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April 21, 2006

Movies by the Book

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What is this foolishness that inspires people to create lists? Even more questionable are those lists that make claims to some kind of objectivity. The latest entry to be scrutinized is a list from The Guardian of the fifty best film adaptations. Don't these people know any better? There are two immediate reasons to wonder about this particular list. The list is made of English language movies from English language books, with the exceptions being Dr. Zhivago and Les Liasons Dangereuses. There is no clarification concerning the film version being cited as several of the titles have been filmed at least twice.

In the comments posted at the Guardian site, one person mentioned Visconti's film version of The Leopard. I'm probably in a very small minority, but I always liked Visconti's version of The Stranger, even if there are aspects of Camus that can not easily be conveyed in film. The English language bias means no French filmmakers which is unfortunate considering both the tradition of French films from French novels, but also the interaction between the French film and literary worlds. This means no films by Claude Autant-Lara based on Stendahl or Radiguet, nor Francois Truffaut, particularly for his films from Henri-Pierre Roche. Even though it is not a literal film version of the book, Louis Malle does create a cinematic landscape equivalent to Raymond Queneau in Zazie dans le Metro. None of the films based on novels by Junichiro Tanizaki gets a nod, making room for Jaws.

So which version of 1984 is listed? The 1956 version directed by Michael Anderson with Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith, or the version that actually was released in 1984 by Michael Radford? Is Alice in Wonderland the 1933 version directed by Norman Z. McLeod with a screenplay by Joe Mankiewicz, or the 1949 British version that Disney effectively kept shelved to make room for his 1951 animated film? It's not elementary to me which version of Hound of the Baskervilles is listed here. Both Sherlock Holmes, Peter Cushing and Basil Rathbone, have their partisans. Les Liasons Dangereuses? I liked the Milos Forman version titled Valmont better, the Stephen Frears and Roger Vadim have both used the original title in their respective films. While I'm fairly certain that of several films based on Oliver Twist, the film the Guardian writers had in mind was David Lean's adaptation, I have no doubts that The Maltese Falcon means the third film version as done by John Huston. Likewise, Lord of the Flies is thought of in terms of Peter Brook's film.

I also have to question the inclusion of Breakfast at Tiffany's. There was an episode of "Seinfeld" that featured George trying to bluff his way in a book club by seeing Blake Edwards' film which is beloved more for Audrey Hepburn's presence than anything resembling Truman Capote's story. At least Blake Edwards has apologized for casting Mickey Rooney as the Japanese neighbor. With all the remakes in the works, one would think there might be interest in a more faithful film version of Capote's novella.

As for film versions of Lolita, I'm preserved on video tape unsuccessfully defending Stanley Kubrick against Adrian Lyne on the Mountain States episode of The Ultimate Film Fanatic. The debate portion of the show is very subjectively evaluated, based on the whims of the judges. Of course it should be mentioned that one of the judges is best known for being in some ways the personification of Nabokov's creation.

Posted by peter at April 21, 2006 07:26 PM