A Question of Adaptation

Francisco_de_Goya,_Saturno_devorando_a_su_hijo_(1819-1823) Lachlan Robertson muses about the difficulties of adapting one form of narrative medium into another and postulates about a way to truly breathe new life into preexisting inspiration without falling short of preconceived audience expectations.  A verbalized idea often bandied about after a book meets success on the open markets is this: ‘Will it be made into a film?’ It is a conversation inevitably passed around in the wake of any fruitful novel’s initial run. Similarly so, many a favorite novel is brought to the stage. I understand the urge felt by directors and producers, wanting to bring a beloved story to the flesh, but I believe, at times, this desire is misguided. After a novel to play or novel to film adaptation, we often hear another statement: ‘I really do think the book was better.’Whilst many readers anticipate the coming of a screen of stage adaptation of their favorite novel with optimism, it is extremely rare to leave a show satisfied. I find it incredibly hard to be convinced by the realisation of a novel or story to the stage or screen. It may be the actors. It may be the set design. Or the costume. Or even the lighting. Despite a director’s best efforts, I am usually left disappointed.I feel that this boils down to a matter of the proximity between novels and short stories, plays and film. It puts me in mind of the notion of the ‘Uncanny Valley.’ In computer generated animation, the Uncanny Valley is the discomforting zone where an animated character blurs between being clearly stylistic and naturalistic. If the animation falls in this zone, it may seem jarring, unnatural, and even disturbing to the viewer. The adaptation of a novel or short story faces a similar conundrum. I feel that, as plays, novels, and short stories generally share a similar narrative structure, adaptations between the mediums can become problematic. Whilst a play adaptation of The Great Gatsby might share the same story and dialogue as the novel, capturing the mood of the work is a careful balancing act. It is easy for an audience to be disappointed. What I wonder is this: why not adapt works that do not readily conform to a narrative structure? Why not, say, create a play based around the music of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Why not write a script based on the famous Black Paintings by Francisco Goya? The playwright works from a much loved body of material, something that an audience may well be familiar with, but he or she is not faced by the problem of shifting an pre-formed story from one medium to another. Not only does this free the audience from expectations of having their own understanding of a novel or story realized, removing unrealistic expectations, but the playwright also gains a greater sense of freedom in their work. Widening the gulf between art-forms would show an adapter’s confidence with their medium. Narrative is a crutch for writers and audiences alike. Bringing a novel or story to the stage, to me, can be as much a sign of the playwright’s laziness as much as their love of their inspiration.  Lachlan Robertson Photo Credits: Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring his Son

'Austenland': A Fantasy

TribeIdent2 Isabelle Bousquette reviews Jerusha Hess' newest film, Austenland. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of Pride and Prejudice must be a little bit in love with Mr. Darcy. Or at least, this is the stance taken by director Jerusha Hess’ new film, Austenland. The story centers around one woman’s consuming love for all things Jane Austen. Jane Hayes, played by actress Keri Russell, has built herself a world of nineteenth century trinkets and Mr. Darcy merchandise. Yet, nothing feeds her obsession substantially enough until she discovers Austenland, the ultimate Jane Austen experience. Guests here live on an old English estate and spend their days with card games and embroidery. And, most importantly, each guest enjoys a “rewarding romance” with one of the estate’s actors, culminating in a faux engagement at the final evening’s ball. Austenland roughly follows the same plot as Pride and Prejudice itself. Jane, our heroine, is thrust into a situation with several social superiors; she has purchased a package at Austenland far below the social level of her fellow visitors and she is proclaimed “an orphan of no fortune.” Still, Jane engages in some skirmishes of wit with her Mr. Darcy aka Mr. Nobely (JJ Field). However, she’s entranced by the passionate, if slightly disrespectful, Wickham equivalent, Martin ('Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie). Martin’s status as Austenland’s handyman gives Jane a heightened sense of self worth for pursuing him. She spends most of her time with Martin until she discovers that he is perhaps dishonorable. Meanwhile, romance blooms with Mr. Nobely. However, there is one fatal flaw to Jane and Nobely’s happy ending: it’s set in a world where everything, namely romance, is a customer transaction. It’s unclear to them, as well as the audience, whether or not they possess genuine emotion beyond the façade of this romance. This lack of honesty among the protagonists accentuates the film's antagonist. Martin’s derogatory and brutally truthful comments about Austenland are part of what make him so likable, at least for most of the film. McKenzie’s undeniable comedic talents are prevalent and outshine JJ Field’s bland performance. Martin and Jane’s spontaneous, impassioned, and slightly inappropriate romance is the kind of 'Romeo & Juliet' story modern audiences are used to, but we’re inside Austen’s rare literary breed of the happy and socially appropriate ending. The film’s seemingly too perfect conclusion is acceptable when we accept a sort of “Austenland” ourselves. This is hardly the most romantic of modern Jane Austen adaptations, in part because of the stiff competition. The last couple of decades have seen a recurring fascination with recreating classic stories in modern contexts. For example, Clueless (1995) was a fresh take on Emma. Beyond its undeniable appeal to teenagers, the film had several interesting ideas about Austen’s literature. Fitting Emma’s plot line so seamlessly into 1990s Los Angeles culture makes the viewer contemplate how little we've changed since the Regency Era. At least to Clueless’ heroine, Cher, the world still seems to revolve around social acceptance and finding love. Yet, Austenland’s approach to the modern retelling is profoundly different than Clueless. Clueless hints at society’s regressive nature, while Austenland attempts to explain it. Austenland explicitly delves into the Regency Era beyond the obvious social inequalities in a way that previous films haven’t risked attempting. Women wore fancy dresses and rode on horseback through the English countryside. Their lives were all but consumed in leisure. Even on a deeper level, love itself was far less complicated. If Clueless whispers that our society is slightly backward, then Austenland responds screaming: 'of course it is. Look how we idealize and romanticize this profoundly socially crippling time period.' The film spells out just how absurd the Regency Era was. The impracticality of clothing, oddity of food, and pure boredom faced by ladies are interesting commentaries on the time and also give way to legitimately funny one-liners. The movie thrives by displaying this absurdity, juxtaposing modern social norms within the context of Austenland. For example, George East (Ricky White), one of the actor-suitors, is a black man. East plays a naval captain who boasts of his West Indies conquests, creating a clear distinction between himself and the other gentlemen. This displays the oddity of a culture where interracial mingling requires a rare and delicate sub-context. Racial equality is so expected nowadays that its absence beforehand is still slightly shocking. The Regency Era is portrayed in such a ridiculous light that we start finding it difficult to believe people really lived that way. It essentially becomes a fantasy. And because we have so inextricably connected Austen’s plot lines to her era, the concept of truly finding love becomes fantastical, too.  “All the good men are fictional,” remarks a now cynical Jane. And we believe her. However, it’s fitting that Austenland offers us the same happy ending that Austen does. Our resolution is the idea that real love, despite its imperfections, is still better than the fantasy. A real gentleman is better than an airbrushed well-dressed Mr. Darcy cardboard cutout. Reality is better than living within the perfected and predictable, albeit beautiful pages of Austen’s literature. Austenland ‘s message elevates it above the empty and trite rom-coms of today, but it doesn't necessarily give Austen herself the credit she deserves. Austen was a quiet revolutionary of social liberation. Her novels, so unique, are filled with lasting messages about society and humanity. Indeed, they are so much more than just novels. This film, despite the strides it makes ahead of the traditional Austen adaptations, is nothing more than a film. Isabelle Bousquette 

EIFF: Frances Ha

Frances Ha photo 2Frances Ha is another look at what it means to be young in this day and age. To be young is beautiful, but comes with its fair share of disillusionment. Are we a second lost generation?Featured in the ‘American Dreams’ section of the 66th annual Edinburgh Film Festival, Frances Ha is a story of the 'in between'- that oh so commonly explored grey area between student life and adulthood.The quarter-life crisis of the mid-twenties appears to be a theme commonly explored in 2013 with the recent success of the likes of HBO’s Girls.  However, it is belittling to define this film simply as a generational portraiture. It is moreso about the individual experience of its heroine, Frances, a 27 year old dancer suffering from a late twenties crisis, and the nature of youth.Actually, you could describe this film as a more charming and less grungy film version of Girls.  The film even stars Adam Driver from the Girls cast.  It is the exploration of a reality that is familiar for graduates, especially those who majored in the humanities or went to small liberal arts colleges.  These post-collegiate New Yorkers of the film are vaguely artistic, clever, but are also drifters through internships and relationships.Filmed in black and white, Frances Ha evokes the style of Truffaut and the great auteurs of the French New Wave along with a Woody Allenesque love of New York City.  It is a generation-specific film with a beautiful New Wave edge provided by Sam Levy’s monochrome cinematography and a soundtrack borrowed from French film composer Georges Delerue.  Homages to modern French classics and musical cues from Trauffaut interlink New York independent filmmaking with moods of the New Wave.  Perhaps this film suggests we are another lost youth, like the generation depicted in the synonymously fast paced films of post-WWII and the French New Wave.  With no real revolutions to fight we seem to have encountered yet another era in which its youth live in unending disillusionment and confusion.  Yet the famous bedroom scene of endless confusion and words leading to nowhere in Godard’s Á Bout de Souffle made this crisis more fulfilling, beautiful, and about exploration, whereas Frances Ha feels a bit anxious at moments and more so about the desperation to find oneself and the anxiety we have about the future.  Frances Ha conversely gives audiences an anxious view on post-collegiate life that resonates all too familiarly with our generation.  The cinematography and soundtrack attempt to make youth appear beautiful once again, but the dialogue and plot suggest otherwise.The most charming part of the film is the fact that Frances likes to imagine a lifelong love story with her best friend Sophie.  It is technically chaste but always passionate.  There is none of the romantic neediness that Girls consistently delves into. There is the mention of an insignificant breakup at the start of the film but Frances truly becomes heartbroken by her female best friend choosing a man and a more expensive Tribeca apartment over her.  This plot addition gives a unique look at the depiction of our lost generation.In the film a character states that twenty- seven is in fact old; but is twenty-seven actually that old? In generations past, at twenty-seven one would be expected to have a career, a spouse, at least one child unless they were rockstars -in which case they might be dead already.  However, twenty-seven is young and Frances will have the last laugh as is suggested by the title of the film; only fully understood with the final shot.  As the French New Wave suggests, la portrait de la jeunesse is beautiful.  Natalie Ulman Image Credit: Edinburgh International Film Festival, All Rights Reserved

EIFF: The Bling Ring

 The Bling RingThe Bling Ring, a film portraying this generation's obsession with all things social and material,  is featured in the American Dreams section of the 66th annual Edinburgh International Film FestivalDirected by Sofia Coppolla, which is comparable to being directed by Steven Spielberg at a cinephile film festival, this film out of the hundreds of films premiering at the Edinburgh Film Festival will almost certainly have the most commercial success.  Even at the official press screening at EIFF there was a massive queue outside the cinema.  In fact, in comparison to Sofia Copolla’s filmography this one will definitely appeal to the masses most readily.  And why? There is an entertaining excess of pop music, pop culture, and fashion to lust for.  There is fashion to be admired and lives to be desired.Premiering at Cannes this year, the Bling Ring explores the social media addicted generation’s obsession with celebrity culture and the gap which is created that can only be filled with stuff.  It is a true story that confirms the American fascination with a Bonnie and Clyde type of fantasy.  A real life group of affluent teenagers’ apparent need for designer goods quickly turns into a fetish-induced pillage of the LA mansions of A-list celebrities.  The group of high schoolers, which includes actress Emma Watson, stalk the movements of these various celebrities via the internet and then loot their residences when they are out of town typically making socialite appearances.What is so captivating about this film is how perfectly that gap that Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram create between our generation and the celebrity is explored and the extremes which are taken in order to achieve even a piece of the celebrity lifestyle.  These teenagers are on the periphery of having all that constitutes the celebrity life.  They live in L.A., are pursuing modeling or acting, own designer clothes, want to go to the fashion school that the girls on MTV’s the Hills went to and live in beautiful homes.  Kirsten Dunst walks past them nonchalantly at a hip LA club.  And Paris Hilton frequents the club they have connections in.  However, their want for things goes too far when they end up breaking and entering into the houses of the likes of Orlando Bloom and Rachel Bilson.  Their motivation is not necessarily monetary greed but a fascination for the rich and famous and the designer brands they have. The Bling Ring also gives a glimpse into the life of celebrity.  We are taken into the intimate lives of Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and Megan Fox through these break ins.  We get a vivid look at their lingerie, booze, pills, and purses.  We even get an intimate tour of Paris’ infamous nightclub room garnished with stripper poles and nude photos of herself.  And what is so intoxicating in the films of Sofia Copolla is the attention to aesthetic.  What entrances so much in her film of very little dialogue, Marie Antionette, is what also fascinates in the Bling Ring: beautiful things.  Scenes of Paris Hilton’s closet or the opening shot of Louboutins, diamonds, and Balenciaga bags are some of the most visually pleasing and captivating.  The aesthetic is utterly materialistic and superficial but also frivolous and very fun.The Bling Ring is comparable to the recent films like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.  These two films could be a double pill and draw on many of the same obsessions with material and the idol that is the celebrity.  Oddly enough these films don’t contain a lot of actual sex- the physical act of sex.  There is a lot of sexuality in Spring Breakers but it is almost nonexistent in The Bling Ring. The decadence of excess is vibrant within the film but there is also poignant American prudishness.  The group of thieves do coke and attend the hottest nightclubs but sex is not apparent in their hedonistic pursuits.  Maybe it is because there is a focus on materialism and wealth, which our generation cannot obtain, whereas sex is liberal to all. Natalie UlmanImage Credits: Edinburgh International Film Festival, All Rights Reserved

EIFF: Breathe In

 Breathe In is a beautifully flawed introduction to the 66th annual Edinburgh International Film Festival serving as its opening gala film and the European premiere of this film.Breathe In is a tale of a middle-aged cellist and family patriarch played by Guy Pearce and the development of his affair with a high school exchange student, portrayed by an alluring Felicity Jones. Pearce, full of bohemian ideals, becomes increasingly frustrated with his current, bourgeois, American suburban existence.  His frustration is only magnified by his desire to return to America’s bohemian and creative center, New York City, from which he resides ninety minutes upstate.  These ideals become progressively more significant upon the arrival of a talented concert pianist and exchange student from the UK: Felicity Jones.  Jones awakens deep feelings of idealism within Pearce of a life he desires to lead but which was altered by the preemptive birth of his daughter, and thus her presence challenges family dynamics. Using this the film attempts to ask: ‘what is freedom?’, and tries to uncover the effect of boundaries, handsomely demonstrated first by the film’s opening scene in which his family poses for an annual portrait with cinematography hued in cool blues and beige.  Pearce is framed within a seemingly perfect family unit and desires to be a part of anything but.  Ultimately, the film examines the breaking point of the family unit and the disintegration of a superficially ideal home, which includes Pearce’s vulnerable wife and daughter played by Mackenzie Davis and Amy Ryan.Film festival director Chris Fujiwara of EIFF has an aim to bring indie global and cinephile cinema to audiences in Scotland in its cultural hub, Edinburgh.   Breathe In played at the highly regarded Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah earlier this year in which another film from director Drake Doremus, Like Crazy, also starring Felicity Jones won the festival’s dramatic grand jury prize in 2011.Doremus is an up and coming auteur exploring recurring themes like the strains of fidelity with a knack at pinpointing subtle emotional tremors on delicate personal landscapes.  And in similar fashion to Like Crazy much of what works in this film is dependent on the actors and their improvisation skills. Doremus and co-screenwriter Ben York Jones wrote a detailed outline for each scene without dialogue and rehearsed with the cast for weeks whilst they improvised verse.  However, intimate moments from typically hand-held camera work are lost as Doremus chooses a steadier, cleaner style for Breathe In.Although the film is centered on the act of adultery that Doremus so aptly explores, the expected eroticism is surprisingly underplayed by Jones and Pearce.  Their flirtations never reach fruition and although there is palpable sexual tension between the leads it is hardly the overt sexuality expected from a film dissecting the subject of infidelity.  Music instead replaces sex and the touching of hands on the piano or a glance across the dinner table becomes more telling than any bedroom scene would be.Although not a film solely about music, music is most definitely in the background of Breathe In.  Some of the best scenes within the film are ones in which music is heavily involved.  One of the film’s most poignant scenes is one in which Pearce plays a heavily dramatic cello piece on stage at the climax of the film, and a shared moment at the piano between Pearce and Jones that instigates the affair.In comparison to the closing gala film, Not Another Happy Ending, loud and full of proud Scottish nationalism, this film was understated, beautifully subtle, and elegant.  It is also a film more to true to the vision of the Edinburgh Film Festival and its devotion to artistically poignant international cinema. Breathe in photo Natalie UlmanImage Credits: Edinburgh International Film Festival, All Rights Reserved

Disney Girls Gone Wild

SpringBreakersIs Spring Breakers just trying to shock, or is there a deeper message somewhere within the colour and sound?Spring Breakers: Described by critics as Scarface meets Britney Spears.  Also labeled as trashy MTV reality show turned art cinema. Intrigued? And if you’re not, well, then the overtly sexual and commercially viable female quartet including Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez and preteen celebrity of Pretty Little Liars, Ashley Benso, bearing all, must.The movie seems to have titillated the general public. For technically an art cinema film by a less than conventional director, Harmony Korine, who wrote the screenplay for the cult classic, Kids, it has had considerable box office success in America, the UK, and throughout the world. Its major appeal, however, truly seems to stem from a fascination with Disney girls gone wild and their commentary on a debauched American dream, excess, and celebrity.These girls are exotic for most part, yet the epitomes of an essentially American phenomenon: tanned, groomed embodiments of American youth.  They dance, drink, snort, and are paradoxically beautiful and monstrous, entrancing and repellent, enthralling and frightening.  Some might interpret the girls to be the representatives of the decline of the West clad in neon bikinis, especially in a film that deals with ‘spring break’, a custom so deeply seated as part of the American experience.However, the film may be no more than entrancingly aesthetic.  The world of Spring Breakers is a candy-colored apocalypse backed by a soundtrack from dubstep favorite Skrillex. Gaudy color and flash-forwards, flashbacks, and repeated scenes and dialogue make it like a marijuana-induced dream—a fantasy of blood, sex and violence.  It is a fantasy that becomes evident in Act Two, beginning with the introduction of James Franco’s character ‘Alien’, adorned with grillz and cornrows.  He is a self-proclaimed gangsta and a white caricature of black masculinity. He is a character intensified by the fact that James Franco spent months living and mingling with ghetto Florida society in the nature of method acting.  In Act Two, Alien becomes a perversion of a savior for the girls.  He saves them from coke-induced jail time, and the story transforms into a freakish fairy tale resulting in a sexual and violent ménage between the distorted prince charming and the Disney girls. He allows the girls to role-play thugs without the consequences, and to play house with a drug dealer without true burden.  The fantasy of blood and sex continues.In the film there is a sadistic fascination with sex and blood in the very Shakespearean tradition à la Macbeth. The girls and the drug dealers get sexual pleasure from violence.  In one scene Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson force James Franco to give oral sex to a loaded gun whilst repeatedly screaming ‘I’m gonna f**kin’ kill you' and ‘get on your knees’. Blood and sex seem to be synonymous in the film most violently exemplified by the girls' committing murder in hot pink bikinis.  The director plays with his Disney stars and they seem more than happy to comply with the director’s sexual demands.So is this film a social commentary on a violent and sexual excess of the American Dream, or just another romp of hedonism in the nature of a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ video?  Either way, at times, director Harmony Korine aims to make you feel like you are in the middle of a grotesque horror film. When I first saw the film in the cinema in Atlanta, Georgia, three teenage boys walked out with thirty minutes to spare. Even excess Disney star nudity could not entice the boys to stay.But maybe what Harmony Korine is trying to say is exemplified in his allusion to Fitzgerald’s novel on the American Dream, The Great Gatsby. Both Gatsby and Alien state ‘look at all my stuff!’  However, instead of throwing shirts in the air, Franco has machine guns, cash, dope, and animal print accessories.  It’s the American Dream taken to a hedonistic extreme—the pursuit of happiness gone wild.  Natalie Ulman Image Credit: Lucie Nová?ková, lucie@blueskyfilm.cz

SHORT AND SWEET – Roddham’s ‘Coward’ is a WW1 triumph.

Looking for some speedy procrastination? Look no further.We’ve all seen them. Just utter the word ‘short’, and imagine them – the abstract, indie, self-indulgent experiments, all too eager to assure us of their cleverness by being in a foreign language. They leave us cold and give shorts a bad name.Shorts can actually be brilliant. Just try David Roddham’s ‘Coward’ – it’ll rock you to the core. The film depicts the plight of two Irish cousins who sign up for battle during WW1. Things open to a deceptively lush pastoral environment, but this is all part of Roddham’s plan. As the action moves to Ypres we see WW1 at its most ruthless and shocking. This is not cinema for cowards. It's moving, violent and raw.Though ‘Coward’ is streets away from easy viewing, the cinematography, plot and acting make for an extremely rewarding experience. Be brave - you won’t want to miss out. See it here athttp://vimeo.com/52220211Written and Directed by David Roddham (2013)Ypres: where 'Coward' is set. Callum Haire Image by Sherlock 77

SHORT AND SWEET – ‘Catnip: Egress to Oblivion’.

Catnip is the number one fix for the trendy feline – but at what cost?catnipThe Sundance awards for 2013 were announced last week. Jason Willis’ hilarious ‘Catnip: Egress to Oblivion’ was nominated for Documentary Short Film, but sadly didn’t win. I was rooting for it too.The documentary parodies narcotics broadcasts of the mid-twentieth century by making one decrying catnip. This should have been made years ago - everyone knows catnip is a dangerous, addictive and seedy hallucinogen which should not be taken lightly.All jokes aside, Willis’ film is funny and creative. He fabricates an entire drug literature based around the moggy maryjane. In trippy technicolour he distorts images of cats prowling across the screen. There’s even a ‘catnip’ song, featuring a sitar and reverbing vocals.  But best of all, Willis manages to do all of this whilst staying topical. As Colorado and other U.S states move towards legalising marijuana, the world has been given pause to think over what course should be taken in the ‘war on drugs’. This film asks us – how should we respond? What are our attitudes to drugs and drug users? Will drug use be something to laugh about in future?‘Catnip: Egress to Oblivion’ had me crying with laughter and I highly recommend it. You can watch it on the youtube link below. It only lasts 7 minutes, so it won’t cut too big a chunk out of your day.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3scQ0wq5zLEWatch more short films curated by Sundance Institute: youtube.com/screeningroomWritten and Directed by Jason Willis. Starring Giovanni Dominice, Neil Kight and Terry Easley.Nathan Leonard Image by ecatoncheires