It’s Thursday, I’ve the bilious type of hangover, and surely this fluorescent overhead light is bad for my reproductive system. So, it’s time for a list. Nothing like a list to restore order to chaos.
Today’s list: Favorite film adaptations of books. Pretty easy. I’ll do my Top 5. What makes all of these films work for me is that they don’t detract from my enjoyment of the novels. I can watch the movies and enjoy the film genre, and I can go back to the book without the film version interfering. Pretty nifty. Now, I “tag” you to do your own list.
1. Jane Eyre (1944). Tagline: A Love Story Every Woman Would Die a Thousand Deaths to Live! Most memorable scene: When the young Jane wakes up to find Helen Burns dead.
Come on: Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O’Brien, Agnes Moorehead. You can’t beat the casting. And the cinematography evokes a grim stark Bronte-ness. Add a Bernard Hermann score–magic.
2. Gone with the Wind (1939). Tagline: The most magnificent picture ever! Most memorable scene: Scarlett entering the hospital ward in Atlanta, as the camera pans to show the hundreds of wounded men.
This is a no-brainer. Okay, after nearly 70 years, the film is starting to become dated, and, yes, with all of our newfound racial sensitivity, the treatment of blacks in this film makes one cringe. And, as for Clark Gable…frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. But Scarlett is still a compelling, flawed heroine, and Vivien Leigh does the mythic role justice.
(By the way, you notice I did not include another great film from 1939, Wizard of Oz. That’s because I never read the book!)
3. A Christmas Carol (1938). Tagline: Greater than “David Copperfield” ! Most memorable scene: The skeletal finger of The Ghost of Christmas Past pointing to Scrooge’s tombstone as Scrooge cringes on his knees.
You know, Dickens would have made a great screenwriter. There are myriad versions of this novella — which just begs to be filmed — but this one is my favorite. You can’t beat its evocation of Victorian London. Sure, I would rather have seen Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge (he was originally cast, then I believe broke a foot). But Reginald Own fills the bill nicely. Look for a young June Lockhart among Bob Cratchett’s brood.
4. Persuasion (1995). No tagline. Most memorable scene: The girl falling and clonking her head on the waterfront.
I actually saw the film before I read the novel — which I normally avoid. But, the film did not detract from my discovery of the novel, yet it was also a very credible interpretation. No frills, no mainstream actors. Just a good, sensible, brooding rendering. Sort of like the book in the Austen canon.
5. A Room with a View (1986). No tagline. Most memorable scene: Lucy fainting in George Emerson’s arms.
It’s tough to live up to the book, but this film version does. Helena Bonham Carter perfectly captures Lucy Honeychurch’s blend of snobbish affectedness and rebellious honesty, and Maggie Smith as Charlotte Bartlett is priceless. Daniel Day-Lewis (what the hell ever happened to him?) steals the show as Cecil. And the soundtrack is to die for. One of those movie experiences that leaves me sighing and reaching for a Baedeker.
And, just to jerk your train of thought around like a carnival ride, I like this, from James Hynes. (Weird, ‘cos just yesterday I ordered his book on a whim from Amazon.com.:::Play Twilight Zone theme here.)
I had an epiphany one soporific mid-morning when I stood up in my cubicle to stretch myself awake. Turning slowly in place, I scanned a complete 360 of the cube horizon. The scene was slightly underlit, and while I could hear all sorts of human activity—talking, phones ringing, keyboards clattering—I couldn’t see another living person. I felt as if I was working in a room full of ghosts. The alienation of cube life was suddenly revealed to me as something gothic, a variation on the creeping dread of a Poe character. I could be walled up alive inside my cubicle and no one would even notice—the Cube of Amontillado. Immediately I dropped to my seat and jotted down a paragraph that appears almost without revision in my new book, Kings of Infinite Space.