May 28th, 2009

Harriet Vane

Typologies: planning what comes where in order to start

"Texts are assumed to be not windows, but paintings that invite readers to look at or into them, not through them" (Leitch, "12 Fallacies of Film Adaptation Theory")

Dear Friends,

I am quiet and my days pass quietly.   I find that I'm not missing teaching and am neither more or less lonely than usual.  A student whom I'm mentoring came to my house yesterday and we had a great couple of hours together. I found another use for my Clarissa paper: I was able to show her how to do a proposal and then a paper out of it by showing her my proposal for that and then my paper.   Beautiful time.

Jim and I have been emptying out this workroom by getting rid of a huge computer and monitor; he picked up all the wires on the floor and rationalized them. I rearranged some of my pictures, put new ones up, like this of Austen gazing out at the landscape by Cassandra, a water color of it.

I put it high up on one wall, to the corner. Overviewing yet looking away.  Perfect. Two new Poussins (meditative landscapes, one I've put just below), two local pictures of Alexandria Old Town (one a street in snow -- one we walk through not infrequently).  I rearranged to be more consistent too:  all the movie pictures on one wall, and a new Gainsborough with the 18th century rococo landscapes in another area.

Travellers Resting in a Landscape

Izzy and I have gone to a couple of superb movies: Is Anyone There? last week (very moving, about dying, and how hard it is to make a living and maintain affection in life -- Michael Caine, very great); and this one Every Little Step, a documentary of the auditioning story across many months for the revival of Chorus Line. The movie became a metamovie about the desperate need for a job and success for each contestant as they were gradually eliminated until the very end.  All three of us have been to the Austrian embassy twice this week. Tonight it was a stunning treat:  Hans Gal, a German Austrian Jewish musician wrote music and a script for a half-mocking set of songs while in a Scottish internment camp and this was recreated at the embassy. A crowd of people were there.  To see the human spirit manage these kinds of ironies with high art; it reminded me of Paradise Road where the women so much worse treated (killed, raped, tortured) nonetheless created and those who survived persevered with making a chorus and singing.

The pussycats continue to develop distinct personalities and we all form a family.

Inwardly I've been bothered by by my not going on to do direct study and write.  The problem is the plan. What to do first and then second and how to go about it.  I again faced how important it is to define what I have in order to tell my story.  So I returned to the vexing problem of categories.  As I used to write on my old blog, in order to do a close reading of a film, as with a book you should first ask what genre it belongs to.  We must understand and can judge a thing only by its own peculiar aims.  I originally came up with a tripartite scheme for film adaptation:

1) the apparently faithful or transposition:  the film-makers have attempted to match the original story, and to reproduce most of the characters and stayed with the central dramatic turning-points of the novel and famous lines, with some allowance for modernizing interpretations and necessary as well as advantageous alterations filmic media provides;

2) the critical or commentary type:  the film-makers intend considerable fidelity, but attempt this through departures from the original which often include altering central pivotal events (an event perceived as crucial) and the way in which the events are presented dramatically, in order to comment on, critique or alter Austen's theme by making emphatic or highlighting specific aspects of her original novel.  Signs of this is the invention of a new character; a major change in the story or character switch or alteration; some technique which does not have an equivalent one in the book (voice-over and journal or letter writing where there is none in the major source text);

The slide between the apparently faithful and commentary: on the other hand, if a commentary, the 07 MP is unusual for its ambivalence and even hostility towards social life; now that is in Austen. Wadey's Fanny and Edmund are escaping after the strains of her birthday picnic (the event is moved to another place in the story and Edmund made more sympathetic to Fanny's desire to retreat).

3) the free adaptation or analogy:   film-maker has abandoned historical costume drama, but reproduces enough recognizable idiosyncratic analogous hinge-points, individual characters, character functions from the source novel, and overt (unsubtle) thematic intersections between the movie and source novel to make the film manifestly intelligible as an adaptation; in addition, the source novel is often explicitly discussed by characters in the film.

The problem for me has become that the type 1 and 2 are not distinct enough. Davies may be said to do Type 1, but he is ever pushing the envelope; his presentation or enunciation sometimes changing the spirit (there's a mystique or undemonstrable characteristic) of the original book in his film.  Clarissa 1991 is a commentary because of the major change of having Belford kill Lovelace, the dropping of Morden, and change in Anna's character: now that last is my subjective judgement, and it may be said that otherwise every effort is made by the film-makers to be faithful and their interpretation of the book is accurate.  And what does one do with a film like Lost in Austen: it does fits both commentary and free adaptation, but then is it not a pastiche, and is that a genre or a type of adaptation?

I  knew of Dudley Andrew's (transforming, borrowing, intersecting -- and these don't work except as techniques within an adaptation) and of course Wagner's (which mine correspond to).  Now this week I came across new articles & books which proposed other schemes.

I was not at all persuaded by Kamilla Elliott's in Rethinking Novel/Film.  They solve the problem of half-accusing the film-makers of disingenuousness by not referring to how much the film has literally taken over. She instead makes the categories correspond to the film-makers' deeper transformative techniques: psychic, ventriloquist, genetic, de(re)composing, incarnational, trumping. The trouble here is she has no literal features by which she can split and lump; it all comes down to her interpreting a film first.

Genette (in a book and quoted by others) calls all films adaptations and divides them all up into 6.   He collapses the faithful with the commentary in his first category: intertextuality (actual presence of one text in another). His second and third seems to me to refer to devices within the films: paratextuality (framing and defining devices), metatextuality (one text refers to another without necessarily citing it).  The last two are different means used by free adaptations:  hypertextuality (any means by which you unite text a to text b), architextuality (generic cues and conventions)  Film adaptations would be hypertexts. His terms are not commensurate.

Troost (in an article for Cartmell's Cambridge Companion) invents again 3 types; Hollywood style (1940s and 96 Miramax Emma); heritage style (1970s BBC); fusion  of Hollywood and heritage (86 NA; 99 MP; 05 P&P); imitation (free adaptations Clueless and I have found it) The way she comes up with putting films into the categories is through broad responses, and she is reductive. Then she backtracks and says  95 P & P&P are both entertainment and heritage.  Trouble with her categories is they depend on her insights and are also based on a kind of caricature impressionistic criticism. Her idea seems to be that fusion combines Hollywood style (free) and heritage (solemn serious accuracies attempted). It's really a condescending essay looking at films as cynical commodities sheerly.

Then there's Leitch (Film Adaptation and Its Discontents) whose types seemed better or more accurate than mine for a time:

1) celebrations:  these subdivide into curatorial (BBC mini-series), replication, homage (one film adaptation recreates previous), heritage (museum aesthetic, Jewel in the Crown and 1998 Elizabeth).  Canonical books found here, pictorial realizations, liberation of material the original had to repress. He proposes the umbrella term literalizations, and says they correspond to Kamilla Elliot's incarnation

2) adjustment: promising text rendered more suitable.  This is also what Elliott means by genetic (getting at deep underlying narrative structure and keeping that so 1940 P&P does that); McFarlane talks of the story and its enunciation (presentation, the discursive level and Davies 08 SS has a different presentation than conventions for Austen's). So we have subtypes of compression, expansion, correction (correcting what are seen to be flaws in original, includes adding happy ending), updating, superimposition (stars imposed, stars themselves insisting on certain things), censoring, unacknowledged coauthors (like Emma Thompson for the 2005 P&P), a company's or group's house style (1940 P&P a MGM film, a Greer Garson film, an Olivier film, Merchant Ivory films; BBC style), antihouse or budgetary constraints, superimposition of generic conventions (film made to conform to popular film genre, for teen audience work repackaged)

3)  de(re)composing: film and book decompose, merge, and form new composition at underground levels of reading. Film a composite of textual and filmic signs merging audience consciousness together with other cultural narratives so we can't tell what is book and what films.  Example:  I have found it.  So this subdivides into neoclassic imitation (West Side Story, Ian McKelln in R3), reverence includes satiric bent so Clueless a neoclassic imitation (this is like Griffith's idea of adaptation as imitation, an aesthetic problem solved & communicated through many artistic choices. He sees these as also incarnations (?).

4) revisions (transforming the text); they seek to rewrite the original, now in imitations the past is the measure of the present; here the reassessment is primary. They seek to alter the spirit as well.  1999 MP, Branagh's Henry V.  Some of these import historical events into novel. 1931, 41 versions of Jekyll and Hyde, explicit critiques of Victorian mores.

5) colonization: corresponds to ventriloquist, empties out novels signs and fills them with new filmic spirits, a composite of film and book. Ruby in Paradise, Lake House.  Vessels to be filled with new meaning, can be ideological critique and go in another direction entirely.  Nair's Vanity Fair, Bride and Prejudice, Kuroawa's Ran

6) (meta)commentary or deconstruction. He puts Jane Austen in Manhattan here. These can fictionalize problem of adaptation and staging, examine problems of arranging pre-existing material

7) Analogue: Bridget Jones's Diary, Metropolitan (criteria is the analogy is discontinuous, and episodic) Unintentional analogues: Tevre's Daughters by Sholem Aleichem

8) Parody and pastiche:  Lost in Austen.  Jameson:  pastiche is imitation of peculiar mask, speech in a dead language, neutral practice of mimicry, no ulterior motive to satirize, devoid of laughter at object or any onveniction alongside abnormal tongue you have chosen a healty linguistic norality exists.  Blank parody.  films have embedied parodies in them, Holmes movies are parodied.

9) secondary, teriary or quaternary imitations: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason which is both a sequel to an adaptation film and an adaptation of a sequel book. Why not allow (as there are such things) where the adaptation focuses on the characters rather than replaying the story line

10) allusion.  What we have is microtexts embedded in the film's larger structure

It would be hard to find a film that did not freely mix different strategies.

So where will this from Clueless go? We have a version of Mr Weston courting Miss Taylor with occupations and personalties changed, and it didn't actually occur before us in Emma.

After puzzling over this for days, I've finally come to the conclusion that like Genette's, Leitch's represent different approaches to film-making rather than sticking to minute parallel criteria.  I can use the three part scheme, saying simply that sometimes a film hovers; I can call Lost in Austen commentary as a type, pastiche as its genre. Like the 1940 P&P is a commentary but its subgenre is screwball comedy.  The 1981 S&S is faithful and it is mostly poigant melodrama in genre.

I did like this from Leitch:  there is far more than one precursor text, and we should pay attention to a film's other precursor texts. Here I come up against the problem that I don't know how to close read two different sets of stories and characters, especially when the teams of people making them are made up of different individuals.  But thinking about this I think I can discern alikeness in David Giles's choices of films and work, Denis Constanduros, Alexander Baron and so on, and what I can discern if more general will have to do.

If I return to my original idea of not organizing my book around Austen's novels (so it would be six chapters for the six books and maybe a 7th for films that don't correspond to a single book), how do I organize it?  A vast chapter on 12 transpositions won't do and it would be boring to go on about the older mini-series; as a group unless I did startlingly good close readings, I'd have nothing new to say, and I know so many readers don't see what the literary-filmic critic sees, so who am I writing to?  What publisher would pay for this?

The opening chapter should outline the movies by types and describe the three types effectively.  Then separate chapters on each set of movies arranged by major source book by Austen.  These chapters could have for lines of argument what distinguishes each subset and what that shows us about Austen both from what's put in and what's left out.  How do I cope with the reality that  the 1971 S&S, 1972 Emma, and 1981 S&S all form a group by virtue of Constanduros's presence in all three.  The criss-crossing and grouping of other films has this problem. The 1940 P&P is a precursor of the 1996 Miramax Emma but also the other screwball comedies in the free adaptations, including (in spirit at least) the 1995 Clueless

I have to make up my mind that I have to lean on a few characteristics in close-reading too: say female narrators and voice-over as special to the Austen films. One real problem is how much space it takes to do close readings of films. There's too much to say.  Mise-en-scene takes up everything from what is in the picture, to the angle, to the light, the music (about which I know so little) to the acting and each shot has this immense amount. So many questions. Is it true that films owe so much to novels or is to to painting they owe (costume drama especially) or drama, the stage -- as the heart of the film is still the close encounter, the scene.

The above picnic in the grass from Kubrick's 1975 Barry Lyndon alludes to George Seurat's La Grande Jatte (see the configuration of the women to the side) as well as a couple of impressionist paintings (the group in the center). The woman's hat is pure Gainsborough studio. I also note that the recent Aristocrats has a still very like this (it's in our archives under "Aristocrats"), not that the director there had BL in mind particularly, but that this sort of thing became part of the grammar of the costume drama. I hope I've helped myself by writing this out tonight.

I have to face that I need to watch more movies during the day to get more evidence.  There is how a particular film has a director, writer, producer and different major actors and so to look at other films by all these people. Luckily I seem to have seen a number by or with each by now:  the BBC and Miramax people and quality film adaptations do repeatedly go for an interlocking group of individuals. I don't mind spending time this way at all. I just loved Stanley Kurbrick's Barry Lyndon which I spent three nights watching this week.

Then there is the problem of distinguishing the Austen movies.  Surely this is the last chapter.  What beyond the books makes them a distinct subtype. One thing is the unusual amount of movies attempting apparent fidelity.  Another may be the cross-borrowing (so in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility Brandon gives Marianne a piano, a completely transformed version of Frank Churchill giving Jane Fairfax a piano in Austen's Emma -- though I noticed this in Raven's Pallisers (he borrows from other novels by Trollope occasionally, as Dolly Longestaffe for example from Trollope's The Way We Live Now throughout the series). is that enough?  No. A certain kind of landscape. A certain kind of dialogue, prevailing mood?  That we go to compare them with the book and in the case of other books people don't usually think of the book and are not aware it's an adaptation.

This is a key still to them all: it recurs with people and without:

95 S&S, Dawn after Marianne's near death

Raining out now. About 1:30 in the morning.  Ian mewing outside my door. I have managed thus far this summer not to put the air-conditioning and rely on my two fans. Nick unwell or not going to post to me (or lists or blog) for weeks and weeks again perhaps.  It frees me up. I wasn't liking David Powell's Man of the People: Charles James Fox, who needs this slick, cagily worldly spirit; there's just not enough about the man's inward life: Powell tries to imitate Strachey without the genius. I've switched back to Nicola Beauman's literary biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor and am trying Joanna Trollope's The Rectors' Wife (about which I shall write on WTTTA or Ellen and Jim have a blog, Two), but I shall miss him, especially as once he was when we originally met, our first bout of togetherness and talking of books here on the Net, and as he occasionally has been again.  Oh yes.

Well tomorrow Jim will show me how to put up a new document onto my website using different software. I'm going to put my filmography of the Austen films on my website. I know there is one on the JASNA page, but that is organized by book. I'll organize mine by my tripartite division and arrange it more concisely.