[Milton-L] Beowulf, Milton, Pullman, "adaptations," etc. etc.
dicesare1 at mindspring.com
Mon Jan 21 19:59:23 EST 2008
I agree with most of Hannibal Hamlin's venting; the article in question
seemed to me little short of preposterous. However, I want to pursue a
somewhat different angle on this whole discussion.
I have to admit that I am non-plussed when people talk about film
"versions" of literary works, and especially when they talk about a film
as an "improvement on the original"; as Hamlin says, this is simply
foolish. It is true that many a film starts off from, or even hews
closely to, a particular literary work. It does not follow, however,
that the film is a "version" of the literary work. Film is film and
literature is literature, and to confuse them is mischievous.
I have great delight in good films which take off from books I have
enjoyed. And I too do fall into the trap of "comparing" the film to its
"original." But this is a trap; we shouldn't "compare" them. But
consider all those terms: Aren't they superficial at best? It's not
always easy to make the act of faith required to simply forget the
"original" and accord to a film its own integrity and art form.
Recently, I saw John Huston's last film, "The Dead," for the third or
fourth time. I found myself deeply moved by it yet again. I know Joyce's
story well, I think, but I did not feel as I watched the film that I
needed to impose it on the screen in front of me. I was moved by the
film, particularly by the performance of Anjelica Huston, who plays
Gretta Conroy. Despite the title, the film had for me a powerful sense
of life and of love, a sense that pervades the party scenes, the aunts'
attitudes, Gabriel Conroy's controlled presence, even Firkin's soppy
performance that his aunts tolerate out of a tender affection. Most of
all, that sense is there at the end, as Gabriel, moved deeply by
Gretta's memories of Michael Furey, feels for her a profound sympathy
(in the root sense of that word) that is nothing short of love. Huston
conveys that sympathy extraordinarily well, I think, amid the
too-obvious falling snow he presumably felt compelled to emphasize in
his affection for Joyce's story.
The point is a simple and yet an elusive one: Film and literature are
different art forms. To submit one of them to the trappings of the other
seems to me a violation of the integrity of each. Consider the film and
the book, each on its own terms. "Paradise Lost" needs no "improvement,"
certainly, and much as I admire Pullman's novels, I don't see any need
to drag Milton into consideration. Incidentally, I also think that the
fact that Pullman's novels are "children's books," necessarily makes
them a whole different kind of literature. But that's not at issue here.
Mario A. DiCesare
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