Category Archives: Adaptations

Memories of Empire

Amherst is great. A couple of weeks ago Paul & I saw John Sayles introduce his film Amigo at Amherst Cinema and answer questions after viewing.  It took him a long time to find the funding. He had to focus on a village to encapsulate a very large experience, which he wrote about in a sprawling 900-page novel A Moment in the Sun . He eventually found a portion that told a story he could fit into a space small and intimate enough to make a low budget film.

Here is Sayles on modern parallels with Amigo at Amherst Cinema.

And here is a link to his own blog post on the trip to Amherst.

The World as It Should Be

Tintin at Sea

Over the holiday, I saw three movies that I really liked. Tintin, Hugo, and The Descendants. Of the three, I found Tintin to be the most unusual. This New York Times review by Charles McGrath pinpoints some of the reasons why. And this New Yorker review by “Front Row” blogger Richard Brody teases out a few more reasons why.

McGrath points out that Tintin is an unusual adventure hero, having no extraordinary powers. Brodie underlines the lack of violence and murder despite the tremendously fast pace of the film.

These two reasons are probably why I enjoyed the film so much. It was tremendously charming and fast moving, without ever creating the anxiety that adventure films usually do, even though there was plenty of fighting and numerous explosions. Part of this was the result of the visual beauty of the film.

It’s always nice to see someone win superhuman struggles without having access to superhero strengths. It appeals to my sense of justice in an unjust time — the world as it should be, not as it is.

Holidays

Ah…The holidays! Thanksgiving was wonderful, with a special visit from my brother and nephew, but it put a dent in my blogging momentum. Soon to come — our verdict on The Ambassadors, a discussion on arranged marriages inspired by our film viewing of The Namesake, and the difficulties of choosing books.

Thanksgiving feast

The Human Stain

Last night I finally saw The Human Stain, adapted from Philip Roth’s novel. The film was moving and true to the book, but what was left out interested me.

It’s about a Coleman Silk, a New England college professor who loses his job over an unintentional racial slur against a black student who files a complaint. The twist is that the professor himself is African American, but has slipped across the racial divide and has passed as white and Jewish for his entire career.

In the novel Roth moves the narrative back and forth through time with tremendous ease. The film reflects this style. Seamlessly interwoven are moments in the Silk’s life–his first love, his first realization that he can pass for white, his estrangement from his siblings and mother. The main plot traces his love affair with a much younger woman who is being stalked by her ex-husband.

The tragic elements of the tale were beautifully portrayed in the film. There were stunning performances by Anthony Hopkins, who plays the Dean, Nicole Kidman, his young lover, and Ed Harris as her crazy ex-husband suffering PTSD from Vietnam.

In adaptations a lot of material has to be cut. Novels are complex, often sprawling, and films need to have clear, efficient plot development and risk losing an audience if they are much longer than an hour and a half to two hours.

This film, at about 100 minutes, leaves out a great deal. So it’s worth reading the book, especially for Roth’s humor. He’s at his virtuoso best in a scene, nearly over-the-top, where the manic Vietnam vet is attempting to overcome his post-traumatic stress by having dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It’s simultaneously hilarious, shocking, and tragic.

By all means, see the movie. Then go home and read the book.