Book vs. Film

23/01/2012 17:55

And the winners are...

 

1st prize            Contribution 3 by Katarína Mlichová ... 51 votes

2nd prize           Contribution 1 by Anna Ďurišíková ... 40 votes

3rd prize            Contribution 2 by Martina Bednáriková ... 17 votes

 

Congratulations to the lucky winners and thanks to all of those who joined in the contest. The winners will be contacted shortly with instructions for claiming their prizes.

Perspectives

 

Poll

Cast a vote for your favourite.

Contribution 1 (86)
44%

Contribution 2 (25)
13%

Contribution 3 (61)
31%

Contribution 4 (13)
7%

Contribution 5 (5)
3%

Contribution 6 (5)
3%

Total votes: 195

Contribution 1: The Tempest vs. Prospero’s Books

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (4.1.148-158)

These illustrious words describing the art of drama in such a marvelous manner are spoken by Prospero in the play The Tempest by William Shakespeare. They reveal the true nature of the “play” Prospero constructs within the actual play; however, their relevance goes far beyond these boundaries, for Prospero can be virtually identified with Shakespeare. Therefore, The Tempest symbolizes Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage, as “revels”, mentioned in the quotation above, does not stand only for Prospero’s scheme, but also for The Tempest itself, and thus for all the other plays written by Shakespeare. Yet by mere reading, these verses result to be loaded with power. Their force increases even more when they are spoken by Prospero in the movie Prospero’s Books directed by British director, Peter Greenaway, in 1991. Here they gain such a dramatic effect that one hearing them ends up being completely disenchanted. Their unexpected strike comes right in the moment when we, intoxicated by the sweetest dream, are inhaling a lighthearted atmosphere of the wedding masque. As soon as Prospero utters these lines, all the actors fall, as if dead, on the ground. The music stops, the lights go out, and the clock starts chiming. From this moment on, his sinister prophecy becomes fulfilled, and fantasy—piece by piece—transforms into reality.

The Tempest is really a Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage for it is the last complete play he wrote. What is more, it is entirely his piece. None of his previous dramatic works was his invention. He used to take a plot of a well-known story and transform it into a dramatic play while brilliantly developing its characters. Because of this The Tempest results to be the most enigmatic of his plays. In the epilogue, which differs from the others, we can sense that those are Shakespeare’s last words and that we will never see that man again. This play was the last lesson he wanted to teach and then he just wanted to retire and go to live peacefully to Stratford, so a new generation could come.

Shakespeare was a true master of his craft; he never ceased to encode important messages into verses, so that they appeared to mean something else than they actually represented. His common motif, appearance versus reality, is also present in The Tempest. At first sight, he presents us the fictional story of Prospero, a sorcerer and a former Duke of Milan, who was betrayed by his brother by robbing his title and exiling him to an unhabited island with his three-year-old daughter Miranda and his books. Technically, the play begins in medias res. We find ourselves on the island, twelve years after the incident, and then a flashback takes us back in time to understand Prospero’s past. This way Shakespeare does a brilliant trick; he squeezes twelve-year time into a few hours, within which we get to know Prospero’s past, present and future, and as a result the fictional time of the play equals the real time. We witness Prospero living on the island with his daughter, a half-man half-fish servant Caliban, and an airy spirit Ariel who serves him as well. In fact, this picturing of the island with its spirits and supernatural atmosphere is not so fictional as it seems. Illusion disguises reality once again. This way Shakespeare created a metaphoric image of colonization and its distructive impact. Caliban, even though described by Prospero as a mumbling monster, is nothing more than a native inhabitant of the island with the language, values and customs on his own. Propero turns him into a slave after his attempt to take advantage of Miranda. In this action we can see a clash between two attitudes, a natural approach of procreation, and honour with its moral connotation. Caliban becomes a very convenient slave to do the dirty work.

Another reference to the colonial attitude introduced in the play is when Trinculo sees Caliban for a first time and says that that monster would make a man in England. In other words, The New World is there to be exploited, and Europeans would pay a fortune to see a dead Indian. The New World offers new opportunities and one, even if he did not mean anything in The Old World, can become something here. The unsuccessful Duke becomes the master of the island, mere drunkards subjugate Caliban and become masters as well, but the real owner of the island, Caliban, becomes a mere slave. In this play there are numerous references to Shakespeare’s appearance-reality dichotomy, but probably the most important one is the one present in Prospero’s character. As the story evolves, Prosper—in the pursuit of his vengeance—brings all his enemies to the island. He stands here not only as a magician but also as a playwright, storyteller and a judge. The story is virtually told from his perspective and we have got no one else’s account on it. He constructs the situation the way that we are not aware of his flaws. For example, even though back in Milan he spent all the time with his books neglecting the duties of a Duke, he blamed his brother for usurping his title. But in fact, his brother was the one rulling Milan, and so it was justified for him to take the title. Prospero teaches everyone in the play a lesson, but finally even he himself learns one. When Miranda falls in love she makes herself independent from her father. Prospero realizes that he should free everyone from the bounds of his magic and give way to their individuality. The Tempest can be read both as a fairy tale about Duke and his daughter living on an island full of supernatural beings, in which we can enjoy witty dialogues and amusing situations, or as a marvellous human text about maturity and different vital aspects of life, in which there are also present hints to bitter reality. Shakespeare’s mastery of words is omnipresent in each line of the play, for there are dozens of hidden messages within, ready for us to uncover them.

To take Shakespeare’s brilliant talent in encoding messages and using hundreds of references into consideration, adapting The Tempest into a movie results to be almost an impossible task. However, Peter Greenaway with his adaptation, Prospero’s Books,  did a wondrous job and breathed a new life into the play. The same way as Shakespeare’s play The Tempest can be described as an encyclopaedia of love, humanity, cruelty, and life itself,  the movie, Prospero’s Books, can be described as an encyclopaedic repository of images drawn from painting, architecture, literature and music, and the same way as Shakespeare plays with appearance and reality on the level of words, Greenaway plays with them on the level of images. Prospero’s Books is a visual interpretation of the play within which the director succeeded to portray every little message Shakespeare had hidden within his verses. For both of these pieces are considered to be artistic hypertexts, they require an investigative and persistent approach of their recipient.

On one hand, the movie Prospero’s Books can be considered as a faithful copy of the The Tempest, for it presents the play in a very meticulous manner with all its secret implications. But on the other hand, Greenaway’s approach, style and innovative ideas are striking and easily recognizable. The fact that he is also a painter determined his movie to look like being composed of live baroque paintings. He took every element that stood out for him in the play and transformed it into an eccentric image thus emphasizing its purpose. For instance, Prospero’s main role and his superiority over others is stressed by the fact that almost the whole movie is narrated only by his voice. It might be confusing to hear Prospero’s voice coming from the other characters’s mouths, but there is a good reason for it. In fact, every single thing that happens on the island is provoked by Prospero’s will. Everything is only a reflection of the machinery of his mind. He is an almighty sorcerer whose power lies in his books and as he writes into them he brings forth the drama that takes place on the island. He manipulates his servants, his daughter, and also his enemies causing them to shipwreck on the island. Since everything is a reflection of his mind it is densely interwoven with feelings and emotions. Each of the feelings Prospero experiences, either while talking about his memories, dreams or plans, transforms into corresponding images that all appear on the screen. The world is exposed as an illusion and we end up not being able to distinguish reality from fiction anymore. We are bombarded with numerous visual images one after another, even with more of them at once. Greenaway overlays images and composes them in mattes and multiple exposures, so that the depiction of the events corresponds truly to the nature of the mind. The movie focuses also on books owned by Prospero. The director walks us through twenty-four books that provide power to Prospero and shows us the texture of their medieval magic. With their help Prospero knows that the air, the ground, and the ocean are full of spirits which he consequently turns into his servants. The books are presented as if alive for they contain live plants, insects, human organs, pop-up buildings, and bleeding pages among other interesting imagery. Greenaway pushes further also the idea of colonization. He presents us dozens of native people in every scene of the movie looking like mere objects that form part of the art installation. They seem to be only spirits, since nobody notices their presence, humbly serving to Prospero. Then we see Prospero’s servant Caliban who ceaselessly moves, stretches, and strains against the invisible chains of Prospero’s magic by which he enslaved him. When Prospero’s enemies appear on the island, the clash between two worlds is emphasized by an image of their bodies mingling with nude native bodies. There is a striking contrast between the fragility of the natives and the european artificiality, for Europeans come dressed up in expensive adorned clothes with amazing hats, gigantic white collars and high-heeled shoes. These whimsical clothes result to be a true satire of colonizers. Greenaway uses a brilliant detail to hint that these courtiers are under Prospero’s spell. All of them wear laces over their eyes that signify that they are not able to see reality and are blinded by the magic of the island. In the end of the story, the spirit servant Ariel, who is played by three actors of different ages thus representing a charming concept of an airy spirit, tells Prospero, now in his own voice, that his affections should become tender and holds up a mirror to give him an insight into his own deeds. This way he brings a change in Prospero who realizes that he can not live in the egocentric world of his own desires anymore and must admit the independent existence of others. He breaks his pen, closes his books and decides to drown them. All the people on the island are set free from his magic and find their voices. Greenaway adds here another interesting detail. Two of Prospero’s books that are safely fished from the sea by Caliban are the thick printed volume of plays by William Shakespeare dated 1623, containing thirty-five plays with room for one more, and the thirty-sixth play, The Tempest.

Generally, the power of the book and its impact on the people operates on a different level than the power and impact of the movie, as both of them have within themselves a different kind of magic. They require individual approaches, so one can penetrate into their depths and enjoy them throughly. The Tempest and Prospero’s Books carry an enormous load of artistic value. There is no doubt that Shakespeare is the greatest of the greatest in the world of writers, but we can also say that Greenaway is one of the greatest in the world of cinematography. In his adaptation he emphasizes the most important issues and legacies of the play and adds his own feelings, emotions, and encodings making the movie his own poetic testimony. The movie can be considered as a culmination of the play, as The Tempest itself is supposed to be staged. Therefore if the viewer is familiar with the play and decides to watch Prospero’s Books, everything in the movie will make perfect sense and this background knowledge will give him a nice context to understand and appreciate it fully.


Work cited
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1868.

 

Contribution 2: The Education of the Already Educated

Imagine you are sitting on a chair in a large room. There is nothing except two bowls in front of you. The first bowl consists of your most favourite sweet meal and the latter is full of your salty meal number one. Which would you choose if you had to? Remember, you can pick only one!


Although this question may seem trivial, in fact you can get a huge amount of information about person’s character out of one single response. I am sure there are people who will decide at once. They will be puzzled, wondering why you ask for such a stupid piece of information. Others will perhaps think the same, but their answer would be different – they will be unable to decide at the moment. What would your answer be? Are you decisive and able to select one single thing out of two almost completely similar ones? Or do you prefer to rest for a while and carefully think of the possible consequences of your choice?


I undoubtedly belong to the second group. I have never been able to make choices. It is always bad when I have to make one, but it’s even worse when I have to decide between two things I really like. Inside of me, the choice could be compared to a true war – there is one side of me, pushing the other one away... and vice versa. Which one is right? I have never known. One of my favourite British philosophers Bertrand Russell once said: “War does not determine who is right - only who is left.” Those who have ever tried to compare two equally perfect things - each one being cool in its own particular way – know what I mean. It is practically impossible.


Anyway, the same it is with books and films. Over the centuries, the battle between a movie and its hardcover counterpart has been the subject of much critical interpretation. People were literally fighting among themselves, voicing their opinions while trying to persuade others that it is only them who are right... as usual.


Even though you already know how I feel, I decided (yes, my own self could finally agree upon that) to tell you something about a book/movie that I have read/seen most recently. It is not a newly released box office hit though. You might have never heard of it, but I truly think it deserves much more praise than some popular films get. Tension, please... And here it comes. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce The Education of Little Tree.


You are now probably wondering whether I am kidding or not... Little Tree?! What is it? A branch or something? Oh, please do not. Little Tree is a story of an 8-year-old Cherokee boy who loses his parents during the depression of the 1930s in America. As a result, he starts to live with his grandparents who teach him the Cherokee way of life. He learns the wisdom of his ancestors. His grandma is a very clever Indian woman and his Scottish grandpa called Wales - although without formal education - deserves equal respect. Their life is by no means easy – they had to make their bread all by themselves, which can be described as everything but simple. They live peacefully together in the high Appalachian Mountains.
Unfortunately, “nothing’s gonna last forever…“, not even happiness. It all changes with the whites’ arrival. Similarly to the Aboriginals in Australia, the state in America forces Little Tree, an Indian boy into a Residential Catholic School, where he has to stay for a few months. Here Little Tree suffers prejudice and ignorance towards Indians and the nature, which he really misses. And due to the fact that the story is exactly fairytale-like, Little Tree is eventually rescued by his grandparents’ Indian friend Willow John. He fortunately notices Little Tree’s unhappiness and desire to return home. The boy is therefore able to experience another happy year with his family before his grandparents eventually die.


The book is said to be the fictional memoirs of Forrest Carter, the late writer. It was first published in 1976 and it has provoked much controversy ever since. Owing to the fact that it depicts the topic of Native-White relations, there has been much debate as to who is right – the writer, standing for the Indian rights, or the State, trying to spread “the culture“ among “the uncivilised”. The agreement has naturally never been reached.


The movie of the same name was released in 1997, starring James Cromwell as Wales and Graham Greene as Willow John. It was certainly not a smash hit (in fact, Indian epic has regrettably never been one). However, thanks to the beautiful and touching story it has won the hearts of people who can appreciate true values such as love, friendship, devotion, wisdom and understanding (that have in fact nothing in common with information and knowledge). I would strongly recommend it for everybody who likes powerful stories that leave everlasting footprints on one’s mind.


It is inevitable to mention the fact that both movie and book bring up some really important matters as to who is living according to the right principles. Are the Natives really so „uncultured“? Actually, should the failure to conform to one’s ideas (namely the whites) be described as „unculturedness“? In my personal opinion, the understanding-based way of life of Native Americans with all its simplicity reaches far higher degree of culture than our information-based society with its consuming lifestyle.


To conclude, it is impossible to say which one is better – be it a movie or a book. A movie obviously lacks certain qualities only a book could possess. And a book can of course cover neither the beautiful sceneries of the Appalachians nor the visible emotions of the characters’ faces. Let’s simply agree that both are excellent in their own way, one making the other genuinely complete. „One man’s trash is another man’s treasure“, says an English idiom. Our tastes differ, and it is eventually only up to you which one you will like more.

 

Contribution 3: ...and she sleeps deeply, sweetly, in the silence of the lambs

The plot and composition of any good novel of suspense put forward perhaps the most peculiar paradox intrinsically contained in works of fiction, at all. Cambridge Learner’s dictionary defines suspense as “the feeling of excitement or nervousness which you have when you are waiting for something to happen and are uncertain about what it is going to be.” On the other hand, when Alfred Hitchcock, who mastered the substance of suspense and psychological thriller at the upmost level, was questioned about his own concept, he pointed at the necessity of keeping the audience “as fully informed as possible” as the story unfolds. The Silence of the Lambs, as consistent with the just-mentioned, is a wildly exciting game of both knowing and not knowing the identity of a serial killer, inhumanely flaying his young female victims. The primary tension here rests upon the fact that the only source of information valuable for investigation is another series murderer, a criminally insane psychiatrist Dr.Lecter of superior intellect with colourful cannibalistic past, now serving time in the Behavioural Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia.

At a certain level it could be said that the book and the film are nothing else but two different kinds of translation: metaphorically we deal with Thomas Harris’s translation of his own brilliant idea into the target thriller-mode language with ambition to appeal to a vast reading audience, whereas the film adaptation vastly represents what translation theory itself calls an intersemiotic translation, that is, translation of verbal signs by means of non-verbal ones. In the case of this particular work, the task in front of the director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ted Telly was to ‘translate’ a book whose excellence rested on elaborate dialogues and on a story that not only gives goose bumps, makes your hair stand on end and brings on nausea but that also makes you reflect upon the very twisted corner of human mind and nature.

Definitely, if the life had already written the absorbing story of Pat Kirby, the first female FBI agent ever to try to communicate with serial killers for the purpose of creating their psychological profile, upon whom the book’s character of Agent Starling is founded, Thomas Harris has made full use of all devices at hand to project this story into an intricate plot and the outstanding-quality portrayal of all its important characters.

Verbal signs, i.e. words, were all the material Thomas Harris had at disposal. That words may suffice to create, what practically equals dramatic tension and that they on their own can stir waves of intense emotions, he makes clear from the beginning to the very end. Apart from dynamically organized events the reader comes across the uncomfortable present simple in scenes such as Clarice approaching Dr. Lecter’s cell, a chilling impersonal “it” with which the killer at large refers to his victims (which is the phenomenon limited exclusively to the murderer’s thoughts and thus not audible in the film version) or Starling’s: “I have to hunt a thing that lives on tears,” which undoubtedly represents one of many legendary thoughts or statements the reader who has dived into reading the novel encounters.

Harris, as a reporter covering crime in the United States and Mexico for Associated Press in New York City, had a first-hand experience with investigation proceedings, wherefore readers are likely to remain pleasantly surprised at the amount of details he willingly provides in this respect for his literary audience. Meticulousness of description or the curious sense of detail remains tangible at every step in the work, whether we are situated at the dead body of a recently killed girl Kimberley, in the house where a senator’s daughter is involuntarily kept by the insane killer sought by FBI getting ready in his workroom for ‘harvesting the skin,’ or in the Smithsonian‘s National Museum of Natural History where agent Starling searches for vital evidence. A considerable concern for precision does not leave either silent zones or dead ends. The reader at the end of the book knows and understands everything.

Contrary to Harris who can and does take all his time extended across more than 200 pages to draw carefully in light and shade each of his characters an the way their mutually affect one another, the screenplay, inherently restricted to a limited number of utterances, results notably dense and succinct. Even though being sufficiently understandable and an excellent example of its genre, awarded by Oscar in 1992, readers who lived on smart elaborate remarks and ingenious inner discourses of main protagonists in the book may essentially miss them in the film as they might do exhaustive completeness of causes and effects penetrating the written version of the story. The film, naturally, uses its own tools such as creepy music (the work of Howard Shore) and, of course, skilled actors in leading roles (Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins) to compensate for shortage of words which considerably adds to the work’s aesthetic dimension.

The peak in both, the film and the novel definitely represents the portrayal of the relationship that is being established between Dr. Lecter and agent Starling. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is served undoubtedly as an exceptional murderer. He spins out of any standards of humaneness, amazes and terrifies by his destructive intelligence, brightness and prompt inventiveness. An outstanding importance is placed upon the way he treats Strarling, herself a smart mind endowed with vital courage and genuine womanhood. Lecter’s persistent impact upon her psyche is in hints reflected towards the end of the novel as proved in the narrator’s frank comment: “Starling knew what the malicious Dr. Lecter would say, and it was true.” It also needs to be accentuated that, Harris devotes Starling’s character more careful attention than outlined by film producers.

Particularly in the last third of the book the reader comes across the analysis of Starling’s innermost feelings about the whole situation, which in the course of the days had been loaded with physical and psychical tiredness, scorning of her superiors because of her green-recruit status, inexperience and gender prejudice, mounting anxiety about the senator’s daughter as well as the embarrassing awareness of the fact that the monster, the bloodthirsty and well-mannered Dr. Lecter “sees damn well through her.” Only in the book we can share Starling’s loneliness and perceive that phantom of Kimberly, the girl lying on the table in a funeral home as the latest body of evidence, keeps hunting her right the way lambs’ bleat, the poignant image from her childhood, does.  
 
Whatever be the medium, the message of the story in front of its consumer is clear: sometimes the family of man produces, behind a human face, a mind whose pleasure is wilful damage to his/ her own species. Reactions of the public in general suggest that once you see the film or read the book, this knowledge, just as that of Clarice’s, “will lie against your skin forever.” Thence exactly like her, viewing and reading public should hurry “to form a callus or it would wear them through.” The book Silence of the Lambs has survived translation into the language of film producing but the loss of certain absorbing elements was necessary. As with translations from one language into the other, always accompanied with overcoming substantial differences, even here, talking about fidelity is simply…hard.

 

Contribution 4: Wuthering Heights

Personally, I am always willing to read a good book no matter if it is the obligatory literature for my studies or out of curiosity just for me. There are some that stuck in my memory not only because of their written form, but also because of a particular movie based on them. If I like a book, I usually start to immediately look for its movie adaptations to somehow deepen my understanding of it and there is hardly a novel, which would inspire as many artists as Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Only her sister’s masterpiece Jane Eyre could compete with it when it comes to film and television adaptations. But for me it is Emily, who with her original approach to the darkest bottom of human’s heart came with an unforgettable and unique storytelling that takes our breath away. Ellis Bell, as Miss Brontë used to call herself, published this nowadays English literature’s classic in 1847. Taken from different perspectives and adjusted to many settings, including exotic Japan, Mexico (with Luis Buñuel’s 1954 adaptation called Abismos de Pasión) or California, it has been filmed altogether 20 times starting in 1920 in England.  I prefer the 1992 feature film adaptation directed by Peter Kosminski starring memorable Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche and it is my pleasure to introduce you to my reflection about this movie and its initial inspiring source.  

One of the novel’s singularities is the way it is told. We are given the story of Earnshaw and Linton families by two first person narrators - Mr. Lockwood and Ellen Dean who, from time to time, are taking over the storytelling by turns, mixing the present happenings with flashback narration. While reading the book, one must be always aware of the fact, that the events presented are told from their perspective and that we have no chance whatsoever to know things, they don’t know themselves. This restriction affects also our knowledge of the story and makes it difficult to reconstruct it truthfully. How the movie managed to face this obstacle? As usually when it comes to film adaptations, plenty of things are missing from the original storyline and there is always something added. Here the character of Emily Brontë herself was introduced and it is she that tells the whole story to us from the beginning to the end as an omnipresent third person narrator.

As far as the embodiment of the two main characters Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is concerned, we are presented with two recognized actors: Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. The parts dealing with their youth are less credible because the actors look the same as when they get older, but later on, as the film continue and the time is passing by, also the chemistry between them is rising steadily. Ralph Fiennes simply became Heathcliff. He is the only character in the whole movie I believe in when he starts to speak or remains silent. His harshness and strength is real and not at least artificial (as only his make up appears to be).  He epitomizes the truth and horrible depth of heartbroken orphan selfishly longing for his revenge. His portrayal of Heathcliff is just as dark, evil, tormented and hurt as Emily Brontë describes him and that is just one of the things that make the film unforgettable. On the contrary, Juliette Binoche just can’t hold a candle to Fiennes’s art. Whether it is because of her strong French accent or the fact that her double role of Catherine and the daughter Cathy was just too much for me I cannot say. But she definitely lacks that wildness and passion she is suppose to have and appears to remain sort of emotionless throughout the whole movie. The rest of the characters are not as well developed as they lack the real connections between them somehow but this flaw may be attributed to the usual length of a feature film.

What definitely saved the movie are the music and the settings. The soundtrack was composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, a well-known Japanese musician and composer, and the settings were filmed in Yorkshire, Brontë's home. Despite all the film’s shortcomings mentioned above, the beauty of the landscapes perfectly preserves the merciless, bleak and severe atmosphere of the novel. Accompanied by Sakamoto’s dramatic score we almost feel the presence of cold moors, the unpleasant weather and the tension between the characters filling the air. It represents the darkness and the torment in such a way that is shatters you deep into your soul. However when it comes to costumes, hair (wigs), make-up (Heathcliff) and interiors I have a feeling that the film was made of a tight budget. But as soon as you get to the end of it, you will be impressed by Kosminski’s adaptation of the major characteristics of a gothic novel.

On the other hand, no matter how overwhelming a movie can be, it is always someone else’s view of how the story should look like and never ours (unless you are a director yourself). We are presented with someone’s understanding of the matter and that’s why I would recommend reading first and only then watching the movie. In this way your imagination can create marvellous things and it is not restricted to something it has seen before. The complexity of Emily Brontë’s work makes it hard for film makers to preserve it in its original form and that’s why the movies may seem a bit confusing. But as for me, this version appears to be the most faithful to the novel and that’s why I took a fancy to it. After all it is not just another story about love. It is also about freedom, revenge, pain and death above all things - the only savior and a passing to another world where finally some of our dreams may come true.

 

Contribution 5: Corelli and Pelagia did not live happily ever after

The best thing on books is that although we all read the same words, every single reader paints in his head a different picture. If we would draw them on paper, we would be surprised how different they may be. And the author of the book, the creator of the original picture, might be stunned, too. Book authors probably feel something similar when they see their books adapted to film. The director may try hard to make the film faithful to the book, but the story always looses something. Worse is when the director wants to make advantage of a successful book and sells own story under the bestseller-title.


Louis de Berniéres with his book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is such a case. The story by the English writer is set during the second world war on a Greek island Cephallonia. The inhabitants live their quiet life with occasional village tumult. Dr. Iannis, the island’s doctor, attempts to write a history of Cephallonia, but keeps on failing, because he is unable to remain objective. His words about the island let the reader and the viewer of the film suspect that he is a witty and ironic, but good-hearted old man. He writes: “Our men go abroad and return here to die, and so we are an island of children, spinsters, priests, and the very old. The only good thing about it is that only the beautiful women find husbands amongst those men that are left, and so the pressure of natural selection has ensured that we have the most beautiful women in all Greece. (p. 5)”


Dr. Iannis himself has a beautiful daughter and is convinced that she can only marry happily with a foreigner. Therefore he is not very enthusiastic of Pelagia’s relationship with the local fisher, Mandras. The plot begins to thicken when Mandras leaves for war. Shortly afterwards the Italian army comes to occupy the island and the inhabitants are forced to take in the soldiers. As Dr. Iannis wants to gain access to Italian medical supplies, he is left with no other choice but to accommodate the Italian Captain. Captain Corelli arrives with his mandolin and makes an impression of a funny, kind-hearted, maybe a little bit mad and definitely obsessed musician.


This is what the book and the film have in common. Then the film concentrates on Pelagia becoming romantically involved with Corelli. Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz as Corelli and Pelagia deliver quite a solid performance and the film is not bad at all. There are funny and romantic moments and after a bit of action and tension the viewer can expect a happy ending. The film is quite fine to watch after an exhaustive week, when you don’t have the strength to concentrate on something requiring thinking. The romantic plot with a happy ending is the basic and unluckily the only unit the film is built upon. The ending even differs markedly from the original.


When the viewers enchanted by the film reach for the book, they will find out that a repulsive lie has been committed upon them: Corelli and Pelagia did not live happily ever after. Holding the book in the hands is nevertheless a good beginning and the first step on the way towards uncovering the story as it was written. If someone happened to like the film, the probability to like the book is ten times higher. Berniéres offers to his listeners a rich chorus of voices. In the first chapter, the readers will find themselves in the immediate presence of the Italian “Duce”, later on they will have the possibility of listening to a homosexual Italian soldier, or to Mandras, the Greek fisherman, talking to himself. There are also funny chapters from Dr. Iannis’s History of Cephallonia, or from a pamphlet written by Italian soldiers tired of war, mocking their own “Duce”.


Berniéres presents many different points of view on love, life and war and does it in a way that forces you to read on and on. He masters perfectly to describe the stream of consciousness of a village woman in love trying to think practically, and he also does not fail in depicting the despotic mannerism of a self-conceited dictator. He ridicules the war when he writes about Italian soldiers, who feel more like opera club members than army soldiers. He sets German way of thinking against the Italian: while all the soldiers of the Italian army on the island are enjoying themselves, singing, drinking and spending time with women, the only German on the island is holding his principles and wouldn’t give up on the teaching about inferior races. Although there are also chapters following the growing sympathies between Corelli and Pelagia, the novel is not a pure love story; it’s a story about many different lives, including manifold forms of love.

 

Berniéres’s portrayal of people, their behaviour and way of thinking is much more realistic, sometimes even naturalistically straightforward in comparison to the depiction in the film. He is not reluctant to write about excrements, homosexuality, women’s period, burning and burned-out passion, or about the upside-down-ness of war and dictatorial regimes. He presents a certain period of history through everydayness of ordinary people with everything it includes and this is what makes the book so stunning. Unluckily, the naturalness is not to be found in the film.


The film and the book have as much in common as buttered bread and a tart have – the latter is much richer in the variety of colours and tastes. John Madden, the director of the film, didn’t attempt to express the manifoldness of the masterpiece awarded by the Commonwealth Foundation. He modified the plot outright, so that it would suit average viewers, who were raised in the belief that every good film has to have a romantic plot and a happy ending. Now there is no wonder that Berniéres disapproved of the film version, stating: "It would be impossible for a parent to be happy about its baby's ears being put on backwards."

 

Contribution 6: When images make pages colorful

Book vs. Film. Obvious opposition debated for many years. One may say that without a book film doesnʼt actually exist at all. But is it true? Is the book really the core of the idea, and then film is only some kind of cheap replacement for those, who are too lazy to turn the page? Maybe it depends just on our preferences and abilities of perception, whether we reach for a book or simply make ourselves comfortable in front of the screen.


My preferences are pretty clear. My life is accompanied by books since I was 4 years old and I learned to read. When I was younger, there was no way to see me without some book in my hands. Since I was a little child I loved the fragrance of a newly bought book. The smell of the untouched pages was irresistible to me, and nothing changed about it to these days. When I read a book, I suddenly find myself in a completely different world. During the reading I become someone else, and everything is possible. My imagination is limitless and Iʼm giving in to the story completely. When I read I donʼt see anybody and I donʼt hear anything. Iʼm becoming one of the characters and live their life for a while.


Of course, in our generation it is impossible to resist contemporary movie culture. I love watching a really good film as well. But for me, there are only a very few movies based on the novels I really like. I always read the book before I see the movie. Therefore I imagine situations, scenes and characters in a certain way. Then, when I see the story transferred to the screen, my imagination is simply killed. Everything is suddenly different and usually it is a disappointment for me. Movie can never fulfill your expectations and can never cover everything discussed in the book. The story is not exactly the same and not every change is a gain.

 

However, there are some movies, which not only didnʼt disappoint me, but even strengthened my visions. One of those films is undoubtedly Memoirs of a Geisha based on the novel by Arthur Golden. I was always fascinated by Japanese history, culture, traditions and living style. Goldenʼs novel offers quite a detailed look on what is happening behind the curtain, under all of the glitter. Life of geishas in Japan was shrouded in mystery for a long time. They were mysterious creatures, beautiful and delicate and their life was no bed of roses at all. Goldenʼs novel is fictionally based on the story of a geisha named Sajuri. Throughout the story Sajuri remembers her journey since she was a little girl in a small fishing village, to the moment when she became one of the most successful geishas in the popular Kjoto district called Gion. The journey was never easy. In order to become a geisha, little girls in Gion experienced hunger, freezing temperatures, physical torment and predominantly jealousy and rivalry. The girls were cruelly separated from their families and the sense of friendship between them was pretty uncommon. They were entirely dependent on a grace of men coming to Gion tearooms to enjoy their company. Although fictional, Goldenʼs novel offers such a detailed insight to the mysterious life of Japanese geishas for the first time in the history.


With the book full of such a vivid images and descriptions of beautiful Japanese scenery it is hard to imagine that some movie can capture the intensity of it without ruining readerʼs expectations. But director of the movie Rob Marshall proved, that he is a master of his art. He managed to shoot a movie full of beautiful imagery and amazing scenes of Japanese landscape. From the very beginning you can see beautiful images of Japan see, forests, mountains surrounding little villages as well as big cities. Visualisation of the movie is simply unbelievable. Moreover, the impression is intensified by the exquisite music composed by noted John Williams, which deftly blends orchestral works with passages that feature traditional Japanese instruments. Usually, when I see the film after I read the book, Iʼm shocked how strongly my expectations differ from the imagination of a director, but not this time.  The novel Memoirs of a Geisha is full of Japanese traditional names and exotic expressions I never heard of before. Therefore it was sometimes hard even for my imagination to create some picture in my head. For example, how would you imagine typical shoes called okobo, or …………………….. hairstyle? I didnʼt know. And so the movie helped me a lot. Of course, all of the explanations you can find in the book, like description of a day in a school, or the tea ceremony, were shortened in the film. But I will never forget the scene when Sajuri is entering geishasʼ world for the first time and she is doing her hair, make-up and putting on her kimono. When I was watching her preparation, I had a strong desire to put that beautiful kimono on myself and get out to some tearoom. For a while I wanted to be her, to be such an etheric and delicate woman admired by every man in the room.


Finally the movie Memoirs of a Geisha brought me much more satisfaction than I had expected. It really doesnʼt happen to me very often, that I love the film as much as I loved the book. But in this case, when I saw Rom Marshallʼs work, the pages I turned maybe a hundred times started to sing to me even louder.