Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Novel vs The Movie

Ater recently reading Ben-Hur for the ‘Book That Inspired the Oscar Winning Movie” theme for my book club, and finding time to sit down and watch the first half of the ‘oscar winning’ movie, I’m feeling rather annoyed.  Apart from the usual changes in characters, and general mucking around with the storyline and plot, I find it hard to believe that a studio would cast the gorgeous Ben-Hur of the novel with an actor who had a receding hairline and a forced smile.  I know I’m 52 years too late to protest this obvious miscasting but there it is.  Weren’t there any good looking Hollywood actors available in 1959 or maybe Charlton Heston is just not my ‘type’?

So, I’ve been thinking about other movie faux pas when it comes to casting against the novels character type.  Gwyneth Paltrow playing Marge Sherwood in The Talented Mr Ripley is one that springs to mind.  Marge, in the novel by Patricia Highsmith, is a robust girl with a healthy appetite who is not altogether very attractive.  It is for this reason that Tom Ripley dislikes her, she actually disgusts him.  He is repelled by the fact that Dicky is attracted to her.  This is important.  Now, who can be repelled by Gwyneth Paltrow?  I ask you……!

One of the very worst casting faux pas was Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in that truly awful adaptation of Capote’s not (in my opinion) particularly good novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  It must be the most embarrassing movie role to watch and I can’t even comment on it without cringing.

Another blunder movie makers make is cutting out a character altogether.  Who makes this decision?  Have they ever read the book?  East of Eden is a beloved novel of mine, and for me the main character was the Chinese servant Lee.  He was an integral part of the story, but was nowhere to be seen in the movie.  Instead we had to put up with a mediocre screen-play and James Dean hanging off window sills and tree branches.  What the?

And, while we’re at it why mess with the storyline?  If it was such a great novel that it just had to be made into a movie then why change it?  In some cases the novel should stay a novel, no movie required.  Case in point is Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. It did not translate into a movie very well at all.  Where were the images of the beautiful kimono designs that were described so beautifully and lovingly in the novel?  And more to the point why the hell does Nobu have both arms?  He only has one in the novel, and for this reason his back story and looks are important to his character and those who know him. 

But, I have to concede that some movies just can’t go wrong with the novel’s material and, for me these would be To Kill a Mockingbird,  Lord of the Rings (even though characters were cut and blended, and lines meddled with, it is a very exciting adaptation of Frodo’s quest).  Lastly, I can’t go past the Australian mini-series production of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet.  I never would have thought that the ambience and characters of this novel could be captured so perfectly on screen.

I guess, in the end if you really love a novel then avoid the movie as nine times out of ten you will be very disappointed.

Well, that’s my gripe for the day J

Happy reading!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Exuberant Misunderstood Child

Aaahhhh, poor Maggie, what an exuberant misunderstood child.  Cutting your hair off after a teasing is one thing, but forgetting to feed your brother’s rabbits whilst he is away at school is something else.

I’ve only just starting reading The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, but the brother and sister ‘run-ins’ with Maggie and Tom Tulliver have had me laughing and remembering some of the things I used to get up to with my siblings.  Thankfully none of them resulted in the death of a pet, unlike poor Tom’s rabbits.

The worse thing my sister and I did, when we were around 7 and 9 respectively, was plot to kidnap her love interest Peter who lived just down the street.  We decided to write the ransom note and deliver it to his poor unsuspecting mother before the kidnap attempt.  We demanded one pound for his return.  Unfortunately having only scrambled our names at the bottom of the letter it wasn’t long before Peter’s mum had us discovered and after a few words with our mum the kidnap plot was thwarted amongst many tears. 

Getting back to Maggie, she doesn’t mean to behave ill, but she does have a tendency towards dramatics and acts impulsively without thinking; when the deed is done she tortures herself knowing that she can’t take it back and should have behaved differently.  Maggie’s latest escapade involves making her cousin cry to get back at Tom who has been showing the cousin favouritism.  She pushes the child into the mud as they make their way to a pond (which incidentally was out of bounds to the naughty children).  When Maggie realises what she has done, and the possible consequences of her action, she decides that life probably won’t be worth living and it would be better to run away and join the Gypsies!  She does in fact make it as far as the Gypsy tent, feeling very sure she would be welcomed with open arms and made the Gypsy Queen.  After some uncomfortable moments when her pockets are picked and the contents examined, along with the dismal offering of some cold bacon and hard bread for tea, she decides that perhaps Gypsies are thieves and scoundrels as Tom had once told her. Finally Maggie is convinced that they are actually murderers and that she will never see her home again………. this child has the overwrought and vivid imagination that I had as a youngster, and I can totally identify with her!

I'll post more about this novel once I've read some more. So, happy reading all!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Reading Restrospective

Whilst browsing at the library this week I came across a copy of John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids and remembered that I really enjoyed it as a teenager.  Actually, it did have a bit of an effect on me due to its content.  You see, I didn’t (and still don’t) have flat toenails!  Did that make me a mutant in the eyes of the characters in The Chrysalids?  Apparently so, and it certainly made me feel like one for a very long time J  I was young and impressionable, but now I don’t obsess over it so much, plus I keep my toenails nice and short so it’s no longer an issue!  However, picking this novel up to read again got me thinking about what my favourite novels had been as a youngster.

Absolutely top of the list, though it is not a novel, has to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses illustrated by Hilda Boswell.  I adored this book.  The poems could be read over and over, and still I discovered more meaning within them.  My younger self often wondered ‘why did Auntie's skirts rustle so?’ and ‘what was a counterpane?’  I often thought about that boy and his shadow and also the bucket full of stars.  The poem that I loved the most was The Land of Nod, not so much for the poem itself but for the illustrations that somehow thrilled me but frightened me with equal measure.

Second on the list would have to be Five Go to Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton.  I took this book on holiday to Scotland with me and have a distinct memory of sitting on a large rock near a Loch in a pair of shorts and a jumper (I was obviously prepared for all weather events) lost in reading about the Famous Five.  I had a secret crush on Julian and I read this book over and over again during the course of our holiday.

Another novel I borrowed from the library many times was Down Bound Train by Bill Garnet (though now I’m older I think it was more of a novella), and it was probably my first foray into horror, albeit of the ‘pulp’ kind.  I loved how the characters caught this train only to find each one had a nasty secret and at the end of the journey they find their final stop is actually in Hell.  All, that is, except for one innocent passenger who sleeps through the entire journey.  It was real Twilight Zone stuff.  I think I read the 1973 edition, which had a green and black cover from memory.  I haven’t been able to find a copy with this cover but would love to read it again just for fun.

As a youngster I must have read all the Famous Five and Secret Seven novels, I enjoyed Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and even Hitchcock’s The Three Detectives, but the three books above have always remained fondly in my memory and were my absolute favourites.  So, what were yours?  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Story of Biblical Proportions

I've just enjoyed an audio reading of Ben-Hur, it is an epic tale of betrayal and revenge set during the time of the Christ.  Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince who is betrayed by his childhood Roman friend Messala, and sentenced to life as a galley slave - which wouldn't be long, as most galley slaves lived only a few years -  Ben-Hur's mother and sister disappear, and the family property is confiscated.  

Through a series of circumstances, Ben-Hur escapes from the ship he is sentenced to and is adopted by a Roman friend of his late father.  Life could be good, but Ben-Hur is tortured by the incident which changed his life and the cruel betrayal by his friend. Messala really is the pits, as a child he was taken into the family home, yet now he sets out to remove all trace of the Ben-Hur family.  Judah's mother and sister are entombed in a leprosy infected cell for eight years, and upon their release they are stoned and sent outside the town's gates. Their tale is so so sad.
Lew Wallace
Author of Ben-Hur
Ben-Hur is full of ideas of revenge, and the opportunity presents itself in the form of a chariot race.   Actually, I was rather disappointed with the race scene itself, especially after the long description of the stadium.  I think that I would like to see this scene re-written by Matt Reilly.  He could certainly inject some real excitement into it!

The novel itself is over descriptive, but when you consider when it was written, it was really important to set the scene and describe it as fully as possible as most people would not have travelled to, or even seen pictures of, exotic locations or animals.

Ben-Hur's story runs parallel with the rise of the Christ, and whilst this side of the story could have been tedious it wasn't.  I certainly found myself drawn into the buzzing excitement in their search for the Messiah. Some of these old classics can be tough (ie Melmoth The  Wanderer) but mostly they are great reads, and this is one of them. So, this was my read for this month's book club theme "The Book that inspired The Oscar Winning Movie".  I must have seen Ben-Hur years ago but barely remember it, just mainly the chariot race of course, so looking forward to finding three and half hours to sit down and watch it again when I get it out of the library :)

Next months read is a food based novel, so I've started The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola. The first thirty or so pages are a description of the delivery of food to the Halles Markets.  It's wonderfully written, and he layers the description of the food as a palette of oils slowly being applied to a canvas.  Fantastic.  I'm not sure what the actual story will be about but I do like the way he writes.  (I read Therese Racquin last year and thought it very good).  I've a few other novels lined up which I'm excited about, plus I need to do a Russian novel for November - probably a Dostoyevsky as I know him the best.

Happy reading all!