We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Bresson & Lerner & Lowe, Weldon & Austen & Pinter · 27 November 06

Dear Marianne,

I’ve since at least one movie or play each day since I last wrote, to say nothing of the books I’ve been reading (Austen and about film mostly and finishing Harriet Martineau’s masterpiece, Deerbrook), and Edward’s cooking and lots of wine, our walks in the winter landscape, and good talk, listening to Piaf’s greatest songs one night. I feel just brimming with fulfilled pleasure. I write to tell you about the movies and plays.

On Saturday night after Edward went to sleep, I was mesmerized by Robert Bresson’s 1950 film adaptation of a novel, Le journal d’un cure de campagne. It’s much praised, and I rented a copy of the movie redigitalized in a DVD at Video Vault so I could judge the criticism. I found Bresson’s mise-en-scene startlingly ahead of his era: instead of elaborate costum-y sets where the acting occurs on the equivalent of an imagined stage, this film uses the capabilities of the camera to make large symbolic pictures which seem utterly real in their frames and yet fade out into a horizon beyond our sight.

As with Lancelot du Lac, the people in it were either not hired professional actors or taught not to epitomize pointed or stereotypical meanings to be read psychologically. Instead their faces were still and their gestures kept to a minimum.

It’s the story of a neurotic anorexic young man who renounces all his social ties and bodily pleasures. All he allows himself to eat is dry bread and sugar soaked with cheap wine and all he will drink is the same wine. He is poor, lives solitarily and keeps diary whose pages he (Claude Laydou, the actor playing the priest) reads aloud to us. In the school where he teaches the mischievous and cruel children mock and torment him. The powerful local baron’s wife’s son has died and in a long confessional scene he slowly provokes her to tell him she hates God, and shortly after commits suicide. The baron is enraged; the baron’s daughter tells the priest how she loathes her repressed existence.

The people of the parish he lives in begin to fear and distrust him, and start malicious rumors (we are not told what these are), and he is visited by superiors who urge him to become more genial, be less uncompromising and eat or he will find himself displaced. He refuses to alter his behavior, growing only more physically ill until he has to go to a nearby town to see a doctor. The baron’s daughter’s boyfriend takes him on a motorbike and he enjoys a rare moment of exhilaration. The doctor mistreats him emotionally and tells him he is dying of stomach cancer. The story ends when he goes to visit an old friend, a young man, a bitter atheist and de-frocked priest who shows kindness & understanding (the first in the film). He is also befriended by the young woman who is his friend’s lover and supports his friend through cleaning houses. It’s clear these outcasts live in wretched abysmal poverty.

He dies writing his diary, and asserting he has found peace in death.

My view is we see a young man in an agon of self-destruction surrounded by blind cruel people who are themselves in other kinds of agons. I find all the talk about religion in the criticism of the movie disingenuous or obtuse. Like Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac, this is work about the brutal tragedy of human existence.

On Sunday evening Edward and I went to see for half-price Lerner and Lowe’s romantic musical adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, the last production which will be performed at the nearby garage Signature theatre, directed by Eric Schaeffer. Edward became annoyed when we had to stand in a line (we really didn’t have to in the sense that no one forced us): no one but subscribers gets assigned seats and so everyone else lines up to rush to what they consider the best seats. I agreed with him Schaeffer for all his talent, luck, and canny grasp of how to achieve commercial successes occasionally, runs the place arrogantly.

I also agreed with him the musical is a kind of travesty of Shaw’s play. For a start at the end of Shaw’s play there is no enchanted love relationship; Shaw’s play ends ambiguously, with the girl possibly marrying the fatuous rich young man who has fallen in love with her from afar. It bothered me to see how the audience didn’t at all mind the condescension and snobbery of the play. Since this is a centrally middle class musical, the audience was not made up (as is so common at Signature) of gay couples, but heterosexual couples and family groups. And the man playing Eliza’s father (Terence B. Currier) did not project the good-natured kindness of Stanley Holloway, the love of life, could not sing strongly, but seemed slightly mean, though he was an effective tap-dancer.

Nonetheless, I delighted in the music, the witty lyrics, and the acting and singing of Sally Murphy as Eliza and Andrew Long as the Professor. I did like the bare or minimal staging, the controlled wild dancing, the elegant costumes, barrage of tirades and competitive challenging teaching, learning and courting between Pygmalion and his goddess. To me too the music is rousing, haunting and its lyrics funny and meaningful. "I’ve grown accustomed to her face" moves me, and "I could have danced all night" enchants.

Today I began the first of the several hour movie adaptations of Austen’s novels I mean to see. For the first time I did not begin to watch at 10:30 pm but rather 5 pm. I have to really begin to be alert and study these films. Edward and I have agreed this is a good hour, as he often goes begins cooking then.

On Saturday I had read A. A. Milne’s 1930s drawing-room witty comedy, Miss Elizabeth Bennet and begun the shooting script for the 2005 Universal Pride and Prejudice by Debborah Moggach, and realize that Fay Weldon’s play, the basis of the first several hour TV adaptations (1979, see below) had begun the transformation of this inadequate symbolic approach (seen in Helene Jerome’s sentimental 1930s play and the awful 1940 P&P) into the landscape art of film. Weldon’s mood had been laltered from the comic and startlingly deepened in Moggach and so much more detail simply gotten in through the ways screenplays work (exploiting the rapidity of motion pictures to convey information). I’m impressed by Moggach. Perhaps she is influenced by the tradition and tropes of gothic films stemming from the 1939 MGM Wuthering Heights. There is one still that suggests this.

If I’m not mistaken this of Keira Knightley as (an anorexic) Elizabeth Bennet dreaming of a trip to Matlock, Dovedale and the lakes is a replica of a still of Merle Oberon as Catherine Earnshaw seeking visionary escapes.

Milne’s introduction to his play enunciates some important principles for adaptation: it’s more than legitimate, it’s right to fill out a character only sketched in an original text; the new author must follow his or her own emotional bent. He points out that there is not one dramatized scene between Jane and Bingley in Austen’s novel. Right. Jane appears with Elizabeth and they are the second pair we live with; the first pair emerges as Darcy and Elizabeth.

Then I began to watch this 1979 BBC Pride and Prejudice, directed by Cyril Coke, screenplay Fay Weldon. It’s the closest of the films to Austen if literal fidelity and mood be the criteria, and perhaps that’s why it has been least liked. Weldon emphasizes the sardonic wit of Austen and uses much of her dialogue to make incisive combative scenes of high intellectual content. The episodes open with (softened) Gillray-like caricatures.

The first begins with an establishing shot of Longbourne, here a plain brick large mansion house set in the green landscape. Mary Bennet (Tessa Peake-Jones) is the first character we see in this movie: she runs out to get the mail which informs Mrs Bennet that Netherfield Park is let at last. Mary is presented with compassion and respect (if laughter too), as she is in the 2005 P&P. Immediately Charlotte (Irene Richard) becomes a key framing character and the confidant of Elizabeth, so that the theme of forced marriages for women is taken seriously. Their dialogue is the first and further conversation scenes punctuate and parallel scenes in Austen, with their lines taken from Mr and Mrs Bennet and from their own later in the novel. This Mrs Bennet (Priscilla Morgan) is not an exaggerated ass, but a believable sympathetic materialist. Mr Bennet (Moray Watson) is selfish, not warmth, irresponsible (played by a comic actor I’ve seen before who is often cold, not kindly in type). Yes it’s a woman’s concerned reading.

I really delighted in this film. I admit I have always disliked Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth in the 1995 film) who seems to me to smirk and be smug and the insistent presentation on her body as all buxom compliance grates on me1.

Elizabeth Garvie looks more like what I dreamed long ago Austen’s heroine looks like (I was 12 when I first read P&P).

Weldon gives Elizabeth Garvie many Elizabeth Bennet’s most memorable lines.

David Rintoul’s guardedness, and disdain are close to Darcy before he reappears as so transformed at Pemberly, though he lacks the earnestness and is not given the sense of quiet honesty Austen gives her character. Rintoul is clearly sensually attracted to Elizabeth but also arrogant. Colin Firth (Darcy in the same 1995 film) seems to me not to know what to do with the role, but smolder absurdly. That is of course the problem in the novel and the problem perhaps the 1995 filling out of Darcy was intended to overcome, as Emma Thompson filled out Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon in her 1995 S&S, except that I think the conception of the two males in S&S (sensitive, men of sensibility, depressives, with Edward having an arch wit and Brandon disillusion) is more consistent than that of Darcy in P&P.

I admit to loving the historically studied costumes (the 1995 film was by no means the first of the BBC serials to imitate period illustrations) and the dialogue while clearly unnaturalistic (especially when remembered against recent dialogue in movies), is appropriate for its play-like trenchant wit.

I’m taking notes. Tomorrow another hour plus to watch. I’ve owned this box of VHS cassettes for years, only watched the TV show once, and then not with alert attention, much memory of the book or any understanding or engagement with the art of film.

And the last. Tonight after a yummy dinner (I had parsnips in butter for the first time—steak and wine too), we went to a moving dramatic reading of Harold Pinter’s enigmatic Ashes to Ashes and New World Order joined together with a couple of Pinter’s poems. The performance was done by five members of the Washington Shakespeare company at the Clark St garage playhouse. The actress, Kathleen Akerley, who read the woman in Ashes to Ashes was remarkably believable, by turns imperturbably incoherent and cheerful and teasing, and then suddenly shattered; the actor, Bruce Alan Rauschser (also the father in Equus which we saw last week at the theatre), alternatively anxious and eager to please and to know and be with her, and then slowly jealous, menacing, until we realize it’s he who has somehow betrayed her.

The second play was a brief sharp realization of the terror of interrogation and coming torture in The New World Order. Christopher Henley was one of the two interrogators; he seems never to tire of acting for little pay demanding significant roles.

The theater atmosphere was friendly. Not many people will come to such a performance even when it’s pay what you can or want. We paid $5 each. You could pour yourself wine or coffee and just put money in the jar. A strong contrast to the way Schaeffer ran his garage theatre.

We got home early and there was plenty of time to read and talk.
I returned to Eva Figes’s childhood memoir, Little Eden: A Child at War: the child of a Jewish family, they fled Germany in 1939 and this memoir tells of her deep engagement with England and contains sharp insight into its love of its own history and landscape. Edward read blogs and typed away. And so the night ended peacefully in the quiet.

Of all four very different experiences, I probably enjoyed most deeply the opening phase of Weldon’s P&P, but I know the finest or truest to some eternal center of experience is Ashes to Ashes. I’m not sure that Bresson’s film is not at some level as sick as the story he presents as he (in effect) asks the viewer to wallow in suffering and hatred, with death as the redemption (or out). Edward said of My Fair Lady, what a shame the play was altered and interrupted by these song and dance routines. That’s unfair really as after all until Eliza suddenly collapses in love, she is alive with the energy of rebellion and self-betterment. "Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait." She speaks for all those condescended to, marginalized, dismissed.


1 On the other hand, the bony anorexic reality presented by several of the actresses in the 2005 P&P is literally distressing, e.g., Jena Malone (Lydia) as the neurotic Lydia triumphing in the carriage, removing her glove off to show off her jewelled ring while an uncomfortably perturbed Wickham sitting next to her.

Posted by: Ellen

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  1. Fran was kind enough to provide objection to my reading of Bresson’s film:

    “Sounds like you’ve been having a good time, Ellen.

    I read your blog and was caught by what you said about the Bresson film, Journal d’un cure de campagne:

    ‘My view is we see a young man in an agony of self-destruction surrounded by blind cruel people who are themselves in other kinds of agonies. I find all the talk about religion in the criticism of the movie disingenuous or obtuse. Like Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac, this is work about the brutal tragedy of human existence.’

    It’s a very long time since I saw the film itself, but I have had occasion to read Bernanos’ book several times and that is strongly pervaded by an existential anguish fueled by the struggle for belief in an increasingly godless world. It’s difficult to talk about the novel at least and not talk religion, especially since it was strongly influenced by the ascetic life and young death (T.B.) of Therese de Lisieux, a Carmelite nun whose example fascinated Bernanos, but led to works which had the habit of disconcerting the Vatican, especially in the form of the almost unrelentlessly grim vision of the Journal.

    Are you sure you were watching the original version, by the way? Your comments made me check and it seems Bresson was pretty upset at the cuts made forthe American market at the time of its first distribution. The same source also said Bresson had rejected the first script offered and decided to do his own instead, one that – unlike the first – ended on the cure'ss last words in the book, themselves a riff on Therese, so the religious aspect must have been important to him, too.

    Cuts might also explain why the reason for the villagers’ mistrust is unclear – in the book they ironically and erroneously believe he’s a drunk and glutton, when in fact he’s starving.

    Elinor    Nov 28, 9:46am    #
  2. Dear Fran,

    I was probably being deliberately provocative in the way I phrased it. The reviews I read seemed all to have a favorable view of religion (as shown in the film), and I thought it showed a sick man, sick as much from his religious belief as from his experience of human nature reacting to him. One reason I like to write on my blog is I can be franker and say what I want without worrying what people in a public forum might feel in the sense that my blog is not aimed at any particular group of people. Here no one with intelligence will think I'm aiming at a particular person (as they sometimes do in the way people respond on list with their defenses of their identities and expressions of particular hurts in response to general evaluations of books or films.

    I’ve not read the book, but only criticism of the film which summarized the book, and was fascinated to be told that an earlier more commercial version of the film was said to have “reversed” the book’s meaning. For example, in the end instead of the young man asserting he’s dying into peace, this version made him worship death and used the word death at the end. Instead of a sense of numinous white in the film, it’s said this one insisted on nothingness and the young man’s preference for becoming extinct. The novelist was infuriated, but I felt this earlier film-maker’s reaction or take to the book would have been mine.

    I take Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac to be similarly motivated, except there is no religion in the film, only petty vanity, pride, sex. There’s a parody of Lancelot du Lak in the Monty Python Holy Grail: it’s a scene where a knight is hacked to death. First one arm goes, then another, then a leg, then another, piece by piece, but the man keeps on fighting and we are to laugh with comic horror at the notion this is honor. Myself I’ve never felt in Lancelot du Lac Bresson feels this is honor, and a couple of essays I’ve read on the 13th century French romance cycle Bresson took his film from (and Malory used in his vast Arthurian Tales) say these are grim and can be interpreted as revealing the anarchy and cruelty of the medieval feudal order (an ironic noun here). But I have read essays which take Bresson to have favorable sympathies for the Arthurian ethos. I feel more certain about Lancelot du Lac. If I’m wrong about The Diary of a Country Priest, then I wanted to suggest that Bresson is himself sick. It’s a paean to extinction, to death.

    I was particularly troubled by the priest’s anorexia. No one in any of the criticism talked about the painful excruciating details of the film. This young man was not just starving himself to death, he brought on his stomach cancer. I felt this was not realistic but symbolic or else Bresson had read somewhere that cancer can come from stress. He inflicted pain on himself, hard pain; he sought out meanness. In his interview with the woman whose child died, in a way he was as cruel as she (and while I saw we were to dislike the arrogance of the Baron and his hypocrisy, I understood why he could be enraged). It showed confession to be counterproductive because as with doctors, priests are human beings who may well not have the slightest idea how to handle grief or know themselves.

    It’s easiest to censure something by ignoring so I doubt the catholic church in its probable dislike of such a film would protest against its critique of confession. That’s what I saw in the film even if it’s not what Bresson meant, but it’s what I thought he might have meant.

    The one moment of enjoyment in the film is the motorcycle ride. That thug-like macho male frightened me (yes I got involved watching). In such a film no conventional ending must happen. The priest could die then. The male had reason to despise him in his treatment of the Baron’s daughter whose lover the male was. But no, instead it was a rare moment of exhilaration. This is not to say the secular amoral view of the world the young man stood for was validated. Clearly he was a fine young animal.

    I did read I was watching a short version for the American audience. But what Dudley Andrews and Bazin wrote (as well as the third essay I read) suggested that what was left out was more of the same. That is that the essense of the film was there because if you took anything away the central meaning was in each sequence or shots. So for example, a long interview with the doctor where we see him berate and accuse the young man is cut to a minute or so of a raw unkind encounter. I’ve seen doctors say to patients astonishing things: how dare you come in here all sick and not have come here before; what can I do know; you ignored my advice (with the implication you deserve this). The doctor is covering his ass; angry at not being obeyed. So I took the doctor scene to be a repeat of the several priest scenes, where one is kind towards the end but for the rest not at all. I read these were shortened too.

    Of course details count and I said about I’m appalled at how all this pro-religious interpretation omits to tell the hard real details, pains, and miseries of the young man’s behavior. One cut part I was told was the opening when he left a girlfriend who loved him. Had that been there I was inclined to feel it would just reinforce my view.

    Yes I couldn’t figure our why the villagers distrust and fear the priest—except that people often do that for anyone who is different, and more so if they seem superior in some way. In Deerbrook, which I’ve just finished, the doctor is mobbed and almost killed and his house ransacked and he and his wife and sister-in-law almost destroyed because the townspeople want a scapegoat for the misery and continued sickness. As we know in the early 19th century a doctor could not do much effective as they didn’t even have the germ theory of disease or understand the organic nature of illness, much less have any effective antibiotics or remedies.

    Thank you for replying. I know you have been busy but do miss you. I’ve gone on at length here because I’m giving you rational opposition and am glad someone has replied. I wrote on BookerPrize about Braddon’s Doctor’s Wife as in some ways much better than Flaubert’s Madame Bovary pointing out how misogynistically it can be read, and not one reply. As ever I was so puzzled at an allwoman forum where not one woman will stand up for the heroine or a pro-feminist, really pro-woman point of view. Why do they fear and seek to silence or stigmatize through silence these truths? I wrote in support of a woman who said she preferred The Doctor's Wife to Flaubert, but not a peep out of her in reply. How are they threatened by them and not what’s done to them too?

    I’m particularly enjoying this project on film. I do like Austen and am fascinated by serious studies of film and want to do one myself even if a number of the Austen films have been commercial and strongly pandering commodities with ultimately conservative unacknowledged agendas.

    Elinor    Nov 28, 9:47am    #
  3. Again in response to Fran,

    I should have mentioned I thought the film was a reaction to the later 1940s in France. As in England, people were devaasted by war, impoverished. In France this was compounded by an era something like the US McCarthy one: French people would accuse one another in their villages and cities and neighborhoods (say apartment houses), of complicity with Nazism. It got very ugly for often these accusations were personally motivated, people wanting to take another’s property or goods or position, or simply hating someone in the area. People were scapegoated on all sides.

    The film’s mood I thought was a reflection, spoke to this era.

    The British reaction to their "Cotter's England" was the films of he early 1950s. This is Christina Stead’s phrase, a title of her novel of England in the 1950s I’ve been listening to her I’m Dying Laughing supposedly about the US in the 1950s and endless betrayals. These 1950s films I’m grouping together include the comedies of Sim and Alec Guiness, some apparently bizarre, and the moving tragedies, like one about a young man playing rugby which title I can’t remember just now. The British viewer was invited to laugh in order to mourn (rather like Jean Renoir’s work), not the French in Bresson’s film.

    Elinor    Nov 28, 9:50am    #
  4. Miss Schuster-Slatt wrote:

    “I must say that there are three Austen films that I thoroughly do like. First, the Elizabeth Garvie one – I guess that’s the Fay Weldon one, right? That was excellent. Garvie looked just as I imagined Elizabeth would.

    Then I admired the Emma Thompson S & S. And I actually enjoyed the Rozema MP. Oh, and there was a TV one of NA long ago where the ladies went in the Baths with high feathers in their hair, and I admired the surrealism of that scene! Catherine was quite plain and large featured, and I liked that too.

    Which ones have I hated most? Spoilt for choice. This latest one was a saccharine Valentine. Unlike most people I loathed Jennifer Ehle. I have hated all the Emmas. I hated that lugubrious one with Amanda Root.”
    Sylvia Drake    Nov 29, 6:42am    #
  5. I answered her:

    “My dear Miss Schuster-Slatt,

    I’m 60 today. Last night Caroline and I met at the GMU cafeteria because she is on a crew at the theatre. The work is much less heavy for her though I can see her back is still bad. She had presents for me and I’m just like a child. The new many houred DVD of the 1995 P&P: I agree with you it’s overrated but it’s important because it was so watched and (apparently) so liked. And Isabel had bought for me before she left for Buffalo a tasteful set of earrings and necklace. Did I ever tell you Yvette has impeccable taste (in the old-fashioned sense) in clothes and jewelry and shoes. She unerringly for the elegant, discreet, subdued but quietly lovely.

    I love melancholy and the grave aspects of Austen and so loved Persuasion. I was drawn more to Susan Fleetwood than Amanda Root, but I did find Ciarhan Hinds so attractive. I wrote twice for publication against the NA as substituting analogues for The Mysteries of Udolpho which was in fact the text Austen was trying to conquer and replace :).

    Thank you for the advice on the Republic of Pemberley. I will use it to search Austen’s texts. Though my calendars are there, and
    I have gone to it for the old editions of letters and described it in my paper “Women in Cyberspace,” and know others can reach a number of my postings of old (some featured by Henry Churchyard originally), I hardly ever go there. The old Janeite and new Janeite tones make me equally uncomfortable. But it’s a very useful place.

    I’m almost finished with my Eva Figes Little Eden: deeply mesmerizing, filled with childhood reveries, the second half is funny in a merry black humor during WW2 sort of way that is both ironic and critical towards and yet celebrates English culture and history and landscape. I should begin Colette’s The Vagabond for WWTTA by the weekend. I have an English edition I will read, with an old French one kept by its side so I will actually go back and forth from English to French and French to English.

    I am in a quandary because I’ve discovered there is no none nilch nyet scholarly articles on the film adaptations of Trollope. An open field. Astounding. A stunner. Talk about his not yet making the cut for serious scholarship in the 1960s and still not respected enough in the 1990s (one popular review said a documentary was serious and good, but Stephen Frye, the narrator just could not get himself to take Trollope seriously and the tone became trivializing and frivolous). Edward bought me for my birthday Set 2 and Set 3 of the Pallisers I have Set 1; each is made up of a third of the 26 episodes) and maybe I’ll send Abigail two abstracts :)

    Miss Sylvia Drake
    chava    Nov 29, 6:59am    #
  6. Dear Fran,

    I’ve not read Bernanos and that’s why I’m at a loss. This teaches me how important the originating text is in discussing the adaptation. I’m acutely aware that in order to begin to think about these adaptations I continually refer back to the originating text and compare it to the particular film and other films.

    I really watched Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest because so many of the “classic” film studies texts use it. I needed to see it to understand what they are saying. One film studies scholar-critic, Dudley Andrew, whose Concepts of Film Theory everyone refers to (on kinds of adaptations) argues there are 3 kinds of adaptations: borrowing, intersecting and matching (the attempt at faithful transformation).

    Diary of a Country Priest is said to be an example of intersecting. I’m not sure what that means. What I do know is he and Keith A. Reader (another respected critic) agree Bresson is not literally faithful either to the spirit or literal specificities of the book. I get the feeling most viewers (this from websites) think the film is. Bazin (the great doyen) is one of those who simply ignores the religion in the film preferring to discuss its landscapes and stills. To me that's like being an ostrich: every moment I'm watching the film its use or projection of religion stares me in the face (the stills are deliberately numinous and obscurantist).

    Using films familiar to me whose originating book I understand, I would say Fay Weldon's BBC 1979 P&P and Nick Dear's BBC 1995 Persuasion are examples of faithful transformation insofar as the difference of the mediums and audiences allows. The two 1996 Emmas attempt partial matching: McGrath opting for nervous comedy and erotic artifice; and Lawrence going for dark pessimism and social commentary.

    In many of the Austen films we see borrowing across books so in Emma Thompson’s S&S she uses the incident in Austen's Emma of Frank Churchill buying Jane Fairfax a surprize piano (Colonel Brandon buys Marianne Dashwood a surprize piano). Andrews speaks of archetypes as borrowed so the 1940s P&P borrowed the archetype of the curmudgeonly old woman with the heart of gold who united the loving couple and made Lady Catherine de Bourgh into that type and had her unite Darcy and Elizabeth (thus reversing the original story where Austen emphasizes the cruelty and intrasex antagonism of women).

    The 1999 MP might be said to intersect with Austen’s text. It corrects and qualifies it, exposing its political vacuities and silences, filling out what Austen didn’t dare show too clearly (the adulterous sex between Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford), and replacing what some readers might read as a trivializing jokey explanation for a character’s psychology with an in-depth modern psychoanalytical one: Tom Bertam in Austen is a shallow selfish Top Male, half a joke; in Rozema's movie he is a distraught and disturbed Top Male, someone who makes visible the sicknesses of the male hegemony because he loathes his father for using women and whipping men to remain rich and have his appetites satisfied. Austen's MP may be read as the education of Sir Thomas Bertram: Rozema gives some lessons to a dark and gothic-like man, Sir Thomas Bertram, where Austen gave lessons to a well-meaning but flawed father.

    The movies which change the surface and literal meaning even more and comment back are I suppose creative intersecting films: the 1995 teen-film (quite brillian I now think) Amy Heckerling’s Clueless and Whit Stillman’s quietly moving and ambiguous 1990 Metropolitan.

    But I'm not sure I've understood Andrew really and my examples show what he means.

    Elinor    Nov 29, 7:28am    #
  7. From Theo on WWTTA:

    Hi all—of course film is a different medium. Optioning a book (or using from the general domain of older books) only means it’s an inspiration to the film-makers, no more, no less. Impossible to be totally faithful to a book. One is interior, imagination, the other visual, inference.

    I spent 10 years in L.A, partly in film-making//Theo Nassar//”" I replied:

    "Dear Theo,

    Thank you for your comment. I remember you have said this on Trollope-l. I'll bet you could help me write this coming paper a lot.

    If only I knew the right questions to ask you :).

    Elinor    Nov 29, 11:01am    #
  8. From Howard G, WWTTA:

    “As long as you’re on the subject of Bresson, I thought I’d mention one of my favorite films, Au Hasard, Balthazar, about the fate of a donkey. Lovely, moving film.

    I have not yet managed to see the Bresson film I’ve long understood to be his best; since I can’t manage the accents here, I’ll give the translated title: A Condemned Man Escapes.”

    To which I replied:

    “Dear Howard,

    Good to hear from you. I do like Bresson and have not watched enough of his films. They are engrossing indepth studies as complicated and gripping as any great novel.

    Elinor    Nov 30, 10:42am    #
  9. Judy commented as follows offblog:

    “I’ve been interested to see that my daughter and her friend Rosie prefer the newest P&P, which is (I suppose) their generation’s version – they were only small children when the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version came out. My memories of it have faded a bit, but I think I tended to prefer that one because it was so much fuller and included more of the book – however I do like the fact that the actors in the newest version are younger, more the right age and so more vulnerable and anxious. Charlotte has recently read P&P and Northanger Abbey, which she liked very much too (though she wasn’t tempted to go on to Udolpho.)”

    I replied:

    “I think the expressiveness of the recent film is remarkable. All the stills I’ve found show their faces intense, vulnerable, anxious.

    I’m also struck by your saying that the NA didn’t tempt your daughter to take out Udolpho. My take on this one NA film is it has substituted or transformed Austen’s story by Radcliffe’s. The irony is Austen wanted to replace Radcliffe’s, and now here’s a filmic match for Radcliffe given the title of Austen’s book.

    Elinor    Nov 30, 10:52am    #
  10. From Fran offblog:

    "As for Bresson and Bernanos, my problem is that I don’t have the film to hand and my own memory of it is extremely vague, given that I’ve only seen it once, and that many, many years ago. The book itself was a set text at university and that, on the other hand, I’ve found very memorable. It’s an overwhelmingly powerful, if incredibly stark and depressing, piece of writing, whose impressions are very difficult to shake off, even if you question them. It reminded me of Manley Hopkins in his Wreck of the Deutschland mode:

    THOU mastering me
    God! giver of breath and bread;
    World’s strand, sway of the sea;
    Lord of living and dead;
    Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
    And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
    Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
    Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

    I’ve found something that addresses your question about Bresson and ‘intersecting’ by the way. It should help:

    ‘In his paper on adaptation, (Dudley) Andrew lists three modes of relation between the film and the text: borrowing, intersection, and fidelity of transformation. Borrowing is the most frequent mode of adaptation, where the artist employs the material, idea or form of an earlier, successful text. Medieval paintings and miracle plays featuring biblical iconography are examples of borrowing. The adaptations of Shakespeare or other texts that have reached the status of myth are further examples; there is no question of the replication of the original. Instead the audience is expected to enjoy basking in the pre-established presence and to call up new, or especially powerful aspects of a cherished work. The success of such adaptations rests on their fertility not fidelity

    Intersecting is an opposite mode of adaptation. Here the uniqueness of the original text is preserved to such an extent that it is intentionally left unassimilated. Robert Bresson’ss Diary of a Country Priest is the chief example, Bresson showed the writing of the diary on screen, it is not cinematized, it is a novel as seen by the cinema. Intersecting is a mode of adaptation that emphasizes the distinctiveness of the original text.

    The last mode, fidelity of transformation, involves finding stylistic equivalents in film to render the ‘letter’ or the ‘spirit’ of the text.’

    Hope this helps. It’s taken from the following website discussing The French Lieutenant’s Woman in example:


    Elinor    Nov 30, 11:06am    #
  11. Dear Fran,

    Just further thanks. I now get what it means. It’s not helpful as a general category. I think the latest MP and also the latest P&P and Clueless and Metropolitan are doing something Andrew’s categories don’t cover then.

    Indeed it’s rare for a movie to insist on the book as a distinct thing apart. The latest P&P has Keira Knightley first appear reading an old 18th century book whose title page we are permitted to look at and it’s called First Impressions. But we don’t see the book again and anyway Austen dropped that title and the only originating text we have (the first edition) is called Pride and Prejudice. In the Rozema MP the Fanny character is writing Austen’s juvenalia but that like diegetic music in a film; it’s part of the film's story.

    Thank you though. Now I understand.

    Elinor    Nov 30, 11:06am    #
  12. Judy and I discussed the anorexic bodies of the actresses in the 2005 P&P:

    I wrote her:

    “Starring at the stills I realize I didn’t mention to you the anorexic appearance of all the young actresses. Some of the shots are positively frightening.

    Does your daughter notice it at all? Caroline notices how heavy or thin actresses are and talks about it in terms of her own level of comfort.

    I put two striking contrasts on this blog, Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in 1995 and Jena Malone as Lydia Bennet in 2005.


    Dear Ellen,

    Just a quick answer… yes, my daughter has quite often commented on this, especially with regard to Keira Knightley – who I thought didn’t look quite as frighteningly thin in P&P as she has in some other films, but maybe just because the clothes weren’t quite as close-fitting. . . . I think constantly seeing these anorexic models and actresses does put on pressure even so. You do hear young girls saying they don’t want to wear coats in the winter in case they look fat in them!

    I much prefer to see a figure like Jennifer Ehle or Kate Winslet, or any actress who isn’t so painfully thin. Renee Zellweger has put on weight twice to play Bridget Jones but then immediately lost it again and gone back to that stick-thin look.

    I will try to get hold of the older P&P as you recommend it – I do think David Rintoul is a good actor; he was excellent in the remake of ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’, which I found surprisingly unsentimental for that type of programme.:)

    Elinor    Dec 1, 8:22pm    #

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