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As I See It... (24 April, 2006)

Maverick
24 April, 2006

Vladimir Nobokov - LolitaFrom Paper to Celluloid. The Guardian on Tuesday 19 April 2006 published a piece entitled Film of the book: top 50 adaptations revealed by Mark Brown. This is how it began : “As anyone who has seen any version of Anna Karenina knows, a great book does not necessarily make a great film. And while The Godfather was a great movie, was it a great novel? Probably not.” It goes on : “These and other debates went into deciding a longlist of what are deemed the 50 best film adaptations of all time. Organised by The Guardian, a panel of experts has drawn up the list, which will be voted on by the public. The chains Waterstones and Borders are also involved and will promote the books in shops. Although, a reader of The Guardian, I will have no scope to vote, I nevertheless thought I would record my disappointments and protestations, for the record.

Andrew Pulver, The Guardian’s film editor, who was on the panel, said: ‘There was some vigorous debate.’

I was very excited after reading thus far, and thought immediately of all the reels I would feed into the projector in my mind, and the favourite classics I would watch. But this was only partly to happen. The article ended with the longlist of 50 films, which was an aching let down! Mr Mark Brown had used the words “of all time” in his article, but I realised this would not be possible, and thus so many masterpieces have been omitted from his list.

Neither the performance of Greta Garbo, nor that, much later, of Vivien Leigh, as Anna apparently satisfied the Board. Quite truthfully, I am with them on this one! But as I scroll down the longlist to its very end, I began to notice some of the prejudices and omissions.

So far there are two versions I have seen of Nabokov’s Lolita. The earlier one, made by Stanley Kubrick, starring James Mason as the obsessed paedophile, not to mention the hilarious yet serious performance of Peter Sellers! But I have recently seen a version starring Jeremy Irons, trying to be as different from James Mason as possible, and succeeding. I forget who directed it. Kubrick’s other masterpiece was duly listed - A Clockwork Orange adapted from the frightening novel by Anthony Burgess, which I saw the year it was released, 1973, in London. The story describes a diabolically derelict society looming round the corner in a doomed England. In many ways it was a shocking film, more so than 1984, and Kubrick reached deep into his bag of tricks to produce some memorable spectacles, especially as near to showing a woman being raped, as the censors would have allowed. But the year was 1973, and London was swinging! The movie went quickly from the West End into the suburbs.

Pride and Prejudice was listed, but the resent one, directed by Joe Wright, and entered for the 2005 Oscar, which cannot possibly compare with the beautiful breathtaking BBC version of a few years ago. But I went further back - to the 1930s, when MGM presented P and P starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. However hard they tried, the make up wizards, couldn’t succeed in making Miss Garson look any younger than an aunt. But she was a “discovery” of Louis B. Mayer, on a visit to Ireland, and the film was woven round the personality of Elizabeth Bennett as the principal character. The adoption was made by no less a literary giant than Aldous Huxley, who had gone to Hollywood to dazzle the studios as a leading novelist of his generation. He wanted to gather laurels. Instead he lost his reputation.

What about Gone With the Wind, which made screen history, with the long search for the right star to play Scarlet O’Hara, the search ending at the feet of a beautiful young English starlet, Vivien Leigh, who gave the performance of a lifetime! After Clive of India with Ronald Coleman, India Faded into the shadows, for quite a while, until E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, which director David Lean brought magically to the screen, to enthrall audiences with his own adaptation. The Merchant-Ivory productions seem deliberately to be ignored, except for the unforgettable Remains of the Day. Their treatment of Forster’s A Room with a View was such a wild success in America, that audiences demanded a sequel!

What about British films? What about Graham Greene’s The Third Man, or The Fallen Idol? Wuthering Heights, and Lady Hamilton?

And Great Expectations?

It appears as though the longlist confines itself mainly to Hollywood products, some of them pretty low grade!

If I went on like this I may end up with a list of my own. But there are many film buffs like myself who would regret seeing great film off the list, such as Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton.

To complete the picture of cinema as an “art form” it would be unfair to leave out Silent Films (Charlie Chaplin) and the Foreign Films. That is where the treasures lie...

You may enjoy reading Mr Brown’s list, as I did. Reviving old memories, so here it is :

Alice in Wonderland / American Psycho / Breakfast at Tiffany's / Brighton Rock / Catch 22 / Charlie & the Chocolate Factory /A Clockwork Orange / Close Range / The Day of the Triffids / Devil in a Blue Dress / Different Seasons / Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / Doctor Zhivago / Empire of the Sun / The English Patient / Fight Club / The French Lieutenant's Woman / Get Shorty / The Godfather / Goldfinger / Goodfellas / Heart of Darkness / The Hound of the Baskervilles / Jaws / The Jungle Book / A Kestrel for a Knave / LA Confidential / Les Liaisons Dangereuses / Lolita / Lord of the Flies / The Maltese Falcon/ Oliver Twist / One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest / Orlando / The Outsiders / Pride and Prejudice / The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie / The Railway Children / Rebecca / The Remains of the Day / Schindler's Ark / Sin City / The Spy Who Came in From the Cold / The Talented Mr Ripley / Tess of the D'Urbervilles / Through a Glass Darkly / To Kill a Mockingbird.

Enjoy your hours of reverie...






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