Stories of Perfection

         Our lives are stories we live each day, adding fictional elements with our imaginations. Everyone in existence is the author of his or her stories and characters in the tales of others. Our world is a matrix of interwoven stories, lives affecting one another continuously through the course of time. Some capture these stories in forms of expression such as music, art, or literary forms. For lifetimes past, literature has been a means of defining cultures, examining ideas, and expressing emotions. Today, these works can be converted to film to reach more audiences and have larger effects on society.

         We want to remember the moments we experience. We save flowers from special occasions; we create scrapbooks full of pictures; we write in journals; and we compose songs to capture our feelings, hoping to relay our essences to others so we are not forgotten once we leave this world.

         Authors best capture the beauties of living, exemplifying passions, intensifying experiences, and finding the perfect words to form lines to be quoted for years to come. Only writers have the absolute power of expression through the words they choose so carefully, causing readers to be enveloped in the story at hand, forgetting all time and reality as they read. Only writers can capture the hearts and minds of generations because of the way their pen slides across paper. To grasp the attention of someone with such force, refusing to allow their thoughts to float elsewhere from what one chooses to have them read creates an atmosphere to develop such ideas that cannot be ignored by the reader. Their focus is shifted directly on the feel of the passage. This is why we remember our favorite lines from our favorite films and study literature in classrooms--because stories are something we can relate to, because stories make us feel--feel--we are living, feel we are being, and most importantly, feel we are not alone in our feeling.

         Writings can bring together revolutions or tear down nations. The written word has an inexplicable power to alter our world forever. The Bible, the Koran, principles of Taoism, Greek philosophies, and modern physics are examples of just how the written word can transform our world and ways of life. Peace treaties, prose, and poetry have different reasons for being written; but all possess power.

         When a piece of writing is adapted for film, it is absolutely imperative to retain as much of its original essence as possible so it does not lose its purpose or power. If the story in a film adaptation is changed from its source material, it fails to preserve the author's ideas and is a failure not only to the author's talent and purpose, but also to literature as a whole. If a story is changed so people will spend more money on tickets, it is unfair to the characters of the story, real or imaginary, because their story was written to be remembered, with the author's ideas seeping through the expressions.

         Two films that were successfully produced without destroying their original plots are A Streetcar Named Desire and My Fair Lady. While these are two very different stories with very different feels, they are both retold through the use of film, but their essences are not lost as a result.

         Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire is not altered noticeably in Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation. The actors improve the story because their passions for their respective roles help tell the story. One reason this occurs is because of Kazan, who had the intense desire to exhibit the true meanings of Williams' story. Williams had written the play for Broadway, where the role of Blanche was originally played by Jessica Tandy; but for the film version, Vivien Leigh was chosen to play Blanche. This was a monumental decision for the character of Blanche because it gave her the perfect actress for her character. Leigh has long been an idealization of Southern social sophistication because of her previous roles in films such as Victor Fleming's classic Gone With the Wind (1939), where she plays a charming Southern belle who suffers the perils of the Civil War. In the minds of Americans and movie watchers everywhere, Leigh is that lady with her doe eyes and sweet Southern drawl. For the character of Blanche to be played by anyone other than Vivien Leigh would have limited the film's capabilities as a classic and could have prevented it from being successful.

         Marlon Brando, who plays Stanley, is also fundamental to the vision of the story. In his performance, Brando possesses a sexual charisma that still flushes the cheeks of women and men today. Perhaps that is his allure--his attractiveness and oozing sexuality to both sexes, almost in the same manner as a Grecian statue, an epiphany of sexual attraction. Brando's performance as Stanley is key in the success of the film; viewers are able to feel for him as Blanche does--savage desire for his violent tendencies and damaging persona.

         The story is properly retold through film because of the actors' intense acting abilities and their evident passion for, and as, the characters.

         The 1964 film My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1913), is also a successful adaptation because it, too, is cast with exceptional actors who benefit the film. The role of Eliza Doolittle is played by the beautiful, delicate, yet firm Audrey Hepburn. She is a timeless beauty, classy in every way, yet entertaining in her attitude and mannerisms. She is perfect for the role of Eliza, the spunky flower girl who is refined into a charming lady through speech lessons administered by the bachelor professor Henry Higgins. Higgins is portrayed by Rex Harrison, who gives the best annoyed expressions. These actors, along with Higgins' mother (Gladys Cooper), Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), Freddy (Jeremy Brett), and even the servants and extras at the race, truly set the feel for the story told in Pygmalion. While the original version is not a musical, nor as charming, this version gives more to the story through its songs and provides additional elements that improve the story's appeal without changing the storyline or altering the author's intent. While My Fair Lady is not as controversial or dramatic as Streetcar, it still is well-written and tells a story effectively through film. These two best capture the feel of their source material and achieve positive viewer appreciation and applause.

         An literary work should not be adapted to film if the original intentions of the author will be lost. A way to prevent this from happening is for the film makers to work closely with the author, a procedure that is happening more often now that films are being made from bestsellers just months after they are released.

         While no film can be perfect in retelling a story in the way an author wrote it, Streetcar and My Fair Lady are close to perfection. They manage to give more to the stories because they enthrall their audiences and became classics in the minds of many, still remaining favorites because of the way they make viewers feel--feel they are living, feel they are being, feel they are not alone. People can relate to the stories and remember the characters as they would their friends, quoting favorite lines and remembering the stories as they remember themselves: as experiences they do not want to forget.

Sarah Yeatts

Table of Contents