Use Your Imagination

     The mind is a terrible thing to waste, but the worst thing to lose is the imagination. Each reader sees a different Catherine, a creepier Bly, or a hotter summer in New Orleans. No director or camera can compare to a reader's imagination.

     The cinematic adaptations I have seen in this film and literature course are several. A Streetcar Named Desire; The Innocents, based on The Turn of the Screw, and the second version of A Doll's House were the best adaptations, while Wuthering Heights was the worst. I listed A Streetcar Named Desire first and out of chronological order because it is my favorite.

     Many factors keep a director and a camera from being as entertaining as the imagination. Censors and budgets regulate the human eye but cannot perceive everything as well as humans do. Lighting and angles, along with the set, help the emotional part of the picture. Most of the adaptations were made in the early years of film. Society was unsure of the impact films would have; so, in order to prevent bad press, many hard reality parts were cut out.

     Elia Kazan's 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire was the most accurate cinematic adaptation. The actors reproduced the characters of Tennessee Williams' original 1947 play almost like a glove. Vivien Leigh was Blanche DuBois literally. Her emotions broke at the precise moment. The only fears of this wonderful cinematic adaptation were caused by attitudes of the time. The scene in which Stanley (Marlon Brando) attacks Blanche (Vivien Leigh) could have been a little longer without being more revealing. The immorality of Stella (Kim Hunter) staying with her abusive rapist husband, which happens in the original play, led the film makers to show Stella leaving with her son, saying she will never return; but who believes that? A Streetcar Named Desire was a successful film due to casting and the closeness kept to the original work.

     The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James in 1898, had a well-adapted screenplay, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, in 1961. Although all the terror of The Turn of the Screw cannot be contained, the praying hands of the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), accompanied by eerie childlike music started the film on the right note. The casting was decent. The children (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) should have had blond hair instead of brown; they would have appeared more angelic therefore less suspected of evil by the viewer. Strange camera angles and dark lighting gave the ever-present feeling of fear. However, The Innocents left less to the imagination than expected.

     Two adaptations of A Doll's House were made in 1973. Only one successfully portrayed the characters in these modernized cinematic versions of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, directed by Patrick Garland. Anthony Hopkins and Claire Bloom were superbly cast as man, Torvald, and distant wife, Nora. Excessive use of the small apartment seemed to appear even smaller as the film progressed and Nora's guilt grew. The other adaptation directed by Joseph Losey was dreadful even with the now well-known stars, Jane Fonda and David Warren, and outside show scenes. On the other hand, I believe watching the cinematic adaptation of A Doll's House by Patrick Garland was a little more entertaining than merely reading the play.

     The worst cinematic adaptation was William Wyler's 1939 Wuthering Heights. The 1847 book, by Emily Brontė, developed several generations; the movie only had one. The interior scenes seemed unlived-in, while the outdoor shots were extremely spacious. Actors were over-dramatic, and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Catherine (Merle Oberon) seemed too old to be frolicking in the Moors. A lot was taken away from the literature in the 1939 film by William Wyler. The cheesy ghosts (ghost-acted by other actors) walking into the sunset was the worst part.

     The films I have discussed, excluding Wuthering Heights, illustrate the director's casting agents', and actor's imaginations. They took pieces of literature and re-introduced them to society. By reading novels and plays then watching the screenplay, a person can either lose or gain an aspect of it. Through most of the films, during which I was encouraged to use my imagination, I have gained an appreciation for literature, which allows even more scope for the imagination. However many of these films could be remade today with special effects, which would allow the viewers in our current society to use less of their imagination and perhaps not encourage them so much to read the original works--what a terrifying thought!

Ashley Burnett

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