The Birth of Change: All Three Trimesters

         Entertainment is not only the most popular form of leisure, but is also a vital piece of a culture’s history. Cinematic adaptation of a book or play is the cornerstone of films to be remembered. Classic examples include Jane Eyre, The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, along with many others. As adaptations are made, though, the problem of adapting a book to film must be handled. A cinematic version of any literary work must do three things: convert the text for film, represent the internal monologue, and accurately display the environmental factors of the original work.

         While fiction has the luxury of being able to ramble on and on a screenplay must be painfully direct. When viewing a film, one does not have the ability to flip back through pages to clarify anything that was misunderstood, or to have the patience to sit for however many hours an exact translation of Harry Potter might take. So, the film maker must condense. Here in lies probably the most apparent problem in the process.

         Literature has a way of imprinting itself upon a person. To change a book to film, the director must make the changes necessary, while still retaining the original message. This presents a problem since there are many ways in which the meaning may be lost. In most cases, books have many characters that work well together and develop into an interesting plot, while in movies too many characters will confuse the audience and has the possibility to blow the budget.

         Moving on, we can see that directors all have a different artist vision. One adaptation may adhere faithfully to the original, while another may stray far, but have a meaning that the director has chosen to represent in a different way. Such was the case with Joseph Losey’s 1973 film adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House. In this film, the character of Torvald is very little like his character in the play. The movie displays him as a vicious authoritarian, as played by David Warner, while in the play he did have a compassionate side.

         In my mind, the most commonly addressed problem is that of internal monologue. The characters in books may freely express what they are thinking with the written word, but how are this changed into setting, dialogue, and plot with film? In the 1938 film Pygmalion, based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play and directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, the hopes of Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) to become more than just a mere flower girl have to be represented by her actions, and not just her thoughts. When she sits in front of her dingy mirror, you see a change, and this is how one of the films we viewed this semester overcame the problem of internal monologue.

         After reading Henry James’s 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, one may be left wondering, “Are the ghost real or not?” Here we have another internal conflict, but in the 1961 film The Innocents, the director, Jack Clayton, decided to actually show the ghosts, thereby affirming their existence, and not leaving it up to question as in the book. This decision did have some effect on the adaptation, but ultimately I believe it just took some of the guesswork out.

         Over land, over sea, on the opposite shore… wait, in films over land and over sea means over budget. Here is the perfect illustration of the final and most daunting hurtles of book to film conversion: location, location, location. Throughout the semester, as a reader, I traveled to Washington Square, London, Norway, and the rolling hills of some distant shire. In the films, the directors in some cases chose to shoot as close to the original setting as possible, but in many cases this just is not possible. The film makers must find a location that is accessible and affordable to accommodate the entire cast, crew, and set.

         Joseph Losey’s 1973 film adaptation of A Doll’s House had the advantage of actually being set in Norway. This led the audience to feel the cold bitterness of the relationship, but it also made the characters physically relate to their environment. Here we see the accomplishment of the third and final problem of turning a book into film.

         Overall the process that many of the directors went through to change their books into movies was highly successful. I would say that overall I have learned an appreciation and greater understanding of film not only through the literature that it was based on, but in a large part to the forced comparison of the two mediums.

Lauren Taylor