We need to talk about Adaptations

I am sure I am not alone in finding adaptations problematic. As an avid film fan but also a veracious reader I have all too often found myself  underwhelmed and in many cases disappointed when a story is transplanted from page to screen.  Obviously for countless reasons it is both impractical and undesirable to faithfully depict the unabridged narrative on the cinema screen; it is doubtful that even the most committed movie goer would be able to sit through 10 plus hours of footage.  In generalised terms books are more internal, they hold greater detail and are far more complicated than their cinematic counterparts which are required to be more kinetic.  In addition to this, reading affords the opportunity to create a visual narrative in your minds eye not offered, and instead rendered for you, on the cinema screen.  Is that to say that I don’t believe adaptations can be good?  Not at all, in fact a number of my favourite films are adaptations of books I had pre-read and loved, Girl, Interrupted and American Psycho for example.  For me a successful adaptation is less about a faithful retelling of events than capturing the essence of what made the  book great. Blade Runner differs significantly from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but captures the themes of the book perfectly and whilst doing so plays to the strengths of the cinematic form.

Over the past weekend I watched two adaptations for the first time Prozac Nation based on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir and We Need To Talk About Kevin based on Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name.  Whilst the omissions from each adaptation are glaring for me We Need To Talk about Kevin, worked in a way Prozac Nation did not.

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In many ways Prozac Nation is not a bad film, the performances from Christina Ricci, Michelle Williams and strangely Jason Biggs (who I had personally written off as a fornicator of pies) are strong, and it avoids the threat of over-sentimentality ever present in films about illness.  As I said before I understand it is next to impossible to adapt a book without making cuts to its content and also that this does not need to be a bad thing, but with Prozac Nation the cuts they made to Wurtzel’s original for me robbed the story of any depth.  Choosing to only portray Wurtzel’s collegiate years resulted in a thin and trivialised version of events.  The intelligence of Wurtzel’s writing is lost in translation and instead of showing a young woman terrified of abandonment, using sex and anger as defence mechanisms, aware she is doing so but unable to stop, you are left with a bitchy, slutty, college kid.  This is really a story which needs to be told from beginning to end and with the exception of a couple of all too brief flashbacks Wurtzel’s formative years, crucial to an understanding of her character, are totally neglected.  If you do not have an understanding of depression before watching this film you it is unlikely you will gain any of the insight to be found in the book.

We Need To Talk About Kevin suceeds were Prozac Nation failed, of course cuts were made but the essence of the story remained in tact and the film is just as chillingly haunting as the book.  The book, written in the form of letters to Eva’s absent husband could have lent itself to a voice over however the opposite approach was taken; dialogue and words in general are kept to a minimum.  The tone of the book is depicted perfectly, Eva both seems to be central to the action and marginalised, she is both haunted by her past and haunting it.  As in the book we already know the ending and the body of the film is careful weaving of narrative, revealing a little at a time.  Holding its ground against cinematic convention Kevin does not try to sanitise events, it does not try to make Eva likeable, and it does not try to answer the questions also left open in the novel as to why Kevin did what he did. Was it nature or nurture? And as both arguably come from a mother does it matter?

The Film Quest

JM and I are on a mission. It started almost by accident, we were discussing films and despite at the time having not seen it myself I recommended A Serbian Film to him as a film meant to be new and shocking. To be fair when we first watched it we were a bit shocked. JM had to turn it off briefly after the New Born Porn scene and I certainly felt less than comfortable at several points throughout the film, however, we got through it and we were left with a question… Is this the height of cinematic depravity or is there more?  And so it began, a test of  personal endurance, boundaries, constitution, a quest to watch the so called 25 Most Disturbing Horror Movies Ever.  The base list is one I found on the Total Film website but as we have become more involved in the project others have been added in along the way.  The following is our starter list.

When this list has been completed JM and I shall collaborate on what I shall call “JM and Holly Day’s Definitive 25”, the films we deem to be most disturbing, taken from both this list and the others we have watched along the way. I shall also try to blog about the movies after I have watched them.

25. Antichrist
24. Blue Velvet
23. Shivers
22. Martyrs
21.Man Bites Dog
20. Begotten
19. Aftermath
18. The Human Centipede
17. A Clockwork Orange
16. Flowers of Flesh and Blood
15. The Last House On The Left (1972)
14. Irreversible
13. Nekromantik
12. Men Behind The Sun
11.I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
10. Happiness
9. Funny Games
8. Visitor Q
7. Salo or 120 Days of Sodom
6. Cannibal Holocaust
5. In A Glass Cage
4. Eraserhead
3. Audition
2. Threads
1. The Exorcist 

“That’s it, Milos. That’s the cinema. That’s film!”

There has always been an intrinsic link between violence and entertainment, in ancient Rome gladiators would fight to the death to the rapturous response of spectators. Violence has been portrayed in novels, poems, plays and paintings and since the advent of cinema it has been depicted and acted out of the Silver Screen.  The inclusion of violence in film is however for a variety of reason an inevitably controversial one.  Firstly there is the issue of degree; what is excessive to one audience member may well be acceptable to countless others, secondly the moral argument; it is an inescapable truth that violence occurs in the real world, but does this mean it should be reflected on the cinema screen?  Thirdly there is the issue of context, how is violence used within the film?  In some instances it seems to be used only for sensationalism whilst in others it seems to play an integral role; the story can not be told without an exposition of violence.  In the case of many films sensationalised violence is an integral part of the film, violence is the story.  This links back to the subjective nature of the viewing experience, one persons integral is another’s gratuitous.  There is also the issue of overt and covert violence; the collateral damage caused for example in the set piece car chases of the action genre is generally considered more acceptable than seeing one individual tortured and killed in a horror movie, although the results of the former could easily be argued to be more far reaching.

I am personally a fan of films from both the horror and thriller genres, which by there very nature often contain high degrees of violence and in the case of many horror movies, graphic and bloody violence.  I am throwing around that term an awful lot, violence, violence, violence and I think that it is important to note that that one word can be used to encompass an enormous range of behaviours.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill”, this seems to me to be a very narrow characterisation of the term but at the same time, hurt and kill are worlds apart.  Violence can be physical, but it can also be physiological or even sociological.  It can be an act, but the threat of an act can be equally damaging.  It can be an immediate action, but it can also be a social condition such as racism or homophobia.  If the many synonyms for the word are taken into account for example cruelty, destruction, attack and terrorism then the vast nature of the term begins to become apparent.  Still this explanation is limited because behind any attempt to explain violence is an extremely complex social and cultural framework which decides when a behaviour or act should be classified as violence, and when it should not.  In the not so distant past domestic violence was just reprimanding a disobedient spouse, hell in the not so distant past slavery was accepted.  The permissability of a forceful action is intrinsically bound to an ever shifting set of social and cultural morals, when it comes to violence the waters are nothing if not muddy.

And now to the point of this blog, I watched A Serbian Film.  A friend of mine commented that he heard that after you have seen it you are not quite the same again, and whilst that seems like a somewhat over dramatic statement it has been a couple of weeks since I watched it and it is certainly a film which has stayed with me.  It didn’t have a theatrical release in the UK so it’s existence may well have passed you by, in order to explain why it is so shocking various key plot points have to be revealed so if there is a chance you are going to watch it for yourself beware of the spoilers below.

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The premise of the film is that retired porn star Milos is trying to live a normal life with his wife and young son against the backdrop of a turbulent Serbia. He is approached by a former co-star Layla who brings with her an offer, one more film, something different, an “art film” and an end to his financial worries for life.  Whilst wary about the project Milos consents to meet with the films director Vukmir and apprehensively accepts the offer.  The opening 20 minutes act as a comendium of Milos’s best bits from his porn star heyday, tapes of him banging over inflated blondes and leather clad biker chicks very “Now That’s what I call Porn – 1980”.  As Milos enters the the world of reality porn things quickly change.  This film takes violence, and specifically sexual violence to a new extreme; it contains necrophilia, pedophilia, incest, rape, snuff; basically your worst nightmares and things you couldn’t even begin to imagine are realised within this film.

Despite this a lot of the scenes are nothing that haven’t been seen before in films such as Salo, A Clockwork Orange and Antichrist from the exploitative vein and even Joel Schumacher’s mainstream thriller 8mm.  The real bone of contention with A Serbian Film is a scene which really only lasts a few seconds but has rarely made it past the censors and even led to the prosecution of the director of a Spanish film festival which dared to screen it.  This scene is inexcusably vile, the rape of a newborn baby, or “Newborn Porn” as it is described, and I’m not going to try to offer any defense for it. The films writers attempt to contextualise it through the words of Vukmir ““the only warrant for this nation’s survival. We’re the backbone of this country’s economy. Only we can prove that this nation is alive and useful for anything … Not pornography, but life itself! That’s life of a victim. Love, art, blood … flesh and soul of a victim transmitted to a world who has lost all that and now is paying to watch that from the comfort of an armchair.”  In short, the Serbian people are metaphorically raped from birth to death so why not show it?  In my opinion however the scene is purely a shock tactic and without it this argument would have carried a greater validity.  A film which could have delivered a powerful social commentary, albeit from a torture porn perspective, will now purely be held up as an example of the worst kind of onscreen depravity.

This said A Serbian Film is an incredibly well made film. For the horror contained within it’s frames the cinematography is excellent, the score is agitating and industrial, perfectly in tune with the film itself and it contains in a fucked up way, moments of real beauty.  Towards the climax of the film, it also contains one of the most ridiculously amazing moments ever captured on film when Milos kills one of the film makers (now his captors), the perpetrator of the baby rape, by forcing his erect penis through aforementioned rapists eyeless orbit.  Frankly I think this scene should be in all films, Disney you’re missing a trick.

Where we’re going we don’t need roads

2010 marks the 25th birthday of one of the best films of the 1980’s Back to the Future and to  mark the occasion Highwater and I hoped in our souped up DeLorian and hightailed it back to 1985 to watch it in the cinema – or this is what we would have done but some sensible soul decided it deserved to be rereleased for the occasion, which is convenient because plutonium is so expensive these days.  As I was born in 1985 myself I didn’t get to see it in cinema’s the first time round but have seen it many, many times on the TV, mainly around Christmas time. Despite this I really enjoyed the opportunity to watch it on the big screen, how it was intended to be seen.

In case you have been living in a cave for the last 25 years the premise of Back to the Future is teenage Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back to 1955 in a Delorean turned plutonium fueled time-machine created by the archetypal mad scientist Dr Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd).  In 1955 he meets his parents, still teenagers themselves, he unwittingly disrupts the natural course of events and he must intervene to make sure his parents still meet, fall in love and marry otherwise he will never be conceived and will cease to be.

It’s not the most sophisticated of films but the special effects are brilliant (for the time of course, this movie is a CGI free zone) the plot is griping and if you don’t love this film then you just don’t love films do you?

Movie Monday – Part 1

July has been a big month of cinema going in the Day/Highwater households, we’ve managed to rack up five movies which on our limited budgets is quite impressive.  I am a film fan under any circumstances, I will happily watch at home, on my ipod when I am out and about, on a tiny screen with no leg room on board planes but for me nothing beats the cinema. When you actually take the time to pay to see a film on the big screen it is not just about watching the movie but about the whole experience – the smell of popcorn, the darkened room, the icy drink which is consumed before the film even starts… 
And it is not just the added extras that you don’t get in your own home, the majority movies are made to be shown on the big screen, the experience is so much more immersive that way. I don’t have the best of attention spans, if I am watching a movie at home it is rare for me to sit there and give it my full focus. Even if I am really enjoying it there are distractions but when I am at the cinema I am fixated, the screen is my focus and the rest of the world may as well not exist.

On to the movies I have seen this month, it’s been a bit of a mixed bunch, two I have big love for, two I could have lived without seeing and one would have been so so except for my love of the cast.  I’m not a terribly good critic because I am most of the time quite busy being massively impressed that people manage to make films and have them put up on the big screen.  Even if I don’t like the film making it in the first place is a huge achievement so I try to be respectful

Wild Target


The English language remake of a french farce it has the charm and warmth for which they are known but it’s let down by a poor script. I adore Emily Blunt anyway and doubly so in this movie, I wish I owned all the clothes in her wardrobe, Bill Nighy is another favourite of mine and again I think he is brilliant in this film, he pulls of the characters peccadilloes perfectly.  The third player in this farce is Rupert Grint who I feel proves here that of all the Harry Potter graduates he has the brightest future. 
Nighy’s character, Victor Maynard is an assassin descended from a line of assassins and at the top of his game until he is hired to kill Rose (Blunt). A quirky, flighty, klepto she sends his life spinning off course but as is the way with these things it is when you deviate from your intended path that you really start to live.  Well worth watching if you you are more interested in character dynamics than big thrills.

The Collector


I am a fully paid up member of the splat pack appreciation society but I wasn’t very impressed by this offering.  An ex con desperate to repay his ex-wife’s debt before she has to flee taking his child with her breaks into the home of his employer intending to steal a valuable diamond. unbeknownst to him the house has also been targeted by another and is filled with traps.  My problem with the film is that it was plain lazy, whereas other movies from this generation of directors such as the Saw movies and Eli Roth’s Hostel I and II are clever and have a discernible point to them The Collector is riddled with holes.  The traps are on occasion ingenious and there is blood aplenty but it just left me cold. Characterisation might not be the most important thing when making a horror movie but it helps if the audience feel something towards the characters so that they either root for there survival or secretly and somewhat guilty revel in their fate.  The majority of people do not enjoy real violence but enjoying it in a film is another matter, it’s fake and you can therefore enjoy it and in a perverse way deal with your own fears through it.  For me The Collector was a big let down, but then again how many box office movies have I made?    

Eclipse


This is always going to be a bit of a marmite (English for you will love it or hate it) movie, if you are vehemently anti the Twilight Saga then of course you are not going to enjoy it because you will not be able to get passed the fact that this is part of the saga; and that’s a shame because yes, this is a Twilight movie but it is also superbly directed, well adapted and the best so far.  David Slade has form when it comes to vamp movies, he directed 30 Days of Night,  he also directed the superb and massively disturbing Hard Candy which was one of the first movies Ellen Page starred in and you can see how his somewhat darker vision has given this film an edge the previous two were lacking.  The brilliance of this film is not all down to the direction though, the plot is strongest in this movie too, it makes far greater use of previously underutilised talents Jackson Rathbone and Nikki Reed showing us there back story and therefore interestingly letting us in on the inner turmoil of the undead.  It is also at times a very funny movie, there are some laugh out loud moments and also some where you will cringe with embarrassment along with the characters, the joy of the parental sex talk… If you are a twilight fan or at least open to the fact that there might be more too it than screaming teenagers and over excited housewives drawling over Taylor Lautner (cougar town much!) then give this movie a go.

Predators


Part of my film thesis was about hyperbolic masculinity in 1980’s action movies so I have watched the original Predator and loved but I always viewed it as a bit tongue in check, lasers which look like someone has drawn on the screen in red pen and the heat cloaking powers of mud were brilliant at the time and in retrospect brilliant because they are so of the time but film techniques have moved on and Predators instead of just paying homage to it’s predecessor has for me consumed and reproduced it’s fatal flaws.  I like sci-fi, I like action, I love the Adrien Brody gun show (what happened there? What happened to the beautiful skinny toned man of The Darjeeling Limited?) but I just didn’t get this movie.  It didn’t have a beginning, much of a middle or an ending but the I guess we are pretty much guaranteed a sequel so why bother…. 

The fifth film of the month was Inception but that gets a whole blog unto itself.

The Virgin Suicides

I had trouble sleeping last night, it wasn’t hot but the air was insufferably close and I lay in bed for a long time hoping for a breeze which did not arrive.  i don’t mind the heat but i detest humidity, it gives me an unsettled, claustrophobic feeling which makes me want to claw at my skin.  When I can’t sleep it doesn’t take long for my brain to start ticking over and filling with thoughts, this of course exacerbates the problem.

Last night I was thinking about The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I must have been about 13 when I first read this book, it was shortly before the release of Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation, and I loved it from the first page.  Here, I thought, is a book which understands me, as I read Cecilia Lisbon’s response to a doctor questioning the motivation behind her suicide attempt “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl”.  Here is a book which understands the sweet, impenetrable agony of youth.  

Over ten years later I still adore this book, I read a lot and have varied taste but this is one novel I revisit again.  as I lay there last night I started to wonder what makes this such a captivating novel, tales of doomed youth are not uncommon so there must be something special about Eugenides take on the subject which has made this such a cult classic.  The prose are seemingly simple but hypnotic, they are not flowery and this has lead to an evocative lament to the sullying of childhood whilst avoiding the tweeness or cliche often seen in this genre.  Hazy and evocative it is the written version of lomography.

I don’t want to give too much away because if you haven’t read this book already I wholeheartedly recommend you hightail it to your local purveyor of literature and get yourself a copy (don’t worry, everything I have mentioned so far happens within the first 4 pages).  It is a remarkable book, wry yet touching with a sultry feel to it and an undulating rhythm which grips you like a strong current.  By the end of the first paragraph the plot has been revealed, a string of suicides, the 5 daughters of a suburban American family and the the end of the book the fatalist in you will realise that it could have been no other way.

In Defence of John Mayer

I have been wanting to write something in defence of John Mayer for a while now but I’m not really sure how to begin, I find it hard to reconcile the idea of John Mayer the musicians whose words and music penetrate my soul with the John Mayer whose misguided interview comments and “rock star”antics mean that his reputation is now mud. Some of his actions seem beyond defense, he should know better than to publicly discuss his sex life, especially after the backlash which followed his use of ex Jennifer Love Hewitt as fodder for his stand up comedy yet as recently as January he was discussing in interviews his sex life with another ex, Jessica Simpson “Yeah, [Jessica Simpson] is like crack cocaine to me … Sexually it was crazy. It was like napalm,sexual napalm…”  

Here’s the thing, despite his bad reputation and the vitriolic reaction he now elicits on many fronts I still love John.  

What was totally bypassed when John was metaphorically hung drawn and quartered following the Playboy interview I quoted above was the very classy way in which he handled discussion of his relationship with Jennifer Aniston. Whether this makes the Simpson comments better or worse I’m not sure but it proves to me at least that he’s not a total rat. He’s a man in his 30’s who has had relationships with some high profile women which in the UK at least have drawn more attention than his considerable musical talent.  He’s also terrible at self censoring  and I think that this is one of the reasons I empathise with him so much, I am also really bad at this and if I were in his position I could easily imagine a few ill chosen words leading to my public vilification.

Whatever is said about John in the media for me is overridden by his music, technically accomplished and lyrically insightful I can’t believe that it’s creator can have anything but a good soul.  I saw him perform live for the first time on Thursday which is one of the main reasons that I am writing this now but listening to his albums over the years has made me feel like I have been in his presence for much longer.  I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that certain songs could have been written based on events from my own life, emotions that I have been feeling, heartbreak that I have gone through.

The dichotomy of the person I visualize when listening to his music and the star disgracing the pages of our gossip magazines confuses me, why do others not view him the way that I do? Yes he is indiscreet and his actions aren’t always in the best of taste but no one is perfect and surely his rights far outweigh his wrongs?  He might be a star these days but more over he is a musician and surely that is from where our opinions of his should stem. His music has seen me through bad times and celebrated the good ones with me and should he feel that he requires defending I would suggest he uses the music as his first witness.

Ladies and gentleman this is your captain speaking

Sometimes you see a band and you might as well be stood watching a CD player on stage playing their albums, sometimes however you see a band and you realise that the albums you have been adoring don’t even display 20% of their talent. 100 Monkeys are one of those bands. I saw them live for the first but definitely not last time 11 days ago and I’m still buzzing from it a bit.  I honestly can’t recommend this band more highly, they are all such talented musicians, their lyrics are a mix of the profound and the witty, the stage show is insanely energetic and Rolling Stone has listed them as one of this years 5 Breakout Bands to watch. 

“This eccentric Cali act have a built-in buzz magnet — bandmember Jackson Rathbone, also known as one of Twilight’s famous vampires. Their spazzy, energetic Saturday set blended tribal sounds with vocals recalling Jim Morrison’s baritone croon. The “can-this-be-real?” factor ran high thanks to song titles like “The Monkey Song,” lyrics like “free, free, free the beast” and five guys in bandanas jumping around and playing hand drums, trumpet and flute. The band’s latest release, Grape, is out now.” Erica Futtermann http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/;kw=%5B13193,141762%5D

Chokin’ on dust

I can’t help it, I’m the kind of girl who decides she wants a fringe and shears of inches of hair with the kitchen scissors, as demonstrated by last nights actions. I am making an important trip to New York next week and now I have a spanking new, slightly wonky, homemade fringe to take with me. I was trying to channel the hair goddess who is Zoey Deschanel…fail.

Highwater and I watched a bit of Robsessed last night (there was nothing on TV ok!) and I found myself shouting at the TV screen. I can’t imagine being Robert Pattinson for a number of reasons, to start with I’m not 23 year old guy, but mainly I don’t think i could stand having a bunch of nobodies and hacks commenting on my every move. Look, I’m doing it now, I don’t really know anything about the guy and here I am having my say. This supposed documentary was ridiculous, it played host to nothing but speculation and second hand stories. I am a big fan of the documentary genre but i found this to be a mockery of something which has been central to film since it’s inception. The ‘Actualities’, filmic slices of life by the Lumiere Brothers were the very first films to be exhibited and also the first documentaries.  I know that documentary occupies no fixed territory, that there is no one correct form, John Grierson said it is “The creative treatment of actuality”, but that is my very problem with Rob fucking sessed, it is not actuality, it is the he said she said of Heat magazine given credence on film. I digress I know but at heart I am still a nerdy film student and this film seriously angered me.

If you didn’t know already you might have realised from the above, I am passionate about film. I write about it a lot here probably because this is really my only outlet to discuss it these days. i have a good degree in film, I have been involved in making a film which went to Cannes, my thesis received the highest grade classification and now I work in property lettings, it’s a tough world.  I sound ungrateful I’m not, my current job has been a god send to me – what good are dreams when you are forced to live at your parents and claim unemployment benefit. I do however feel that what I want from life is slipping further and further away and that I am living in limbo, refusing to put down roots or let people past my walls because I know I am not where I want to be.

I am going to New York next week and when i get back some changes are coming.

It’s Rex Manning Day

I am aware that my blog is turning into somthing of a film review blog, it’s not intentional but I do really love movies and spend a lot of time watching them, thinking about them and writing about them, here and elsewhere.

Yesterday Highwater and I watched two 1990’s classics which i love and haven’t seen for far too long. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Empire Records. neither of them were particularly critical successes but I love them anyway because not only do I think that they are great films but they are also really evocative the time in which I first watched them.  If you haven’t seen them I would strongly recommend them.