Wednesday, December 23, 2009


So, hey, I just went to London not so long ago. Like most Bostonians I suspect, I’m a bit of an anglophile, therefore a return to the spiritual homeland is refreshing and inspiring on many counts. While there, I saw very much theatre (shocking, I know), two of which were adaptations of two different classic novels.

A was performed at a small, out of the way theatre with an ensemble cast of about 8. B was at a large West-End house with a star and an ensemble cast of about 8 as well. A was brilliant, B was…not. However, instead of discussing the particular merits or lack-thereof of productions most of you won’t get a chance to see, I thought I’d speak a little broadly about adaptations.

Movies adapt books all the time, and Broadway is now adapting popular film for the stage. We are all looking for good stories, right? And if they’ve already proved themselves successful in one medium, surely they can try a few others? In my humble opinion, some stories lend themselves better to some media then others. I mean, the best way JK Rowling knew how to tell Harry Potter was in several books, Picasso could best express Guernica on canvas, and Shakespeare found his voice on stage. I don’t think this makes adaptation impossible, or a violation of the original intent, but I do think you have to have a means, or an idea, or a reason to move a story to a different medium. There are certain unique-ish characteristics of each mode of expression that have to be confronted in a translation between forms.

Narrative, for example, is the primary means of gaining information in a novel, and often in stage or screen adaptations, we get a Narrator or voice-over to fill the gap. The thing is, a narrator isn’t very “theatrical” because in film and theatre we get information through action – we see stuff happen. Part of why books like Harry Potter and Twilight are so successful in film, is the books are heavy on action, and light on existential reflection.

Now before you start getting upset, I’m not suggesting we abandon think-y books in favor of action ones. However, you have to think about how you are going to make the leap. B didn’t do that – in fact, B did very little thinking, as reinforced by the actors all struggling in their own individual plays, completely separate from one another. Dear lord, there is nothing worse in the theatre- well, few things worse, I suppose.

A, however, fit the narrative of the theatrical world into the framework of the novel. We were in the world of the novel, and were watching a reenactment as cautionary tale about the novel’s hero. By throwing in several Brechtian elements, puppetry and some hilarious pictograms, they made strategic use of the narration all while focusing on the action of the story.

So, the moral of the story is think good and hard, and your audience will be rewarded. Or at least, I will.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On French Braids and Truth or Dare

I saw the new Twilight Movie last night (I know, I know). Basically, in my defense, it’s a cultural phenomenon which, for better or worse, will influence many media for some time to come. I also saw the first one (commence judgment), and haven’t seen a movie in a while.

I’ll say before I begin, I haven’t read the books, nor do I have any plans to (I still haven’t finished Harry Potter, let alone the shelves of “serious” books at home). But I’m interested in the values of these films (and, I’ll assume of the books), how they build on vampire lore and what they say about us today. If you are a loyal adherent to the saga, you probably won’t enjoy this, and if you want the movies or the books to be a surprise, then don’t read any further.

The Heroine
While I appreciate that the character of Bella is an awkward, clumsy, blushy, angsty teen (as I was) I find her lack of agency disappointing. In a post-Buffy universe, I didn’t realize the damsel-in-distress routine was still copasetic. But she’s only human, and in a world of shape-shifters and vampires it’s tough for a girl to compete. However, her only substance seems to be from her all-consuming love for her vampy-beau. The Romantic-era the author apparently takes some of her inspiration certainly permitted less dynamic or engaging ladies, but we’ve come a long way since then, no? Also, two words for you: Jane Austen. Even her more lackluster heroines had depth, dimension and diverse interests. I don’t really get that here (maybe that has something to do with the actor, book-followers?). So, while, yes, I like my ass-kicking ladies, I’d take artistic or bookish or funny or athletic or something.

The Vampires
Each Vampire story I know builds on some of the same principals. Vampires are eternally young and usually beautiful (the appeal), often evil, dangerous and sexy. The sexual metaphor is more overt for some than others. So, while Nosferatu wasn’t as nice to look at as your more contemporary heartthrobs, the sneaking into ladies’ bedrooms at night while they slept to “have your way” with them conveys a similar idea. What’s interesting about Twilight’s vision, is the vampires have no “ugly face” literally and metaphorically. They are always very pretty, and seem to be able to choose if they will be good or evil. Really, being a vampire seems mostly pretty awesome – as opposed to other stories that really play up “the catch” (you have an insatiable urge to kill people, you are a monster, you are damned, you can’t go out in the sun without bursting into flames, no more Italian food, etc).

The Sex
My understanding is that these books (and therefore films) are supposed to, to some extent, extol the virtues of abstinence pre-marriage. So, while the movies portray gleaming, writhing, beautiful youthful bodies, the romance and the appeal is in the longing, not the fulfillment of desire. Sure, anticipation is fun, but do we really need to continue to stigmatism women’s desire for sexual fulfillment? Really? Also, Bella is torn between two men who might eat her, one of which she wants to die for. Because danger is hot, and a true woman can reform a man through her love? Thanks, Victorian era. Seriously, though, I don’t want to sound all, well, mom-ish or puritanical, but isn’t this a bit of a dangerous example to be setting for young girls? I mean, a VERY reductive version of the story could be he hurts her, but he also loves her, and because she really loves him, she’ll stick it out till he kills her. Um, gross. Not to mention 18 seems a tad young to get married, to me, but she literally doesn’t seem to have anything else to do, so why not?

To answer your question preemptively, yes, I probably will see the next two movies, further contributing to the franchise, because I am, in part, an angsty-pre-teen trapped in an adult body. And now that you know all of my secrets, I will go eat some cake.