Bringing It All Together

     Bringing literature to the screen is not an easy take, but in this class we have seen it done by the best and the worst.

     Although, I may be biased at some rate, William Wyler was incredible at bringing was incredible at bringing drab works to life. I did not care for Emily Brontė's 1847 work Wuthering Heights, yet Wyler gave it character of its own in his 1939 adaptation. The film was also very effective in understanding the original intent of Brontė's literary work. The novel and film coincided with being cold and often harsh, a feeling or reason that is hard to get across.

     In contrast, I found Joseph Losey's screen adaptation of A Doll's House (1973) very ineffective in helping me to understand Henrick Ibsen's 1879 play. Perhaps the play itself was not my favorite, yet Losey did nothing to help its move to the big screen. The tone of the film was just off-centered throughout.

     In order to say who made the most successful transfer from the original work to the big screen, I will have to return to William Wyler. There were several films in the class that were successful at doing the literary counterpart justice, but no one did it quite as well as Wyler's Wuthering Heights. He captured almost every detail Brontė had emphasized in some way, abstract or dead-on. No other film director stuck to the original work as well as Wyler did in his Wuthering Heights adaptation.

     What is an adaptation without the right person for the character? Between Pygmalion and My Fair Lady I found the answer easily; nothing. Leslie Howard absolutely embraced everything about the George Bernard Shaw character Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, directed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. I wanted to hate him but could not because I loved him, which I think was exactly how Shaw intended it in his 1913 play Pygmalion. In the 1964 musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, Rex Harrison's character brought nothing to Higgins' character; and, as a result, the actor conveyed very little of the original work. This proves that, without the right actor, the original work is not given justice.

     However, one literary work that was completely justified on film was the 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. The location in noisy New Orleans, the summertime wardrobe of the sweltering South, and the rundown surroundings of the characters matched perfectly the intent of Williams' work. Alex North's score was just as perfect in the dramatic 1951 film adaptation directed by Elia Kazan, as well. The tone of the film overall captured the original work just in details such as costumes, setting, and sound effects alone. As well as in details, I felt the screen adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire produced the truest script to the original work. I felt the script conveyed everything Williams' play intended for. Even though Wuthering Heights's script was well matched with the novel, it stopped with Heathcliff and Cathy, while Brontė continued on showing how their lives and love affected their children. This shows the script was not nearly as true to the original as I felt A Streetcar Named Desire was.

     Even though some of the issues in literary works could be expressed freely in their time, bringing those issues to screen was a bit more difficult. Censorship prohibited straightforward pregnancy, rape, and even foul-mouths sarcasm. So for the time, I felt A Streetcar Named Desire and Pygmalion did the best at showing a sensitive issue without being obnoxious or corny about it. The rape and level of violent abuse in A Streetcar Named Desire was depicted very well on screen by Kazan. And just as well, the outright humor and sarcasm of Henry Higgins in Pygmalion was somewhat ahead of its time for the 1938 film. Yet Leslie Howard carried the well-mannered, foul-mouthed character off with style.

     I felt overall the film adaptations in less were very true to their literary counterparts. Yet, Wuthering Heights and A Streetcar Named Desire were by far the best, mostly due to the great directorial works of William Wyler and Elia Kazan. Very different styles, techniques, and certainly story lines, Kazan and Wyler both captured the beauty of Wuthering Heights and A Streetcar Named Desire, even though the issues and situations themselves were not beautiful.

     Finally, it is my turn to cast. If there were any actors whom I would have liked to switch around, it would be Leslie Howard and Audrey Hepburn. I enjoyed both Pygmalion and My Fair Lady; but, if Howard and Hepburn could have been teamed together, the true Doolittle and Higgins could have been depicted much more effectively. But I have to admit the actor I could have watched in absolutely any role we viewed, would be Marlon Brando. Make him the governess in The Innocents, Freddy in My Fair Lady, or even the terrible Torvald in A Doll's House; I would watch him shine as any character.

     Directors, costumes, musical score, it all is a part of bringing literature to the screen. Adapting a play, a novel, no matter what, is just asking for critical judgment. It is taking a subject people are accustomed to or familiar with and saying, "Here it is through my eyes." And thankfully the eyes of the literary works adapted in this class gave it to us well.

Kaycee Cooper

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