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Archive for June, 2011

A Scanner Darkly (complete)

1) Watching A Scanner Darkly for the first time, without having read any of the original novel and being completely unaware of the source, is a labor not unlike running as fast as you can through a field of molasses.  This is not to say that the film is unwatchable or that the story is unrecognizable amidst the twisted plot, but there are periods of lazy, drug-fueled contemplation juxtaposed with an increasing paranoia that begins to consume the characters’ lives until the audience is left quite far out of the loop and beginning to feel just a bit paranoid themselves.  There are big reveals without the dramatic tension one might expect leading up to such major plot twists, and consequently these reveals – that ‘Hank’ is actually Donna, that the government is behind Substance D and New Path – create an effect of stopping short, of blinking in confusion and trying to process what we’ve just seen even while the story has gotten up and moved on without us.  The rotoscoping is an apt technique for the scramble suit but can be hard to watch for an extended length of time as the animated characters seem to be in constant motion, melting in and out of the scenery and almost, infuriatingly real.  The human faces are the ‘realest’ of the animation, as their clothes and the settings often appear cartoonish – this is a startling visual effect, an uncomfortable existence that we are forced to accept for the duration of the film.  Optical complaints aside, this is effective in portraying a story of extreme drug use and justified paranoia that leaves us questioning the motivation of the government and the police but never the addicts – we don’t expect anything like clarity or moral fiber from drug addicts, but with Substance D so deeply woven throughout all branches of society we come to realize that we can’t expect much honesty or virtue from anyone in the film at all.

2) The first and last chapter of the novel are pretty faithfully adapted in the film, but what is missing in the latter is Jerry’s extended thoughts and research as well as a better representation of how long the bugs have been plaguing him and how long he spends trying to rid himself of what he has convinced himself are aphids.   As for the last chapter, Bruce’s thoughts are vocalized in the film and he actually says aloud that he has seen death growing out of the ground.  Linklater could have chosen to incorporate Keanu Reeves saying these lines as a voiceover while the actual character remains silent, a common cinematic device to express a character’s unspoken thoughts – the fact that he deliberately chose not to is puzzling unless we are meant to infer that Bob/Bruce is no longer capable of internal monologue or perhaps Linklater wanted his audience to be certain that Bob/Bruce is having these thoughts now, and not looking back in retrospect.  It is a small detail but it causes the last chapter of the novel and the final scene of the movie to be out of sync in a way that is slightly dissatisfying – the film does not give us Bob/Bruce’s religious experience as “time ceased as the eyes gazed and the universe jelled along with him”.  Reeves speaking aloud at the end of the film is perhaps Linklater’s way of assuring us that Bob/Bruce is still in there somewhere, that he is not completely lost to Substance D just as Philip K. Dick assures us through this spiritual, harmonizing experience in writing.

3) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405296/board/nest/177918678  Forum arguing against the rotoscoping animation

http://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Scanner-Darkly/106141856084684?sk=wall  Wall of the film’s facebook page

http://www.amazon.com/Scanner-Darkly-Keanu-Reeves/product-reviews/B000JMK6LW/ref=dp_db_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1  Amazon.com reviews

I liked the first link best because I waffled back and forth on whether or not I liked the rotoscoping when I first saw the film in theatres – I saw Waking Life later, and liked it much less than A Scanner Darkly.  Some people I’ve spoken to have argued that it shouldn’t matter, that I should focus on the story and stop overthinking the animation, but since there is an extra effort in rotoscoping rather than live action, I want to believe that Linklater did it for a good reason besides the fact that he had done it with some success before.  The IMDB forum was therefore pretty interesting to me.

4) The film A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater, can be described as an example of the stoner picaresque genre, in that it derives humor from watching people act out after taking drugs. How does Scanner Darkly compare to other stoner picaresque films such as the Cheech and Chong films, the Harold and Kumar films, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dazed and Confused (also directed by Richard Linklater), or other examples of the genre you can think of?

A Scanner Darkly differs from other stoner picaresque films in that while its humor is similarly derived from the actions and dialogue of tweaked-out characters, this humor is set amongst paranoia and fear that is justified and appropriate to the situation rather than a simple irrational belief held by drug addicts.  The story is not purposefully humorous or light-hearted in the vein of Cheech and Chong or Dazed and Confused, and the film does not take the effects and hallucinations of drug use to the same extremes as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Jerry’s life with aphids is nothing compared to Raoul’s bats or the hotel lizard orgy, after all.  A Scanner Darkly is instead a more serious film with humorous elements, perhaps not intended as an anti-drug message but a what-if sci-fi premise that is much closer to home than the usual implication of science fiction.

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No Country for Old Men (complete)

1) No Country for Old Men is more disturbing for what it lacks rather than what has been included – the absence of a proper soundtrack is a major factor in creating a suspenseful tone as the viewer is rarely prepared for what’s coming (much like the unsuspecting victims of Chigurh’s coin tosses), and the violence is almost understated despite the number of casualties racked up by the end of the film.  Anton Chigurh’s own weapon is less explosive than a shotgun, less obvious than a knife and, appearance-wise, not a weapon at all.  His kills are quick and clean, dry and muted where we might expect a noisy bloodbath – similarly, the film is ‘clean’ in the sense that only the aftermath of the worst violence is shown and most of the scenes are neatly packaged and sequenced without lengthy dialogue or complicated exposition.  There is an underlying theme of age and generation gaps, with Sheriff Bell (and briefly, his uncle and a fellow sheriff) representing the oldest generation in the film, Llewelyn and Chigurh on the next tier down, and the nameless teenagers and young boys from whom Llewelyn and Chigurh buy their respective clothes serving as the third generation.  During a conversation about how the young people of today are more or less a lost cause, Sheriff Bell comments that “as soon as you stop hearing Sir and Ma’am, it’s all over” – this lack of respect is the least of the sheriff’s concerns, but it is indicative of the idea that times are changing and something like basic humanity is being watered down through the generations.  The teenagers who run into Llewelyn when he is cut up and bloody demand to see the $500 he has promised before one of them will give him their coat, a heartless gesture even by criminal standards.  The two young boys who witness Chigurh’s car crash towards the very end of the film are different, as one boy intially refuses to take the money Chigurh is offering him for his shirt – however, he does accept it eventually and even after they have just witnessed a terrific crash and spoken with a man who has a bone sticking out of his arm, as soon as Chigurh limps away the second boy begins bantering with his friend about deserving half of the money.  The film ends on a deeply unsatisfying note, although the final scene is one of the most thought-provoking of the entire movie – the now-retired Sheriff Bell’s dream about his deceased father waiting for him with a fire in the “dark and the cold” ahead is somewhat comforting after so many senseless deaths and the emotionless logic of Anton Chigurh, but as feeling human beings we might still be wishing that Chigurh had just died in the crash and finally received his karmic retribution. 

2)  The excerpts of Cormac McCarthy’s novel should be difficult to read due to the lack of certain punctuation and the dialogue that is hardly discernible from the narration, but despite these stylistic quirks there is something almost comfortable about the text – nothing is overstated or unnecessarily complex, and rather than being choppy and awkward the dialogue is instead seamlessly incorporated into the action.  The descriptions are minimal and basic, which translates well into the film’s lonely landscape and quiet violence.  One of the most obvious and perhaps most significant difference between the original text and the film is what the Cohen brothers decided not to reveal, namely the extended conversation between Carla Jean and Chigurh and the fact that Chigurh ultimately kills her.  In the film, Carla Jean’s fate is implied rather than made explicit, and she is never shown agreeing to the coin toss the way she eventually does in the novel.  This could be taken as either a trivial matter or a huge plot point, depending on the viewer/reader’s perspective, but the fact remains that there is a definite disparity between the two mediums regarding this scene.  Chigurh comes across as much more ‘human’ in the novel during his exchange with Carla Jean, sympathizing with her and expressing a desire to do things differently if he could.  As with his cinematic adaptation, however, McCarthy’s Chigurh believes that everything is up to fate and that he is merely an instrument of destiny armed with a coin and an airgun.

3) http://www.antonchigurh.com/  A fan site (more or less) for the character Anton Chigurh with links to the script, trivia, interviews, etc

http://www.xefer.com/2009/04/chigurh  Blog post about Chigurh’s coin toss with a thread of comments

http://meetinthelobby.com/debate-no-country-for-old-men-ending.html   Discussion about the end of the film

I liked all three of these links and found them pretty equally entertaining/enlightening, but the third link was the most helpful for me – NCfOM is the type of film that I need to watch more than once since it’s inevitable that I missed something the first time.  Before I watched it, I asked my father (who had already seen it) what he thought of the movie – “It’s dark,” he said, “and Tommy Lee Jones is excellent.  You’ll have to watch it twice, though.”  I haven’t watched it twice yet, so reading what other people had to say about the film served to fill in some of the little details I had either missed or not given much initial thought to. 

4) What is the title No Country for Old Men supposed to signify? Is the “country” the land of the American Southwest, the United States as a whole, or both? And why do the “old men” no longer belong there?

The United States as a whole is no country for old men because there will always be the next generation and the changes these younger men bring, along with a lack of respect for the old school and a willful ignorance of how things used to be.  The American Southwest is a more apparent example that McCarthy and the Cohens use to emphasize what is lost from one generation to the next as well as what is created – the dusty, endless landscape of this area is almost a throwback to the Wild West with the sheriff and his deputy on horseback and the failed drug deal resembling a stagecoach robbery.   Sheriff Bell comments that maybe there is a “new kind” of person out there when he remembers a boy he arrested for murdering his young girlfriend, and his ultimate decision to retire is a testament to the fact that he believes there is no place for him in law enforcement anymore, that his time and the time of the older generation is over.  The two scenes with Llewelyn buying a coat from teenagers and Chigurh buying a shirt from young boys implies that not only will their generation be old men someday but they will also, inevitably, become obsolete even for all their violence and unusual cruelty.  The teenagers will not relinquish the coat without seeing the promised $500 first, and the boys are sympathetic but quickly recover from the horror of seeing a man with bone sticking out of his arm.

American Splendor (complete)

1) American Splendor is dirty and real, and at times real dirty in its depiction of working-class Cleveland through the 1970’s and 1980’s – Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar confesses at one point that he has a “problem with cleanliness,” and never is there much of an attempt to clean himself up, to clean up the setting or to present a prettier version of reality for the viewer’s sake.  This is what makes the film so interesting despite the fact that Harvey Pekar himself is not, perhaps, the most interesting man who’s ever had his story told on the big screen.  Pekar is forever unapologetic about his life and how he has lived it, and with his voiceover and scenes of his interview woven throughout the film version of his life, there emerges a theme of being comfortable with yourself and secure in the knowledge of who you are – there are other Harvey Pekars in Cleveland and millions of hard-working, kvetching curmudgeons throughout the country, but our Harvey Pekar decided to share his scratchy voice and his life rather than keep his head down and his opinions to himself.  There is a scene in the movie where the real Harvey Pekar and Toby Radloff are talking to each other on the interview set while Paul Giamatti and Judah Friedlander are sitting behind them – Giamatti cannot help laughing at Toby’s distinctive speech pattern, and we can laugh as well because Toby is well aware of how he sounds and how he comes across to other people.  There are no illusions in this film, and it is the undeniable realness that draws us in even while nothing of spectacular import might be happening.

2) Robert Crumb’s introduction to the American Splendor anthology as well as the three brief comics are a presentation of Harvey Pekar that make the man seem like someone important even when Crumb’s reminiscing and Pekar’s own stories insist that he is not a particularly rare breed – in Crumb’s words, these stories are “staggeringly mundane” to the point of exoticism.  The subject matter is neither groundbreaking nor even terribly exciting, but in this medium of graphic novels it is original and unexpected, one ordinary man’s thoughts and experiences over several decades minus any element of fantasy, superpowers, or even simple fiction.  Pekar is capeless, saggy where he should be bulging with muscles, laid bare where he should be masked and acerbic where he should be goofy.  Harvey Pekar is not a comic book hero, not even a comic book character in the tradition of Tintin or Asterix, not a nerd’s fantasy in the modern market alongside Scott Pilgrim or an autobiography with the significance of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or Will Eisner’s A Contract With God.  Harvey Pekar is somebody because he is nobody in particular, an “ego-maniac” according to Crumb and a man so driven to make his voice heard that the end result is one man illustrated in multiple portrayals and brief non sequiturs that are somehow satisfying in the reader’s ability to identify either in sympathy or pity, to laugh at the simple absurdity that these comics even exist.  Harvey Pekar wonders about the other men in the phone book who share his name, and as we read we begin to wonder why we should care – then we begin thinking about people in the phone book who share our names and how many of us exist within such a small vicinity, and before we realize it, Pekar has made us examine ourselves even for such a trivial matter, even for such a limited amount of panels and the sixty seconds it took to read this comic.  How arrogant it is, for one nobody to believe that his opinions are worth the time, effort, and expense of a comic book!  And yet how intrigued we are by the fact that Pekar has actually done it.

3) http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/1839  Video interview with the directors, Paul Giamatti and Harvey Pekar

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43559.American_Splendor Site with reviews of both the anthology and the film by various commenters

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Harvey-Pekar/31447849510 Harvey Pekar facebook page with posts by fans and comic book industry officials with news about posthumously-published Pekar comics

The first link is the most directly related to the film, and I liked having Giamatti and Pekar share the screen again.  Rarely do we (or maybe just I) get to see actors and the real-life people they are playing together, and some of my favorite moments in American Splendor were when Pekar was on screen talking about himself before it cut to Giamatti and his dead-on portrayal.  The scene that I mentioned before, with Pekar and Toby talking while Giamatti and Friedlander sit behind them made me laugh, properly laugh out loud while our dogs gave me a strange look. 

4) Consider the paradox of an ordinary man creating an extraordinary work of art based on his ordinariness. Based on American Splendor, would you say Pekar is an ordinary or extraordinary man, or somehow both?

Pekar is an ordinary man who made himself extraordinary by thrusting his ordinariness upon the American public, creating a comic that defied the very definitions of the medium and presenting reality in such a way that it seems like super-reality, a world that we know but have never examined so closely before.  Ordinary people living ordinary lives may not be stepping back to look at who they are and where they are going, if they are going anywhere at all or simply treading the same path day after day with no spectacular change in sight.  Harvey Pekar started looking, at old Jewish ladies in the grocery line, at names in the phone book, at the implausability of ordinary nerds taking their sweet revenge.  Harvey looked, and then he decided to show everyone else what he saw and what he thought, the jaded observations and the surly wit that gave voice to Thoreau’s masses of men leading lives of quiet desperation.  Harvey Pekar wasn’t quiet about it, though, a pioneer in the comics medium who showed ordinary people that they had something to say and that there was nothing wrong with just saying it, already.  There was nothing extraordinary about Pekar until he took his ordinary existence and used it (whether intentionally or not) to make people laugh, to make people appreciate their own ordinariness and to appreciate Pekar’s eagerness to open his life for everyone to see.  There is a certain audacity in what Pekar did, but this audacity is the extra and the super that transformed the ordinary and the real.

Adaptation (complete)

1) Adaptation is a meta-film in the vein of Tristram Shandy : A Cock and Bull Story without some of the more perplexing layers – Nicholas Cage’ double role as Charlie and Donald Kaufman is definite, and never are we puzzled as to who is doing what or fitting where.  Despite the film’s basis in reality, deviations such as the fictional Donald, scenes from The Orchid Thief movie that does not actually exist, and the peculiar ending give the story its fantastical element as well as serving to emphasize the real Charlie Kaufman’s struggle as he was attempting to write The Orchid Thief’s adaptation.  There is a continuous theme of evolution from the very beginning of the film, with Kafuman/Cage’s voice over the high-speed elapses of time showcasing animal decomposition and the big bang, amongst other images.  Kaufman/Cage does not undergo an evolution so much as a metamorphosis, aided by Donald and their bizarre adventure through the swamp.  The search for passion is a theme that runs throughout the multiple layers of the film, with John Laroche, Susan Orlean, and the brothers Kaufman each propelled by their own personal ventures – whether this creates a cohesive narrative or a fractured yet brilliantly acted film is up for interpretation.

2) The excerpt from The Orchid Thief reads as an article with nothing to suggest that there is a story or anything substantially filmable aside from the brief court scene and Orlean’s ride in Laroche’s rusty van.  Susan Orlean’s thoughts are in the present tense, her retelling of John Laroche’s history in the past – as we go back and forth, it is easy to see why Charlie Kaufman had such a difficult time attempting to adapt The Orchid Thief as a screenplay.  Despite this, Orlean’s descriptive powers neither thrust Laroche upon us or understate him as a real-life character, rather presenting him as an intriguing figure who hasn’t quite found his great success but who exists as a body in constant motion.  The writing is clean and clear, a satisfying balance between dialogue and action in the few scenes where there is any dialogue or action at all. 

3) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0268126/board/  Discussion board about the film

http://movies.ign.com/articles/379/379456p1.html  Interview with Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman

http://mubi.com/topics/what-makes-you-hate-nicolas-cage-so-much Discussion board about Nicolas Cage, several mentions of Adaptation as one of his few good projects

The first link is a good resource for how average people (rather than professional critics and journalists) respond to the movie, especially some of the more negative reviews and the posts that question the film’s significance – not everyone agrees with critics or the Academy, and the majority of us are not film scholars.  Viewers who were unfamiliar with The Orchid Thief seem to respond more negatively, in general, which is understandable – without understanding how difficult the original text is to adapt, it can be difficult to understand why Kaufman/Cage is having such trouble and why the film takes its bizarre turns.

4) In the film Adaptation, are the director Spike Jonze and the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman suggesting that a true film adaptation of a literary work is impossible? Or are they saying that some kinds of literary works are impossible to film? Or are they saying that it is precisely the impossible books that film-makers should try to adapt?

The impossibility of a true film adaptation of a literary work is almost a given, as common sense and cinematic precedents have proven that something is inevitably lost or altered in the transition from one medium to another – words and images can certainly have a direct correspondence, but as Kaufman/Cage’s plight reveals, there exists nothing like a perfect narrative wherein every scene is described down to the last detail and no room is left for interpretation.  There is no need for Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman to suggest what is more or less a known fact, and instead they focus on the difficulties involved with the particular story in question, blending reality and fiction to provide layers of narration that are easier to follow than Tristam Shandy but no more seamless or less disjointed than the latter.  The Orchid Thief is a true story and should, theoretically, be easier to adapt – the main problem seems to be Susan Orlean’s first-person narration, which is so full of personal perspective and humorous commentary that it necessitates a focus not only on her story but her voice.  The difficulty of presenting a first-person, non-fiction book without a running voice-over is manifested in Kaufman/Cage’s own voice-over and the idea that it is a lazy method as put forth by Robert McKee.  At one point in the film while Kaufman/Cage is discussing his efforts in writing The Orchid Thief’s screenplay, he blurts out “There’s no story!  There’ s no story!” – here is the crux of the issue, and this declaration is a turning point in which we see that the film is not simply Orlean’s story, nor is it Kaufman’s story or Laroche’s story; rather, it is the story of attempting to create a story where there is none.

The Hours

1)  The Hours is linear, divided into its respective stories but unmistakingly and sometimes unbearably linear.  Even after thirty minutes, the action is still so muted, the characters still conversing so quietly that we may be begging for someone to break a plate or fly off the handle if only to keep our attention through the rest of the film.  Certain scenes are teasingly dramatic, the perfect setup for shouting or tears – Richard puts up a fight about the party in his honor but Clarissa manages to diffuse his opposition, extract a promise that he will show up.  Virginia Woolf moves through her scenes in a manner so detached at first that she could be a ghost already, and Laura is teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown but never quite tips over.  The film is slow, perhaps necessary given that all the action must take place within a single day for each of the three storylines, but the gradual cinematic buildup is representative of the various mental ailments and environmental factors that have been slowly dragging these women (and Richard) down into their self-contained hells.  The climaxes do come, eventually, and if we hang in there through the end we may not ultimately be satisfied but neither are we left untouched by the characters, undisturbed by the pacing and unviolated by the quiet tragedy of this presentation of life.

2) These first excerpts of Michael Cunningham’s novel are indicative of the most significant difference between novel and film, that while the pacing of the action remains similar in both mediums, the film is missing the narrative voice that is so like Virginia Woolf’s own writing as to be almost certainly intentional on Cunningham’s part.  Within brief time spans, such as Clarissa crossing Central Park or meeting Walter on the street – the simple seconds as Clarissa attempts to read Walter’s thoughts of her – within these scenes that might otherwise be insignificant if told in a more straightforward narrative there is a stream-of-consciousness that lends weight and introspection to these subtle interactions.  Woolf’s novels can be infuriating, the rambling tone and assumptions that human beings have each other so intimately figured out, but if Cunningham is channeling Woolf here then he is at least paring down the rambles and leaving some mystery in the private thoughts of characters who are less telepathic than simply experienced enough to read the expressions on each other’s faces.  The film cannot help but lose this voice, but compensation comes in the form of the leading actresses who manage to translate narrative rumination into understated yet deeply emotional characters.

3) http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=344294141127&topic=48366  Facebook thread from a Nicole Kidman Facebook fan page discussing her role in The Hours

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/3585117/Nicole-Kidman-as-never-seen-before.html  Interview with Stephen Daldry and Nicole Kidman about the film

http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=review&reviewid=VE1117919524&categoryid=1401&cs=1  Movie review

I thought that the Facebook thread was the most interesting, and even though I’ve sincerely disliked both the novel and the film adaptation of The Hours ever since I had to study it for another class, I got a better sense of the Virginia Woolf role from reading what other people thought about Nicole Kidman’s portrayal.  Even though the story never quite resonated with me, the acting was still emotional and intimate enough to make an impact.

4) How does homosexuality (including lesbianism) function within the film? If you took out the gay characters and their concerns, how would that change the film?

Homosexuality is a device that casts several of the characters as outsiders who have had to find their own niche in life but seem unable to trust in the foundations they have built for themselves, whether they are part of the modern segment in which sexuality must be worn like war paint or the historical segments in which homosexuality is a dangerous otherness that must be tucked away into a dark corner of one’s mind and left to fester into mental illness.  When Louis asks Clarissa if she is still with Sally, Clarissa replies that they have been together for ten years now, and isn’t it strange?  Louis seems confused by this implication that the length of the women’s relationship should be a rarity, or anything to wonder at, but even after giving an embarassed chuckle and changing the subject it is clear that Clarissa at least sees her relationship as such.  Richard’s homosexuality has, in effect, shortened his lifespan, but it is Richard himself rather than his disease that ultimately ends his life – this distinction suggests that sexuality is only one of the factors that create considerable doubt within the characters’ hearts and minds, an idea further supported by Clarissa’s worsening mental state as she prepares for Richard’s party and becomes plagued by her obssession that everything must be perfect.  If the gay characters and their concerns were omitted from the film, the remaining characters would still be haunted by the other concerns and uncertainties that are a constant presence in life.  Homosexuality is a dominant theme in the film but not necessarily the crux of everyone’s misery, which is probably a good thing, considering.

Bride and Prejudice

1) Bride and Prejudice is a film that seems to have no illusions about either the story it is presenting or the means of presentation – Gurinder Chadha is aware that Jane Austen’s story is a well-known classic, aware that Bollywood has come to represent a stereotype of cheesy plots and showy musical scenes, and especially aware that the idea of presenting a well-known classic in Bollywood style must, by its very nature, invite prejudice and derision.  But it is this awareness that makes the movie work.  Yes, groups of colorfully-clad Indian actors are breaking into spontaneous yet carefully choreographed song-and-dance numbers, but somehow and somewhere amidst this cinematic sugar there is an actual story that translates very well from Austen’s England to modern India, England and America – the story is not lost, nor are the themes of love versus marriage, class struggle, familial duty and, of course, pride and prejudice.  Names and places have changed, as well as certain details such as Wickham not marrying Elizabeth/Lalita’s younger sister after all, but the fact that so many nuances of the original story are so deftly inserted into an entirely different landscape is a testament not only to the timelessness and universal relevance of Austen’s novel but to Chadha’s willingness to blend the classic with the cheesy and remain true to the Bollywood style rather than ignoring the roots of Indian cinema in an attempt to produce a more highbrow, critically pleasing adaptation.  The film is a spectacle and the actresses are perfectly made up into visions of singular beauty, but this focus on the visual serves to remind us that we know the story already, that Austen’s plot was never terribly complex to begin with, and that whether it is Mrs. Bennett embarassing herself by speaking too brashly at a party or Mrs. Bakshi embarassing herself by singing in the middle of a musical repartee between young men and women, the story is neither diluted nor degraded, simply done up Bollywood-style for a modern audience.

2) Pride and Prejudice is a classic that continues to satisfy because there is sufficient conflict to keep the story interesting but not so much that the main characters miss their happy ending.  Austen is a careful navigator throughout, steering her characters close to tragedy and through their respective flaws to end up on the other side of miscommunication and misunderstanding, a happy place called Resolution and Learning a Lesson.  On the surface, this is an easy read and a neat ending, a high school English staple that has been adapted multiple times by English production companies whose basic aim seems to be perfect replication – past high school and the BBC, however, there are certain themes and character details that make this novel much more significant in terms of breaking through the expectations and established mores of society.  Elizabeth Bennett is outspoken and intelligent, a champion of love and individuality who nevertheless falls prey to her own stubbornness and a certain narrow perspective framed by first impressions.  Translating her character to film requires an actress expressive and versatile enough to portray a young woman who spends the bulk of the story unaware of the personal flaw that is keeping her from ultimate happiness, and in Bride and Prejudice this task is undertaken not only by Aishwarya Rai but by the supporting chorus that adds an element of theatricality to better emphasize Elizabeth/Lalita’s plight.  Rai’s role is definitely less subtle and less of a faithful adaptation than Jennifer Ehle’s excellent portrayal in the television miniseries, but Austen’s character is such that Elizabeth can be interpreted in multiple ways without losing the forward thinking that makes her so remarkable.

3) http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bride-and-Prejudice/109731925712592?sk=wiki  Combined Facebook and wiki page for the film

http://www.much-ado.net/austenbook/  Facebook newsfeed for the novel

http://www.desiclub.com/bollywood/bollywood_features/bolly_article.cfm?id=229  Interview with Gurinder Chadha

The third link was the most informational and introspective to me, as it is not quite a review for the film but rather a primary source for the conception and production.  I would much rather read the actual director’s thoughts than the personal opinions of a self-styled film buff, which is probably a good thing because I found so many negative reviews while searching for relevant pages.  Film reviews can be helpful in clarifying a detail that might have been missed or raising certain questions about the director’s message, but when the review is so firmly negative or positive I think that it leaves less room for your own interpretation – I have actually decided against seeing movies that I was previously excited about just because of one particularly bad review, and I have also had doubts about my opinions after viewing a film and then reading someone else’s take on the story, the acting, or the production values.

4) What do you think is the most important element that the director Gurinder Chadha carries over from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to her film version, Bride and Prejudice? What is the most important element that is not carried over? What is the import of these acts of commission and omission?

I think the most important element that Gurinder Chadha carries over from Jane Austen’s novel is the sense of marriage as a duty to one’s family, the idea that who you marry is a reflection of your family and that you can either bring honor or shame to your entire household depending on whose proposal you accept.  The most important element that is not carried over is the stricter societal limitations that only loosely translate from Austen’s England to modern-day India.  There is a sense in the film that Indian culture is stricter than American or even British culture in terms of a woman’s place, but the novel’s subtlety is lost – a young woman can no longer embarass herself by playing the piano with perhaps too much zeal than befits her more modest talent, and instead she dresses in all green and dances like a very enthusiastic cobra.  The Bakshi daughters must still ask their parent’s permission to go to Goa, but once they are there, Lalita is free to play guitar on the beach and wear a bikini if she wants to.  This omission of strict propriety and major faux pas achieved by minor acts is necessary for a more realistic (if that word can be applied to Bollywood) adaptation from Jane Austen to modern day.  Duty to one’s family and the consequent theme of marriage as duty is more important to keep in tact from the novel to the film, as it is the inspiration for the events that unfold.

Sherlock Holmes

1) Guy Ritchie’s film is big and booming and blockbuster-y, but it is also a well-written, well-acted and overall well-executed production that satisfies the senses even as it asks us to use our brains just a bit – not too much, since a big budget often leaves little room for deep thought – but just enough to perhaps inspire a real interest in the film’s literary origin.  Without having read a single Sherlock Holmes story, there is enough mystery in the plot and enough incredulity evoked by film-Holmes’ powers of deduction to make for a spectacular detective movie in which the titular character’s abilities are never overshadowed by the special effects or the dark, dramatically grey setting of Victorian London.  Layers of conspiracy are peeled back and the truth is gradually exposed as the audience comes to realize that we can not possibly expect to keep pace with Holmes’ legendary mind – instead, we must ally ourselves with Dr. Watson and go along for the ride, unable to predict how slippery Irene will prove herself to be or how many people are actually involved in Lord Blackpool’s feigned mastery of the occult.  The film’s end is a brief lead-in to the character of Dr. Moriarty, a literary villain infamous even to those who have never actually read any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work prior to viewing Guy Ritchie’s cinematic adaption.  (i.e., me.)

2) The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone is brief and neatly solved, thanks to the use of Dr. Watson as a narrative focal-point at the beginning of the story – Watson has not been present for this particular case and is visiting his old friend and partner at the near-resolution of the crime, requiring Sherlock Holmes to reveal his methods and reasoning without the reader actually experiencing any of the events that preceded the detective’s hunch.  Despite the brevity of the story, this remains an enjoyable read due to Holmes’ sharp wit and the sense of humor that seems to be a trait inherent not only in his speech but in the means he uses to foil the perpetrators.  The image of Holmes springing out of a chair that the villains (and the readers) expected to be inhabited by a realistic dummy is comical, and this comedy translates very well to Guy Ritchie’s film, largely through the quick-muttering mouth and light-stepping figure of Robert Downey Jr. 

3) http://www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2009/sherlockholmes2009.html  Film review and general synopsis from a Christian film-review site, a thorough breakdown of the movie supplemented by an unintentionally humorous Biblical reading of the plot

http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2009/12/film-friday-comparing-ritchies-sherlock-holmes-to.html  Comparison of the original Sherlock Holmes to Ritchie’s film adaptation, interesting because the reviewer hasn’t actually seen the movie yet

http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/12/25/movies/25sherlock.html  Positive review of the film, reviewer seems unwilling to offer much criticism

The first link was the most interesting to me because of its characterization of Ritchie’s Holmes as a champion of justice and the analysis of the occult themes in the film – taking the reviewer’s beliefs and the endeavors of the website into consideration, it was surprising how positive this review turned out.  I think that this particular review is crucial in understanding the film because it constructs a position (Holmes as a protector of Christian virtues and a fictional device in the service of good) that can be argued by a less spiritual analysis and inspires such an argument of film-Holmes’ character in the first place.  I am not sure whether Sherlock Holmes is indeed a detective because he believes in bringing evil-doers to justice or because he is simply a brilliant, slightly eccentric man who happened to see detective work as a fitting career choice, but this review certainly makes me question my own interpretation of the character. 

4) Which is more interesting and convincing in the film: the “bromance” of Holmes and Watson, or the romance of Holmes and Irene Adler?

The romance of Holmes and Irene Adler loses its significance as Watson and Irene eventually come to occupy a position of equal importance to Holmes, as is evidenced when Watson is injured in an explosion and Holmes is visibly more distressed by this than any of Irene’s disappearing acts or her potentially dangerous employer.  Holmes remarks that Irene appears frightened of the figure who turns out to be Dr. Moriarty, but he never makes a sincere attempt at persuading her to end her contract with this man or seek safer shelter – Holmes seems to trust Irene’s own instincts and abilities to the extent that he does not worry about her wellbeing until she is obviously in danger, as is the case during the climactic fight scene towards the end of the film.  “Bromance” is one of my least favorite terms in the whole of modern language, but Holmes is apparently less willing to let Watson leave his side than he is to let Irene dance her way in and out of his life.  There is more history and more of an emotional struggle between Holmes and Watson than exists between Holmes and Irene, and it is much more intriguing to see how far Holmes goes in his attempts to keep Watson from marrying and moving out of their shared apartments – indeed, they seem to share much more than a living space if the arguments over who their dog and various articles of clothing actually belong to are any indication.  The film is never explicitly homoerotic, likely due in part to the marketability factors involved in such a large production, but Holmes’ fixation on keeping Watson in his immediate company is almost a subplot to the film – Irene is a likably mischievous and clever character, certainly a very important person in Holmes’ life and necessary to the plot, but her relationship with Holmes can only pale in comparison to the intimate partnership of Holmes and Dr. Watson.

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