracting and too light to give a proper respect to the source material. If done properly, music should provide additional information to the story line and help create a mood.

When Bride and Prejudice came out in 2004, it met a varying amount of critical reception and received mixed reviews. Peter Bradshaw (Britain’s The Guardian) gave the film two out of five stars, stating that Chadha’s film “cheerfully invents whole new dimensions of parochialness and shallowness, vast new acres of unreflecting naivety, that weren’t in the original. All the subtlety, all the light and shade, all the dark undercurrents of loneliness and helplessness have been merrily chucked overboard…” Bradshaw nails what many critics claim is the primary fault of Bride and Prejudice, in that the story, style, and musical nature of the film takes away all the mood from the original novel. Though the essence of the story is maintained, the presentation is described as too “saccharine.” Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers feels differently, stating that “purists who think Austen will be spinning in her grave will be wrong. She’ll be dancing.” While those like Travers may be optimistic, their voices are overcome by other negative “purist” reviews. TalkTalk gave the film a four out of ten star review, criticizing the film for “stretching” the script in many places and having “painful” musical scores. Basically, the film stays too far from the original story, attempting to make up for this with the musical scores that are ultimately unsuccessful. As Bradshaw states, much of the subtlety in the novel is lost in the films transition. The themes of loneliness and potential isolation that build through the novel are lost as the characters stop and start singing in the Bollywood style.

While watching a musical the viewer must suspend their belief and integrate themselves into a story where characters will intermittently sing and dance. These musical numbers are meant to help us better understand the story. The mood is only highlighted by the songs and dance. However, with Bride and Prejudice much of the original themes from Austen’s novel are overshadowed or completely ignored with the Bollywood style. Bollywood musicals are typically meant to be over-the-top, silly, and optimistically grand; because of this, the themes of Austen’s novel are not properly emphasized. Though, this may have been the point of Chadha’s movie. She was updating the struggles from Imperialistic British society. She never set out to make a complete mirrored story to Pride and Prejudice; rather, just used the basic structure of the story. Still, while the movie does offer an attractive look into modern globalization and diasporic American culture, it does not successfully provide an emotionally interesting story. The Bollywood style and musical numbers prevent the audience from connecting with the characters at the same level as one does in the novel.

http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Critic_Review/Guardian_Film_of_the_week/0,,1321756,00.html
http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/bride-and-prejudice-20050127
https://www.talktalk.co.uk/entertainment/film/review/films/bride-and-prejudice/762