Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jesus' Son

Jesus' Son, a book of short stories, was adapted into a film by Alison Maclean in 1999. There were obvious challenges and also a few interesting opportunities when doing this. I'm here today to discuss what I believe worked and what didn't and also what might have been hard or less difficult when adapting this.

First of all I think there was one good thing and one bad thing about adapting this certain novel into a film.

1) I believe the hard part of this adaptation is that Jesus' Son is a novel filled with multiple short stories. It's not one continuous story. Yes we follow the same protagonist...but the stories are discontinuous. They take place at different times and with different characters and its hard for us to connect with any one else than the protagonist... And even with the protagonist, He's a down and out druggie who frankly most people wouldn't care about.

2) The cool part about this story (Even though I didn't like it) Is that the multiple stories intertwined gave the filmmakers the opportunity to use a unique style of Narrative. They had freedom to jump around from story to story and even have the protagonist address the camera because it was written in first person. It felt sort of like a documentary. 

I didn't find the acting in Jesus' Son appealing at all. I found it overly dramatic yet dull. I think it was because I didn't like the characters in the novel but something led me to believe, while watching the movie, that it was sort of like a soap opera. In some serious Drug scenes the film went a little overboard, having actors roll their eyes back, choke, and fall over then the only thing that would bring the character back is water in the shower (this method was used three times) This is one aspect of the film that I would say was not working.

I think the ending was a lot clearer in the film version than in the novel. The monologue is combined with the image of the protagonist walking along in the hospital with so many others "just like him" as he says "I think there's a place for people like me now and I'm getting stronger everyday" Whereas the books  last sentence being "I think there's a place for people like me now and I'm getting stronger everyday" we don't really know whats going to happen. The line doesn't happen in the hospital so we don't get the imagery of everyone around him. In the book he says it as he walks along past scenic images but nobody knows what will happen.

Overall I didn't like this adaptation but I will give it credit for what it did do. It managed to somehow tell the story of many stories in a contained film. It made the arc much more apparent and accomplished something by the end ( the change in his character ) and it was creative and went away from the traditional narrative by using a documentary/mockumentary style.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Clue: The movie "adapted" from the children's mystery board game holds no secrets. The task of adapting a board game might seem impossible to some, until you realize the whole story of clue... Inside clue (the board game) you will find that it already has narrative elements. It has characters, a dramatic question, scenes of confrontation (and possible conflict) and it even tells you flat out that the genre is murder mystery!

But that is where it ends... Each time you play clue the outcome is different and it was the filmmaker’s job to keep the audience guessing. One thing I noticed about the filmmaker’s choices stylistically is that, unlike the board game…  where you slowly narrow it down to one killer, one weapon, and one room, the movie never seems to do the same. Each character in the film is a suspect and remains a suspect until the end. 

If the filmmakers were staying true to the board game, I think they should've approached it in a different way. The best part about clue is that you figure it out for yourself. In the movie you have no such chance. In that sense I believe I would’ve structured the film in a way similar to the board game, planting clues throughout about who did or didn’t commit murder… (I’m not sure if this approach would make the film too serious because I know it’s meant to be something fun that you watch and not really crank your brain to solve a mass mystery)

Nonetheless I respect the filmmaker’s choice because it does only hold one dramatic question instead of eliminating characters one by one and at the end have nothing left (dramatically speaking). The movie clue is a hard one to wrap your head around. The ambiguity, dark comedic tone, and bad acting (except for Tim Curry) add up to one big movie mystery that hold together fairly well as a colt film. I wouldn’t expect much more of it knowing it was adapted from a board game. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Smoke Signals//Happy Break!!

After doing a bit of research I've found that, Sherman Alexie, a writer, poet, filmmaker, and sometimes comedian focuses mainly on the issues of Native Americans and the struggles that they have in everyday life because of their vast misrepresentation. Alexie was born on October 7th, 1966 at the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington where he experienced first hand what life was like there. It is obvious to see that Alexie saw both the good(s) and the evil(s) in reservation life. From his short story collection, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heave"   to Smoke Signals, the film he directed, inspired by his collection and mainly the short story, "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona"Alexie, shows signs of every traditional Hollywood drama. He takes real Indian actors acting in a story about real Indians to show that it too can be commercial. When watching Smoke Signals, you wouldn't necessarily realize its an Indian film. The performances feel real and the story is authentic. Its about a boy who loses touch with his dad and then after his dad's death has to somehow regain understanding with him.

The movie stars, Victor Joesph, A troubled character that we follow from infantry all the way to adulthood.  We can see that his father's a drunk and that he's struggled with it from boyhood. When Victor was a boy his father left him to start a new life in Arizona.
Thomas, the co-star of this film was just a baby when he was saved by Victor's dad from a house fire creating a life long relationship between Victor and Thomas. Victor has always resented Thomas for being saved thinking that if he were in the fire, his dad would've only gone back to get Thomas. Though sometimes Victor and Thomas do get along Thomas' awkwardness and inability to take social cues leaves Victor upset when they're together.

Here the two are together Victor obviously annoyed by Thomas' excitement and lack of knowledge of the outside world.

As you can also see in this picture Thomas is holding a jar of money and that is his ticket to ride with Victor on the trip to retrieve his dad in Arizona.

The film's structure is close to that of his short stories and a lot is told in flashback. The transitions are out of the blue and unexpected in the short stories and this is represented each time that we jump forward or backword in Victor's life.  For Example: We may see Victor running to a door as a boy then entering the door as a man.

Obviously, "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" is not enough material for a 2+ hour feature film. This is why Alexie takes inspiration from his other works and they are clearly seen within the piece. What the film does do is elaborate in great detail on the very short segmented scenes in the story. I think here is where the directing and Screenwriting stand alone. If it were shot exactly as the story told us, so much would be hard to follow as we cut from scene to scene with virtually no transition. And where Alexie left off the filmmakers picked up and to me that is a sign of a good adaptation. Without some of the key integral scenes the filmmakers added, the story itself wouldn't be so meaningful (For example: The father's trailer scene where Victor cuts off his hair)  This a clear choice of the director to expand upon the story for filmmaking purposes and it  shows that he has a clear understanding that when adapting you can stray from the text if you need to.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

American Splendor

American Splendor: A story about a story of man who longs to write a story about himself.

Harvey Pekar the real life graphic novelist is embodied by actor Paul Giamatti in the adapted screenplay entitled "American Splendor" The script was adapted from Pekar's own self reflexive comic also entitled "American Splendor." It details the everyday struggles of his very average and everyday life. How he struggles with his writing, his marriage, his boredom, his cleanliness... ect. 

The screenplay was written as almost an exact mirror image of the comics. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the team who cowrote and codirected "American Splendor" (the film) were spot on when depicting the eccentric/pushed realities that Pekar writes and easily capturing (in the film) its "animated" style. From the opening scene they make it apparent that this movie will use some of the same, easily recognizable conventions of a comic book. We are introduced to Pekar through comic book frames as he walks about his shabby average neighborhood.

 I couldn't find a picture of the shot where we actually see multiple frames within the frame as I described above (trust me it's there!) but... the poster for the movie (the picture you see above) is a good representation of the filmmakers understanding of style and  motivation for what the film is going to be.

In this next paragraph, I wanted to talk about spine. If you've never heard of spine its basically... or not so basically what the film is about. Its, Its overall message, It's theme, the central idea the filmmaker is trying to convey, Its the spine. And after finding this image on the internet I noticed one very interesting thing about it. The logline or the bubble over Harvey's head pretty much said it all for me. That "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff" At first I came away from the film not really finding much I could value. I mean, the story is very literally the agendas of his everyday life. And at times this can obviously be boring. Pekar's overly pessimistic attitudes really turned me off to his character. He refuses to write, He refuses to clean his own apartment and he refuses to accept (in the beginning) that life will go on after he is diagnosed with caner. In the end Harvey does conquer some of these pessimistic qualities and overcomes most of his everyday dilemmas but I never saw the payoff. I would've never deemed Pekar a hero if it were not for this logline and I found much deeper meaning within the film.

That the film amounts to the little successes and the little moments in life. Of course there are a few big successes but its more about that he's just made it through. And because of that Harvey is a hero and so is the rest of average everyday America. That making it through is a BIG deal and that heroes aren't defined by saving people or by their bravery. They can be defined in the form of Harvey Pekar, a graphic novelist who affected many with a comic book that was against the odds of succeeding.

The two side by side.
Pekar on the right Giamatti on the left.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

All About Eve

When adapting a short story into a film, there are many hard adaptation choices that must be made. For instance, the short story "The Wisdom Of Eve," later adapted into the film "All About Eve" Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, proved to be a cumbersome challenge when recreating the short for the cinema. There are many similarities and differences between Mary Orr's short story and it's associate film "All About Eve" some of which are:

In the beginning of Mary Orr's "The Wisdom Of Eve" The narrator blatantly states that Eve is a bad character. She describes her name in the context of the bible and "Eve the Temptress" speaking of her originally "snaky" activities.   This is not the case in the film. In the film we are given far less information about Eve's background. The film feeds off of the audiences confusion trying to understand the other character's reactions of disgust as Eve receives an award in the first five minutes of the film.
(Opening scene where the audience is upset about Eve's award but it is never really stated why until later in the film where it is revealed that everyone hates her)

Another example of the many differences between the short and film is that in the story it seems that we breeze through a lot of moments that would depict Eve as bad or make the audience suspicious of her because our point of view is very much limited. The short comprises solely of the conversation between the narrator, Karen and the woman she is talking to. In the film we are able to go inside other character's heads to give us inside looks at Eve's conniving, manipulative actions that inform the audience of her true character.

A story within a story is an obvious similarity between the short and the feature. They are both told mainly through dialogue and not action and the same gossip storytelling is evident in both.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story & Smoke

Paul Auster's narrative quarks are present not only in his writing of the short story 'Auggie Wren's Christmas Story' but in the adapted screenplay 'Smoke'. Auster is apparently known for his fondness for digression, fascination with coincidence and his force of contradiction.
Plot wise, the short story and the film differ substantially. The short story itself is self-reflexive in that Paul Auster is the narrator and main character in his own short story. Also, in the end we realize that, Auster as a writer in the narration, works for a paper--and that the actual story we're reading is the editorial he ends up submitting. There's also Auggie's actual Christmas Story, that he tells towards the end of the short---there are stories within stories within stories.
Auster's fondness for digression is present in both the story and the film. Each of these stories within stories flow into one another but we are never really jolted by the twists and turns that Auster brings to the story. Especially in the movie, Auster intertwines many different story lines in order to give us a broad understanding of the world, insight to the characters, and the slice of life feeling that is important to Auster's work.

Auster's use of coincidence is shown in the film, when Auggie's a-picture-a-day project happened to capture Paul Auster's wife in one of the photos. Auster's force of contradiction is in both the short story and film--the story about how Auggie spent Christmas with a blind woman and then ultimately stole her camera is the most prominent example.

Throughout both the short story and the film, there are running themes about truth, reality, belief and faith. The whole thing revolves around a Christmas story,  Christmas being a time for belief and faith. Auggie takes photos everyday, photos are unbiased, accurate representations of life, always showing us the truth. The old blind woman that Auggie spends Christmas with, we are told doesn't really believe Auggie is her son, but plays along anyways, and Auggie knowingly also sustains the suspension of belief.  Also there is always the question of whether Auggie is even telling a true story--but does it really matter? Because his motives for telling the story are perhaps more important.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Freaks & Spurs

The film 'Freaks', adapted by Todd Browning, is derived from the short story 'Spurs' written by Todd Robbins. Browning's film differs from Robbin's short story in a lot of ways, while also keeping important similarities in order to stay true to the story. I think the most prominent difference between the film and the book, is the way that Browning glorifies the "freaks" instead of keeping them inhumane like the short story does. Browning has found a way to make these characters humane, and gain our sympathy as an audience while we watch. There are a few distinct ways that he does this:

First he spends a lot of time in the film just lingering on the freaks in their everyday life. There are some shots that don't really add to the film but instead give us a better sense of how that character goes about their everyday life. The time that is spent simply watching these characters perform simple acts throughout their day make us feel, not only sympathetic, but even impressed or congratulatory towards them. The fact that the director chose to use actualy people with deformities in his film, not only deepens the meaning of the work, but automatically gains the audiences respect and appreciation towards those characters.
Robbins also added the character of Han's fiancee, who we follow closely as she slowly comes to realize that her husband loves another. Her heartbreak gains our immediate sympathy, not to mention her performance is extremely well played.
Perhaps the most astonishing factor that makes the freaks more humane, is the one that is most hard to watch. The way the gifted, normal and ordinary people treat the "freaks". Robbins portrays them in a way that is cruel, as they constantly mock the freaks, who are too naive to know better. This idea of those who are fortunate taking it for granted is perhaps the strongest aspect of the film, and makes us as an audience think about our own actions, and perhaps wins us over by guilt.

(Scene where humans mock the 'freaks')

In contrast, the way the "freaks" are portrayed in the book keeps us extremely detached from their situation and doesn't give us reason to side with them. The main protagonist and "freak", Hans in the movie but Jacques in the short story, is an extremely self-absorbed character. And it is because he is so self centered that he fails to see himself being tricked by the "wonderful" Jeanne Marie -- the human woman he loves. Therefore we have no sympathy for him in the end, when he realizes his mistake, because ultimately he kind of deserved it.
Secondly, the author refers to him as 'the dwarf' throughout the majority of the story, keeping us distant from him, adding a level of detachment. We have no access to his inner workings, emotions, and through processes. In fact, we have much more access to Jeanne Marie, which almost makes us want to side with her.