TTT: 10 Slightly Creepy But Not Horrifying Halloween Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week’s prompt was a freebie related to Halloween. I love Halloween. The dress up and magic and witches and candy and caramel apples….so fantastic. One of my favorite things to do around this time of year is watch Halloween appropriate movies. But I’m not a fan of horror. I don’t particularly like to be scared. I do like things that are a little dark, unexplained, morbid, and/or creepy–just nothing with a ton of gore and violence and jump scares and menacing music so that I have to sleep with the lights on for a week.

So I went through my list on Kanopy. Kanopy is a streaming service that your library might subscribe to–every month you get a certain number of views of mostly indie, classic, international, and documentary films. I picked some films off of my watchlist that aren’t horror but are certainly appropriate for this time of year that always feels closer to pumpkins, warm drinks, and walks at twilight. Scroll down to find lots of Halloween appropriate documentaries, foreign films, and fairy tales.

If you don’t have Kanopy, you can rent these on your favorite rental streaming site or probably pick them up as DVDs from your library. If they’re streaming on a different site, I’ve noted that. These are in the order that I viewed them.

Stuffed (2019)

How do you feel about taxidermy? It’s a little creepy to me in that it brings up uncanny valley feelings–the best taxidermy is beautiful and still, it is pretty clearly not alive. I thought this documentary was great–they interview a ton of different taxidermy artists. Some have a very scientific approach because they work in museums, others use taxidermy to create stories. It’s a good amount of creepy, but what I appreciated was the care and respect for animals as well as for the artform and fellow practitioners. Also, if you’d asked me before how taxidermy was done I would have had no idea, so in that sense this documentary is fairly educational as well. It’s well shot and compelling.

Burke & Hare (2010)

If Sweeney Todd was not a musical and was laugh out loud funny (when it wasn’t gasp inducing), it would pretty much be this film. It is, in a word, ludicrous in all the best ways. It’s set in 1828, and the famous anatomists in Edinburgh need bodies to dissect so Burke & Hare bravely step up to fulfill this need. Every character is mocking each other, but rarely themselves, and the cast is fantastic. Everyone is talking in a Scottish accent. There’s murder and an all-female production of Macbeth. I mean–what more can you ask for?

also available on Roku, Sling TV, and Amazon prime with premium subscriptions.

Exhumed: A History of Zombies (2021)

So I am not a big fan of zombies. But I am a huge fan of pop culture histories. And this documentary traces the story of zombies in popular culture all the way to its roots. And by doing so reveals the real horror–racism and enslavement. I learned so much about a genre I typically avoid–if you’re even passingly interested in zombies or how horror elements proliferate in culture, I would highly recommend this short documentary.

Available online through PBS.

Therapy for a Vampire (2014)

Okay so this one is actually a monster movie. But it’s more of a comedy than anything. I mean the vampires sound like roaring lions. If anything, this German film is kind of campy. But I love the premise of a vampire seeking psychoanalysis from Sigmund Freud. It’s delightfully ridiculous and plays with vampire tropes in a really amusing way. It also has really interesting things to say about image and understanding of ourselves.

Also streaming on Tubi.

Mary Shelley (2017)

This biopic starring Elle Fanning wasn’t really horrifying (except for how much I disliked the costumes, maybe), but since Shelley is the author of Frankenstein, it seemed appropriate for this list. It kind of reminds me of Shakespeare in Love in that it traces an author’s work through a love story. This is much sadder though. But it ends fairly well, so you won’t necessarily be reaching for the tissue box.

Also streaming on Tubi.

La Belle et la Bete (1946)

Jean Cocteau’s classic take on Beauty and the Beast has been on my list for a while. And since I tend to watch a lot of fairy tale films this time of year, it seemed appropriate to include. Plus watch this film and tell me that the disembodied arms holding the candelabras and the fireplace heads aren’t all kinds of creepy! The film is really well done, and you can see a lot of inspiration between this film and the Disney version in the early 90s such as the talking objects, the character of Gaston, the way the Beast is drawn, and so on. I loved the costumes in this film. They are so over the top in the best possible way. Also–no I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it. But it’s a great ending!

Also streaming on HBO max. It was also remade in 2014, and that version, titled Beauty and the Beast is streaming on Amazon Prime, Pluto, Tubi, Peacock.

Tale of Tales (2015)

This is the closest film to actual horror on this list. There are a few pretty horrifying scenes, but I didn’t find it particularly scary. It’s not really dark–all the horror is in the light–and nothing jumps out at you or anything. But the whole thing is masterful. The film explores three adjacent kingdoms and the magical craziness that happens in each one. Each kingdom has a different path, and the tales are interwoven. They seem to draw from a lot of different fairy tales and tropes, so if you’ve got a lot of knowledge of folklore, you’ll definitely recognize certain elements and tales. But the cinematography, the mise en scene, the talented character actors they chose–it’s just captivating. It’s been a long time since I watched a film that was this magical–in the dark, Angela Carter sense.

The Frankenstein Complex (2015)

This documentary introduces you to the people behind the monsters from horror, science fiction, and action films. The documentary moves chronologically from the use of special effects makeup through puppetry, stop motion, animatronics, and finally to CGI effects. Although the people interviewed were really fascinating, I wasn’t a huge fan of how the film was cut together (a lot of scenes from films are referenced but not shown) and the editing was a little off pace. But I loved seeing how some of these props were made and seeing the people who brought some amazing creatures and characters to life.

Blancanieves (2012)

If you watch one movie from this list, I hope it’s this one. This Spanish adaptation of Snow White, told as a silent film about bullfighting was so gorgeous. It’s in black and white, so there’s this amazing attention to texture and detail. And it’s just really beautiful and heartbreaking. I feel like over the years a lot of the feeling has been stripped from this story, but this film really puts heart back into it.

Also streaming on Tubi.

The Witches of Hollywood (2020)

This documentary looks at how witches have been portrayed in films in the United States. This is a pretty narrow focus, but there’s plenty to look at and talk about. I wasn’t a huge fan of the voiceover, but the people they interviewed were interesting, and they showed a lot of film clips. I found a couple films to add to my watchlist. The documentary didn’t go too deeply into film analysis (although there is some of that), instead it focuses on how the witch evolves alongside the progression of culture in United States and responds to the current preoccupations about womanhood. Pretty fascinating, all told.

Any of these films catch your eye? Do you have a favorite movie to watch around this time of year? Let me know in the comments.

Nitrate Film: Degradation and Preservation

There’s a scene in Cinema Paradiso that I find utterly wrenching.

The projectionist, Alfredo, has just changed the position of the projector to show a film outside against a building, since the manager has closed the theater for the night. Salvatore watches in the square below. In an instant, the image bubbles and the reel catches fire. Alfredo tries in vain to put the fire out, and is severely injured in the process, losing his sight.

Why did the reel catch fire?

Films up until the 1950s were printed on nitrate, which is a highly flammable material. It can catch fire at extremely low temperatures, and once it catches fire, it’s extremely difficult to put that fire out.

Image from the NFPF site. See those bubbles? The deterioration will slowly progress until you can’t see the image anymore.

Nitrate films are, in many cases, considered hazardous materials. They are also susceptible to other kinds of deterioration. They get brittle, emit noxious gas, and bubble–eventually losing their image forever.

This material was used for films up until the 1940s or 50s. In archives, reels are often kept in cold storage to prevent decay, but because films weren’t thought worthy of preservation for many years, we have lost so many early films. According to the National Film Preservation Foundation, only 20% of feature films from the 1910s-20s still exist in complete form.

These movies are part of our cultural heritage and in my opinion they should be taken care of both in their original formats (for as long as possible) and digitized so they can be enjoyed and taken care of for years to come.

Want to see a short film that shows the nitrate degradation process? Watch Walk,–You Walk! (1912) about a couple of gals outwitting some troublesome men, which was preserved by NFPF.

Do you have nitrate films at home? My guess is no. Unless you have feature film reels (35mm), you don’t have to worry about nitrate. If you do have feature film reels, you should probably take them to a conservator or specialist. You can also learn about how to identify nitrate film here. However, 16mm and 8mm films, which is what most amateur and home film makers used, were always made on safety film (acetate). While this film type also has preservation issues (it can shrink and give off a vinegar smell and also produce channels), it’s not going to spontaneously combust.

Race in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Pretty much every film I’ve watched during the pandemic and the protests for racial justice has been charged with a different type of energy. I’ve been learning more and more about how racist attitudes come across in the different media we consume and I want to talk about it more. I think confronting these attitudes in books and films is important because washing over it doesn’t seem like a good way forward. I am a relative newcomer to public discourse on race, so I am trying to approach these conversations with humility. I know I will make mistakes. I am listening and trying to do better. Watching this particular film 60 years later has allowed me to put both that time and this current moment into a conversation with each other and I wanted to share my observations with you.

I haven’t read the play (though if you have, you should let me know in the comments how it compares to the film!), so this discussion is confined to the movie and how it handles race. I know that Tennessee Williams didn’t like this adaptation, but I’m not sure which aspects particularly he objected to or how race is dealt with in the play.

In Richard Brooks’ 1958 film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick and Maggie’s marriage disintegrates as his father’s birthday party becomes a fight over the inheritance of a massive fortune. The film has a lot to tell us about white superiority not only in the South, but about our own time throughout the United States and beyond.

While the film focuses on the lives of the white protagonists and their hopes and dramas, slavery and racial attitudes intrude all the time but are always in the background and unacknowledged, which isn’t surprising in a setting where the truth is considered vulgar and to be avoided, like calling Big Daddy’s illness the ‘c’ word instead of cancer.

In one of the first scenes of the film, the children playing on the lawn of a big Southern plantation are playing Dixie and waving a confederate flag. They are preparing this song for their grandfather, in an attempt to convey to him the kind of legacy he’d be leaving if Brick’s older brother inherits the estate. These internalized racist attitudes form the backdrop of the entire film and I consider them to be part of the family’s heritage. These racist structures helped create and prop up the legacy Big Daddy will leave behind. I mean, the entire film revolves around the inheritance of a plantation style manor and its environs and the only Black people we see in this film are servants, setting up the party or tending to a member of the family. We learn nothing about them because as Big Daddy says “You don’t build an empire by remembering faces.” This movie is concerned with the fallout of the empire, not the men and women whose unpaid or underpaid labor built it.

In a movie that’s all about legacies and the threat of them disappearing, there is a kind of anxiety all the time. Maggie is terrified that she’s not pregnant because it means she’s not providing an heir; Brick is terrified that his football legacy and, more importantly, the legacy of his friend, will be called into question. There is impending death in the family. These anxieties mean a lot of things are not discussed, but they still come to the surface, providing churning undercurrents. Brick understands that their lives are built on weak and shaky foundations, and he tells his father “Men who build empires die and empires die too.” But here he ignores that although power shifts and moves slightly, it is still a rigged game.

Although racial anxieties are not explicitly discussed, that doesn’t mean that they’re not present. Cotton, the great crop of the South that has such intimate and violent ties with slavery is on people’s minds throughout the film. Brick played in the Cotton Bowl, someone is voted Miss Cotton Queen. In this way, cotton is still being used as a tool for white racist attitudes of superiority that have been built on exploited lives and labor.

Big Daddy follows this pattern when he makes a grand show of talking about how he came from nothing and was able to build this huge estate and business. While he came from a poor background, he certainly ignores that it is his white privilege that allows him to rise up into the plantation manor (I think in the play he comes into the plantation as overseer? That’s not discussed in the film). The economically suppressed becomes the suppressor in his turn.

It is hard to say whether they don’t see the racist structures that they stand upon, or if they just believe that it’s vulgar to tell the truth because if they confronted it, it might mean a very real loss of their privilege, or, at the very least, a knowledge that they are not as “good” as they believe themselves to be. I think that although Brick says he can’t live with the lies in the family, he does in his own way because he would rather numb his way through life than work to change it. Without the lies or the liquor, their way of life would not be possible. As Big Daddy says, “There’s nothing to live with except mendacity.” But that’s the great argument that I think theater makes–that truth and illusion are different and that what is real hurts and confronting it hurts. This confrontation is necessary for real change, and I found most of the characters in this play to be really unlikable–not because they were flawed–but because they weren’t willing to do the work to confront their own lives.

What did you notice about the undercurrents of race in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Have you seen the film or play? Let me know in the comments!

What Makes For Good Adaptation?

It’s good to be blogging again after our three week trip to Taiwan. I have several posts in the works about that trip, but today I want to write about a really great article I read today on Lit Hub with the rather long title: “How Should a Literary Adaptation Be? We Asked the Critics for the Answer” by Kristen Evans.

I’ve talked a bunch on this blog about adaptation, but I have stressed in my posts that I don’t like to just spend time talking about what makes an adaptation good or bad, and instead I tend to focus on what is being done differently that I find interesting or notable and what is being done well.

On the whole I’ve stayed away from the question of good or bad because I’ve always felt that people’s opinions were mainly drawn from one issue, which is how faithful an adaptation is to its source material. Some people take this to mean whether you can match a movie to its source character for character and plot point for plot point, and some people take this more loosely. In the words of the critic Matt Zoller Seitz “It’s like, did you get the book, or did you not get the book?” Getting the book meaning do you understand the meaning behind the words, the “point,” the atmosphere, etc.

The article mentions this viewpoint, which is a sound one. But then it goes on to have a very interesting conversation about what visual mediums add (namely world building on a sometimes epic scale a la Game of Thrones) and how they struggle with how to portray interiority.

It also talks about the need to look at a visual medium in context–how it responds/fits into the larger cultural conversation, and the need to look at it according to its own merits (aka how does it function as a show independent of its source material).

I found this conversation around what makes for good criticism and good adaptation to be fascinating. I lean towards looking at adaptations in conversation with themselves and with culture in general, but I also think that a good adaptation should “get” its source material. Meaning that the original author if he or she was to see their work produced should be able to respect the artist’s vision of their story, even though it might be quite far from a work that they would produce themselves.

But now over to you–how do you think a literary adaptation should be judged? What’s your favorite literary adaptation? Let me know in the comments.

Books that Would Make Awful Films

 

The other day, I read this article on LitHub about books that would make terrible films. It’s an interesting concept, especially when you think about how many books are made into movies and how many stories seem perfect for this kind of adaptation.

I’ve only read one book on the author’s list, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I agree that the film has a mystical, lyrical quality  that would be quite difficult to capture, but I’m not sure that the resulting film would be horrible.

In my opinion there are several things that make a book difficult to film:

  • When the book rests on the interior head space of the main character (there’s not that much happening except thinking). Some films are good at capturing inner struggles, but there has to be something visual to hang the film on.
  • A book that relies too much on its own intelligence. When the allusions, references, and larger literary conversation define the writing, it’s not easy or maybe even desirable to adapt the work.
  • When the book’s time has passed. There are some books we read because they define a time, but I think that most films (even when they show a different time) help reflect our own. If there’s nothing timely, it probably won’t interest people or the filmmaker enough for it to get produced.

 

But now I’ll turn the question over to you–what book(s) do you think would make a terrible film?

Page to Screen: Me Before You

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Film Adaptation–love it or hate it, it’s an undeniable part of our culture.

For my part, I love it. Even when it’s done poorly (and goodness knows it is), it still has the power to get people talking critically about art and adaptation.

Some Pertinent Facts:

  • Film release date: June, 2016
  • Director: Thea Sharrock (in her directorial debut)
  • Book release date: January 2012
  • Author: Jojo Moyes

The film version of Me Before You is actually really close to its source material. Part of this is due to the fact that the author had a pretty big hand in writing the screenplay, but that’s still not always the case. Joan Didion wrote a screenplay version of her book and still felt that film did not really capture the original.

However, unlike Joan Didion’s work, I think Me Before You is much more visual and externally focused. In that way, the book can sort of come to life. The setting near the castle helps to anchor the story, while Louisa Clark’s costumes help to bring her character to life for us. They mark her as more complicated than she appears to be.

Though I think that the film for the most part really captures its source material, there are a few interesting parts of the book that are left out of the film, and I thought I’d look at a few of those and discuss the choices.

There are a few spoilers here (from the book), so if you want to be surprised by them please stop reading.

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Most of the characters in the book make it into the film, but the character we don’t get to see is Will’s sister. In the book she is very angry with her brother and with her parents for honoring Will’s decision. She isn’t in the book very much, and honestly the decision to omit her makes sense–she doesn’t really add anything.

The difference in Mr. Traynor’s character however, is a little more interesting. Will’s father definitely comes off as aloof in the film, but most of this we put down to his “Englishness.” He tries to be there for his son and respect his wishes. The relationship between him and Mrs. Traynor seems to be fairly solid, despite the emotional stress they’re under. In the book however, we see two people who were on the brink of divorce sticking it out for their son as well as the sake of appearances. Mr. Traynor is clearly unfaithful to his wife, and is often absent at crucial times.

The character’s change in the movie makes him seem far more rational and more of the concerned parent, but it also makes him way less complicated.

By far the largest omission in the book concerns the main character. We learn that the real reason for Louisa’s life choices is not that she has felt obligated to her parents, although she does, or that she’s willing to settle for less. Instead, Clark has been a survivor of sexual assault and she’s leading a very safe life because it’s the only way she can feel secure again. Will helps her to work through that.

I think maybe this was omitted because it’s one more heavy thing to deal with in a film that’s already pretty emotional, but in the light of the #metoo movement, the omission feels a little glaring. Why deny Lou’s complicated past?

 

What did you think of Me Before You? Have you read the book or seen the film or both? Let me know in the comments!

From Page to Screen: Chocolat

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Literature adaptation. It causes almost every reader to cringe, but I am totally obsessed with it. This feature looks at films and their book counterparts and analyses similarities and differences between the two. The goal is not to see which one is better, but to see what artistic decisions are made and what they bring to the original work.

I first watched this film quite a long time ago–nearer to its release date. When I was looking for a book set during a holiday other than Christmas for the challenge, a reader recommended this book, though with the caveat that she didn’t enjoy it as much as the film. This seemed like an interesting (and unusual) comment, so I decided to read the book and do a post.

First, some of the vital statistics on the book and film. (click the link for the film Wikipedia page, which has a plot summary)

Book:

  • Written by: Joanne Harris
  • Published: Doubleday, March 1999
  • Intended audience: Adult
  • Reception: won Creative Freedom Award and Whittaker Gold and Platinum Awards

Film:

  • Directed by: Lasse Hallström
  • Released: Miramax Films, December 2000
  • Principal actors: Juliette Binoche (Vianne), Judi Dench (Armande), Johnny Depp (Roux)
  • Reception: nominated for five academy awards, including best picture

 

Note: I watched the film before I read the book.

The film and the book have several interesting differences, but first I wanted to comment on the importance of magic to both stories. In the book the magic is a little more tangible. Vianne has the ability to sense certain things about people, including a little bit of their futures. Her family seems to have a history of witchcraft. In the film, the magic is there but it’s less visible. The magic comes from the wind, from stories, and from the chocolate (which I think almost everyone can agree has its own kind of magic).

The magic of this story makes it something a little more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just a story of a woman who, through constantly trying to run away finds something like home. The mystical elements add a lot to the story, and give the viewer and reader something to chew on.

 

Interesting Deviations:

The book’s setting is in a time period not too far away from our own. There are microwaves and a large part of Vianne’s past was spent in the United States rather than small towns in Europe. I think the decision to set the movie at the end of the 1950s was a really wise decision. First, it makes the town far more charming. The removed time period allows the viewer to see the town’s xenophobia as a symptom of a larger problem–the changing times. We don’t judge the villagers as harshly because their world isn’t our world.

The film plays up the Mayan elements and shrouds Vianne’s mother in mystery. Vianne in the book has clear premonitions and sensitivities about people, but in the film these are a little more tempered. For example, she can guess people’s favorites and does this instinctively, using her abilities. In the film this ability is filtered through the use of the wheel she apparently received from her mother. People tell her what they see in the spinning wheel, and she uses that to make a determination. It’s a very subtle difference, but one that plays up her heritage and downplays her specific abilities.

It also serves to bring a more complex element into the film–that of colonization and cultural appropriation through the journey of these white men to seek new world remedies. Vianne’s father learns that ultimately he cannot hold his wife down–her spirit cannot be conformed or contained to suit the culture he has brought her into.

Likewise, her mother’s role is changed in the film. She is more present in the book as a character–her virtues and faults are cataloged, and her influence on her daughter is well documented. The first person narrative assures this. In the film, Vianne’s mother is shrouded in more mystery–she is a presence, of course. Her ashes, the relics that Vianne surrounds herself with, and her attention to the wind all show this. However, she’s much more mysterious. The most we ever see of her is in the story that Vianne tells Anouk, and we know that it’s a story she doesn’t share very often. The story gives background, but it doesn’t reveal a lot about the nature of their relationship.

 

Differences in characters

Mr. Reynaud in the film is a deeply conservative man with high moral standards, at least that’s how he would describe himself. While his character is pretty much unchanged between the book and the film, the fact that he represents the Church in the book changes the relationship between Vianne and the rogue element that she represents and the religious welfare of the town. Religion in the film is humanized through the young and inexperienced Pere Henri, whose compassionate and forward-looking nature help the whole town to come to terms with themselves. This allows Vianne to fight something other than religious principle itself–tradition and narrow minded behavior. And it allows the Church to look towards a more progressive future. This is a much softer stance than the one the book takes.

Anouk’s imaginary friend, Pantoufle. In the film, Pantoufle is a kangaroo, an exotic, otherworldly character. In the book, he is a rabbit, which is a more familiar and home-y pet. They both serve to show how lonely Anouk is, but the kangaroo stresses her imaginative and creative side and the rabbit seems to suggest more of a longing for home.

Differences in perspectives

The book is told from both Father Reynaud’s perspective and Vianne’s. In this way, you get a lot more of their inner lives, but you lose a little of their mystery in order to gain their humanity. In the film, it seems as though the town itself is revealing the story to you–only at the end is it revealed that Anouk herself has been the narrator the entire time. Seeing the story through a child’s eyes provides the viewer with different kinds of details and observations and increases the feeling of magic.

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I love the way the film makes me want to roll around in chocolate (a la the Comte de Reynaud), but mostly I love the wonderful performances and the atmosphere of mysticism. The book was enjoyable for me, but the film is delectable.

Have you seen Chocolat or read the book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

 

Remake Review: The Philadelphia Story and High Society

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“The time to make up your mind about people is never.”

There may be no type of adaptation more tricky to pull off than a remake. Unlike a more subtle retelling, a remake matches its subject–sometimes line for line and scene for scene. In many ways, remakes have more riding on them than an original film. An original film has to stand on its own, but a remake must do that and also contain within it some sparkling effervescent quality that contains the reason for its existence.

There’s a lot that can bring down a remake–nostalgia for one thing. Take a film that’s good, but not necessarily a shining example of movie brilliance like The Ghostbusters or The Karate Kid. These films are fan favorites and redoing them, however well, means that you’re putting a beloved film into competition with a film that simply doesn’t have the rosy glow time adds. Its imperfections are not the ones we remember fondly, its strengths are different and sometimes jarring.

Some remakes are done to take advantage of advances in special effects or new perspectives and social attitudes. Some are done to capitalize on successful stories (hello SpiderMan and Robin Hood adventures), and some–well some you don’t even know what people were thinking.

No story is safe from the remake bug, and I honestly think that’s okay. Remakes are part of a process of self invention and adaptation that keeps Hollywood films interesting and engaging not just with current trends but also with its own history. It’s an art form that is constantly engaging with itself and with other disciplines like theater, music, and fine arts.

 

Now let’s look at one:

I rented The Philadelphia Story from the library. I didn’t realize that it was the original and I had already seen the remake (it does say it on the back of the DVD case that I own–but who reads the back of the DVD case? I mean, except me out of curiosity or to find out the run time). This I quickly ascertained from the first few minutes of the film.

Before we get into the pros and cons of each film, let’s take a look at some of the pertinent stats:

The Philadelphia Story:

  • release year: 1941
  • director: George Cukor (also well known for My Fair Lady and Les Girls)
  • stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, & Jimmy Stewart
  • reception: won 2 Oscars (best screenplay, best lead actor-Jimmy Stewart), nominated for an additional 4), 5th most popular box film of the year
  • genre: screwball comedy (or remarriage comedy)

High Society:

  • release year: 1956
  • director: Charles Walters (also known for The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies)
  • stars: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra
  • reception: nominated for 2 Oscars, both for music–it almost received a third nomination for best story, which was one of the academy’s more famous gaffes considering that 15 years earlier they gave an Oscar to the original screenplay. It was the 10th highest grossing film that year.
  • genre: musical
  • fun fact: This was Grace Kelly’s final screen performance before marrying the Prince of Monaco.

 

Here’s the basic plot of both films: The divorced Tracy Lord is getting married again. To save her father’s reputation, she is allowing two reporters from Spy magazine to report on her nuptials. What follows is a comedy with plenty of love triangles and emotion before Tracy ultimately decides what’s important and who she’s going to spend the rest of her life with.

While High Society is definitely the more comical of the two, the original black and white film will always be the greater of the two for me.

Here’s why:

  • Both films have a great cast, but no one can steal Katharine Hepburn‘s show. The root of both characters is a seemingly goddess or queen-like disposition, but Hepburn shows much greater range of emotion than Kelly, who often comes off as a little more immature rather than complex.
  • The original film also plays up all the relationships more, so that you can really feel the tension as Tracy Lord flits between Dexter, George, and Mike.
  • Both films are well cast, but I feel that as a musical it would have done even better if they’d picked an actress who could sing. Too much of the romancing is left to the gentlemen.
  • I also think that Miss Imbrie is played better in the original film–instead of being light and comic she is observant, serious, and engaging. Her dilemmas hold more depth and her relationship with Mike becomes more nuanced. We actually see more of the background of both characters–even though they work for a gossip magazine they’re both artists–Mike is a writer with a full-length, published book, and Elizabeth is a painter. Their talent and work becomes another, deeper way of looking at the class struggles that are bared in the film.

However, I really love the relationship between Tracy and her sister as portrayed in the newer film. They have more of a good-natured rivalry going on that’s fun to watch.

Favorite moments:

My favorite stand alone scene (i.e. one that isn’t repeated in the remake) in the original is where Mike goes to the library to do research and finds Tracy there reading his book. This scene goes a long way to challenging both character’s perceptions of each other.

My favorite part of the remake is without a doubt the flashback scene to Dexter and Tracy’s honeymoon aboard the yacht, the True Love. In the original film, you don’t see any of the once-loving relationship between Tracy and Dexter, so it’s nice to have Bing crooning to Kelly.

One of my favorite sequences in both films is when the reporters come to the mansion and see the room full of silver presents and meet Tracy’s sister who has made a pact with her sister to give the reporters a show.

****

All in all, while both films have something to offer, the first is more nuanced–even the cinematography (full of close ups) signals that. The characters tend to be more dynamic and display a greater range of emotion. While Cole Porter’s songs make a lovely addition to the remake, they don’t do all that much to spur the plot along or bring much insight (aside from the ‘True Love’ song).

 

But now I’ll turn it over to you: have you seen either or both of these films? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments.

From Page to Screen: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Untitled design.jpgI’m totally fascinated by (some might say obsessed with) adaptation. If you believe, as I do, that nothing is truly original, then pretty much every cultural product is some form of adaptation or interpretation. I think of it as an extremely creative process: how to make unfamiliar the familiar (fairy tale adaptation); how to bring someone else’s original world to life in a new way (film adaptation); how to put your unique spin and gifts to an old story so that the old story is barely recognizable (aka pretty much every piece of art).

How people do this, and what is added by adaptation are questions that I’m forever thinking about. So I thought this feature could be kind of fun–a look at how films and literature interact, and about what the film brings to the story. These aren’t traditional reviews about how “well” the movie portrays the book, instead I’ll be looking at what I think are the meaningful deviations and how those changes impact our view of the stories together and separately. At least, that’s the goal.

First, some of the vital statistics on the book and film: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (click the link for the film Wikipedia page, which has a plot summary)

*Spoiler warning–it’s not intentional but is a somewhat essential part of the analysis process, though I do not talk about the ending.*

Book:

  • Written by: Ransom Riggs
  • Published: Quirk Books, June 2011
  • Intended audience: YA
  • Reception: NY Times Best Seller for 70 weeks, made it to #1 slot

Film:

  • Directed by: Tim Burton
  • Released: 20th Century Fox, September 2016
  • Principal actors: Eva Green (Miss Peregrine), Asa Butterfield (Jake), Samuel L. Jackson (Barron)
  • Reception: nominated for a special effects award from the Visual Effects Society Awards, mixed reviews and reception: Rotten Tomatoes: 64%; Meta critic 57/100= mixed/average reviews

Note: I watched the film before I read the book.

The film and the book have several interesting differences, but first I wanted to comment on the importance that visual media plays in the book. The story was largely inspired by old photographs–photography being the author’s primary interest–and for the most part the characters as well as some minor plot points come from these photographs.

These old pictures, which are in themselves strange and interesting, mean that the book had already been informed largely by visual media. This makes the decision to adapt into film a natural one (beyond the fact that most stories translate well to film and that Hollywood has a long and well-established history of borrowing liberally from literature). It’s even more natural that Tim Burton would be the chosen director, given his predilection for the gothic, slightly dark, but ultimately visually appealing aesthetic that he’s famous for.

Interesting Deviations:

The book’s protagonist, Jakob, is much more of a teenager in the text. He is filled with angst, is often sarcastic–he swears–he is much less earnest than his film counterpart. The film makes less of Jakob’s personality than of his character, by which I mean his actions and abilities and his fascination with the other children. This decision ultimately made his transition into their world easier in the film–he still has that sense of wonder and is more childlike (calling to mind characters like Dorothy or Alice), rather than offering more of a contrast to the children in the home. Still, I love the book version, which feels much more authentic to his age.

The old man from the bog. If you haven’t read the book, you probably have no idea what this is, but the old man is a very old and well preserved human sacrifice in the county museum. The museum curator suggests that the man would have been a willing sacrifice, since it meant he would go straight to heaven. The mummy provides an interesting contrast in the book between the children who are preserved in their own time and the preservation that is achieved through death in the bog. This is missing from the film, but the point the film tries to make about the peculiar children is very different from the one the book makes.

In continuation of the above difference, the children in the book often feel quite stuck or trapped in their safe haven, the alternative for most of them (leaving the loop) would mean death. They feel cut off from the world, and often lash out at the villagers. This is only present in a small sense in the film, which is more concerned with making the world of the peculiar children fantastical and immersive, the darkness lurking more in the background.

Differences in characters. 

  • One of my favorite deviations from the book to the film is the character of Miss Peregrine. In the book, she is a capable matron who cares deeply for her charges, but in the film she has a spark all her own. She’s mysterious and mischievous and looks like the falcon she is. She also seems, possibly because of her reduced age, more of a peer with the children rather than an instantly recognizable authority figure.
  • The other fairly big character change is in Emma and Olive’s characters. In both the film and book, Emma entrances and is entranced by Jakob, but in the book her powers and Olive’s are switched. Emma in the book is a fire wielder, while in the film she levitates. This choice has interesting implications. Emma as the fire wielder exerts more control over her surroundings. She is less passive, less at the mercy of the world around her, and so it’s natural that she’s unsatisfied with her safe haven, as her powers are typically associated with destruction and renewal. In the film, there is some work done to give her more agency (she doesn’t simply levitate, she can control the air…), and I think that the switch is done for visual purposes and possibly because her levitation/floating is a more unique than people who can manipulate heat as we’ve seen in other fantasies/comics. It also imparts a softer, less fiery or temperamental quality to Emma.

The eyeball thing. This is largely an aesthetic choice, but it’s too interesting not to comment on. In the book, the wights and hollowgasts kill peculiar children, but they do not feast on people’s eyes in order to get their humanoid form back. This is a rather macabre movie interpretation. Again, I think this decision is largely done for visuals and to give the hollowgasts and wights a firmer and more understandable goal.

The last major change I’ll talk about is the idea of having to repeat certain events in the loops. In the film, there is a sort of daily “chore” schedule that must be completed to keep everyone safe. This gives everyone a sense of responsibility (increasing the children’s agency), but it also makes the world feel different–less safe and more well rounded. In contrast, the book’s loops don’t operate this way. This gives a little more logic to the loops, in my opinion, but it creates the sense that the loops are not really a part of the world, and the safety is a little suffocating and cloying at first.

In summary, there are a lot of things about the book that make it feel more “real,” and slightly more believable. The author is able to make the magical feel mundane. On the other hand, the film is all about creating a new world. It’s supposed to feel fantastical. I enjoyed both the film and the book for different reasons, and I think the film does a good job of condensing the book’s events even though it ends up taking them in a weird direction (probably something that’s talked about in later books, which I have not yet read).

 

What do you think of movie adaptations in general or this one in particular? Let me know in the comments.