Problems with Cinematic Adaptations

        When books are written, the authors rely on imagination. With the imagination, readers can visualize what the characters look like and how everything sounds and how they need to relate the characters to themselves. When one adapts a book to a play or move, one loses some of that freedom. The audience’s imagination is limited to what is on the stage or screen, which may not be what the author had intended. One can also run into problems with the adaptation process because some things may not be just as appealing to watch, as they are to read about. In a book, one can get caught up in the author’s words when he or she is describing something like a rose. However, in the movie a rose is just a rose on the screen.

        Those people reading Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw could imagine the ghosts as believable. However those viewing Jack Clayton’s 1961 movie The Innocents may find the ghosts on the screen not quite so believable.

        There is also the problem of the book being too long to make into a movie with the author’s vision and story line intact. For instance, in William Wyler’s 1939 movie of Emily Brontë’s 1847 Wuthering Heights, there are only the generations of the main characters and some of their fathers, while in the book, the next generation of characters, with their story lines, are also depicted so vividly for the readers.

        This is not the only problem. Books can go into depth to explain sets; and, depending on the budget of the film, the sets might resemble those in the book or might not. There is a major difference between the settings of Higgins’ house in Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard’s 1938 Pygmalion and in George Cukor’s 1964 My Fair Lady, both based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion. In the earlier black and white movie, the minimal settings are much in keeping with Shaw’s original intentions, whereas in the colorful musical version, the settings are quite grandiose to suit the musical intentions but not Shaw’s.

        Then one gets into the problems with the actors. If the actors are not right for the part, this can really send the movie in a different direction. For example, Joseph Losey’s 1973 movie version of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House, did not have the same feel to it as did Patrick Garland’s 1973 film, which captured more of the essence of Ibsen’s play. Jane Fonda’s Nora was not like the Nora in Ibsen’s play. She was too independent for the part. David Warner’s Torvald in Losey’s movie was not mean enough for the part as Ibsen had fashioned him, while Anthony Hopkins in Garland’s version was wonderful in the role of Ibsen’s Torvald.

        Also, when adapting a book or play to a movie, directors have to deal with problems in society at that time. For example in the 1951 movie of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire, Elia Kazan and the other film makers had to take out certain parts in the original play that could not be shown on the screen at the time. For example Blanche’s husband being gay had to be removed from the movie script. There was also the problem with the scene in which Stanley rapes Blanche. The film makers had to suggest this rape instead of actually showing it. Moreover, Stella could not be shown as being overtly pregnant, so loose fitting smocks were employed to suggest the fact. However, I think that for the most part, the film makers did a good job of getting the main ideas and themes across in the movie. In fact, for the most part the adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire was the best one in the class.

         As pointed out above, the authors of books have a certain vision to communicate to readers for the benefit of their boundless imaginations. However when these works are adapted to the stage or screen, the results may not be what the author had intended, and the audience’s imagination is limited to what is on the stage or screen.

Samantha Andersson

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