As They See It

     In the adaptation of literary works into film, several criteria must be considered. Similarities between the literature and the resulting screenplay are important, but other aspects concerning the actual production of the film are crucial as well. In this course, several examples of this have been brought to light.

     In the realm of censorship, A Streetcar Named Desire is an example of a literary work that had to be toned down to meet the guidelines of film in that time period. The 1947 play, by Tennessee Williams, has some considerable scenes that the censors in 1951 would not allow to be viewed publicly. One in particular, Stella's (Kim Hunter) descent of the staircase in response to Stanley's (Marlon Brando) gut-wrenching cries, had to be edited from the film completely because of sexual ambiance. Also, the ending of the film is an alteration of the play because in the film, Stella leaves Stanley. In the play, the last scene leaves Stella crying on the steps as her sister is taken away. Stella is holding her new baby, and Stanley is comforting her by fondling her. In 1996, that would be perfect material for a movie; but, in 1951, it was much easier to send Stella running than to deal with the sexual nuance. Brian Gray states in his essay "Your Past Will Always Find You," "No amount of... liquor could cover the tracks of her past" (Montage '96); and, in Elia Kazan's 1951 version, the liquor covered the editing table as the characters drank a third of the film of what they had done in the original play.

     Also, film makers tend to manipulate scripts to make audiences happy. In the 1964 film adaptation of My Fair Lady directed by George Cukor, the ending was altered, leaving Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) with Henry (Rex Harrison). No matter that "from the first time he encountered Eliza, Professor Higgins says she is a disgrace to mankind and will never be worth anything to anybody" (Meredith Major, Montage '96), the writers sent Eliza back to Henry to keep the duo together and to appease the audience.

     The roadblock of ideas in most of the adaptations could be considered harsh by some critics and by some students. The important thing to remember is that deterioration does not occur in the original work when a film is made from it. If anything, new ideas are born from the old ideas that did not make it to the screen; and the pathways of the mind can be opened up. That is the importance of a class such as this.

Rachel Dixon

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