Written Word versus Visual Aid

     For every movie that a person could possibly enjoy, there has had to be an interesting novel, entertaining play, or story of some sort that a talented director aided by gifted script writers could give us something worth seeing. We were offered several novels and plays to read and then given the opportunity to view the film adaptations. I, for one, have always enjoyed the novel or written word, but this was not the case in this class. I had to rely on viewing the films to understand or grasp some of the story lines, and then I could go back and gather new meaning from the written word. Visual aid has strengthened my appreciation for the written word, I suppose, or at least challenged me to reread.

     I often felt lost in the plot development of some of the novels, and it took seeing the film to gain insight. A good example was The Turn of the Screw (1898), by Henry James. I do not feel I am ignorant; but I did not gather all the sexual connotations that other readers, such as Janelle Zech, with her "The Spectral Tale with a Sexual Tone" seemed to from the novella and the 1850 play The Innocents, by William Archibald (Montage '96). It was not until I saw Miles (Martin Stephens) kiss Miss Giddens (Deborah Kern) in the 1961 film, directed by Jack Clayton, that I really picked up on the sexual overtones. I did not think I was so naive and innocent; but this shocked me; perhaps I did not expect to see it in a film from that time period. We know that films are more free today than they have been in the past. This version did a very good job of helping gain a new insight, when I went back and reread the novella. I believe movies are far more effective than plays, and that is probably due to the ability to add visual effects and sounds that cannot always be recreated in a play.

     It was also easier for me to pick up on relationships when I reviewed the movies. I think seeing people's behaviors, watching for facial expressions and mannerisms gave me a different perspective so that I could go back to the novella and say, "Oh yeah, I get that now."

     Some of the relationships that were hard to define in the novels or plays, but made easier to discern in the movies were the housekeepers to the children, Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw and Ellen Dean in Emily Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights. Both ladies left me feeling almost betrayed. I was not sure if they cared as much for their changes as they should have. Betty Clark wrote in her analysis "Silent Housekeepers" and expressed pretty much the same theories (Montage '96). We both agreed that the ladies almost seemed to have hidden agendas. We both were concerned over Mrs. Grose's lack of control over the children in The Turn of the Screw. Of course, some jobs only allow for so much interference; but really, what adult that cared a whit for children could stand by and allow such immoral and indecent behavior to go on?

     Ms. Clark and I both wondered about Ellen Dean's motives. What did she have to gain by allowing Cathy to abuse Heathcliff and Edgar so much? What was the hidden reason for standing by as Cathy became increasingly more temperamental, especially if an unborn child's life hangs in the balance? At any rate, we both had questions in regard to the relationships of characters in these works, and it made me realize that I was not the only one who could question motives of authors and writers in general.

     Each of the plays, novels and movies leant themselves to further investigation in many levels. They gave me reason to think and rethink the author's reasoning on plots, tone, character development and time lines of issues. The film makers, on the whole, did good jobs adapting the works into viewable experiences. Even those that I felt did not do as much justice as they could have, were better than I often expected. One example of a mediocre film was Luis Buńuel's 1954 Los Abismos de Pasion; and, in rethinking, I decided the work was pretty close to what Ms. Brontė had written.

     Some people do not always appreciate the movie adaptation over the play or novel, for one reason or another. Jennifer Bean was in total contrast to my opinion in her critique, "Too Much of a Good Thing," regarding George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady as opposed to George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion. She seemed to absolutely hate the song and dance theme of the movie, whereas, I was delighted (Montage '96). Just goes to show, "different strokes for different folks," I suppose. That is what makes classes such as this one so enjoyable. She believed all the music took away from the plot, and I could watch it for each song, at least one time again. Just to hear Ms. Hepburn/Marni Nixon sing "I Could Have Danced All Night" or Rex Harrison render "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" makes this adaptation connectable to the play, in my mind.

     This class has completely awakened my sensibilities and aroused my curiosity for the written word, as well as encouraged me to believe I need to see more plays and movies. I think that once I get out of school, have a decent paying job and can afford the time, I will make a point of using my leisure time more profitably than in the past.

     Each novel, play and movie is worth reevaluating. I believe I will reread Wuthering Heights and look for the most modernized movie version, to see if I can develop a taste for Cathy. Henry James's 1880 Washington Square and William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress would be next in line for review. I never tire of seeing Ms. de Havilland. Even though, ghost stories do not appeal to me, I believe I will go back to The Innocents and The Turn of The Screw just for fun.

     As I am always delighted with Ms. Hepburn, I think I will checkout My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany's this weekend. I know I have got to look for the 1951 Brando/Leigh movie A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, watch it completely through, and check out some more of Williams' work from my library to have some reading over the holidays (as if I will have time, right?).

     I believe I have gained new insights into literature appreciation, and film making as well. Each author, director, producer, screenwriter, playwright or individual that contributed in these works has given me a better insight into what we humans see when we take time to read the written word. The film adaptations did much to contribute to my sensibilities for seeing past the written word. I have come to understand the written word, and I believe that the visual aids lent to that understanding. I am more appreciative that we now have films that can go back to the written word to add enhancement. It is true that not all movies do the written word justice, but we at least have the opportunity to place both in the balance and judge for ourselves, and that makes me happy for freedom of expression. We do not all have to agree on or like the same things in any given are, but courses such as this give someone such as me a better opportunity for acquiring and developing higher levels of taste. I have weighed all I have read and seen, and come to the conclusion, the written word does not have to be versus the visual aid, each can stand on its own or enhance the other, and that is up to the literary participant.

Glenda F. Riley

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