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Adaptation is not a new phenomenon. Taking a literary classic and transforming it into a completely different medium has been the choice of many directors, artists other authors and so on, for a great many years. Whilst there is nothing quite like an original screenplay, artwork or musical composition, there are also a number of advantages in presenting a well known, or even lesser known piece in a different format. Some of these advantages involve previous recognition of the work and an immediate appreciation for what this new aspect has to offer. Also there can already be a large audience base for that particular piece, who are immediately drawn to discovering what new direction can be taken. However, these advantages can inversely be to a considerable disadvantage. Those with an utmost respect for the original literary text can find the adaptation too different from their ideals and reject it all together. For some reason, such criticisms tend to revolve primarily around adaptation from literature to cinema. Different mediums like theatre, opera, ballet whilst not immune to similar reactions, for some reason dont attract nearly the attention that film adaptation usually does. Here we will look at a few different novel to screen adaptations like Henry James and Jane Campions Portrait of a Lady, Hammett and Hustons The Maltese Falcon and even George Orwells literary masterpiece and Michael Radfords adaptation of 184, and somehow try and discover what it is that makes this most modern aesthetic medium, the most offensive of all adaptive techniques.

The Jane Campion film Portrait of a Lady is the perfect example of an enormously diverse response to a cinematic adaptation of a very popular, classic novel. Campion herself is a very well respected director, so it is by no surprise that she thought she could afford to attach her own perception to many different aspects of the film. Whilst naturally there was a huge fan base for this work of hers, there were many traditionalists who did not take to it too fondly. One such person was Don Anderson who stated Im mad as hell, and Im not taking it anymore. Campion was accused of only using the sections she wanted to serve her feministic purposes and also removing the literary aspect of Henrys novel and turning it into a purely visual adaptation. Her hallucinatory techniques, particularly the dream scene has quite a mixed reaction from common audiences to critics. In the dream scene, whilst I believe it to be incredibly original and rather eerily effective, can be questioned being used in a movie set at a time that predates the advent of film. Many people did not seem to understand why she had chosen to send the film away from the Merchant-Ivory films and the recent Jane Austen adaptations. Some critics even chose to remove the idea that it was in fact an adaptation and that it was indeed more an interpretation. As Robert Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times states it gives us Isabel from a completely different angle. It is common for modern directors such as Jane Campion to come under fire for the artistic approach to adaptation. The post-modernistic ideals of art through film are hard for classically trained critics to come to terms with. Particularly when the book dates back to 1881, and over a hundred years later it is turned on its head for the benefit of a modern audience. This is not a bad thing at all but represents completely the type of stigma attached to literary adaptation to cinema and why it is so unfairly charged with phrases like exploitation. Campion was attacked from both ends though. In an attempt to appeal to the modern audiences and move away from the novel into more exciting territory, she was still accused of losing focus of all that makes the novel exciting and in fact inversely, making to more dull. Portrait of a Lady is a perfect example of film giving too much to look at, not just to the audiences, but to the critic as well.

Film can have that exact problem. The idea of too much. There is probably too much for things to go slightly differently than as intended and therefore pounced upon by critics eager to make a name for themselves. One such example lies in Michael Radfords adaptation of 184. The acting, setting and screenplay did not seem to come under criticism as per usual when pinpointing problems in adaptation; it was in fact the background music. The score, which had promised to greatly enhance the film after its use in the theatrical trailers, ultimately became the largest controversy surrounding the film. The producers, against the wishes of the director, decided to scrap most of composer Dominic Muldowneys score in the film and replace it with pop songs by the popular 80s synth group Eurythmics. Needless to say, the inconsistency this caused in the music for the film was a substantial reason for the critics cold response to the film. The music was an experiment by Virgin in combining traditional orchestral music with pop sounds. This is a perfect example of trying to do too much with the medium available.

In the film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon the film on its own has had much critical acclaim, and been praised as one of the all-time classics. However as an adaptation of the novel many traditionalists have failed to see its merits. Bogarts character Sam Spade appears far less sleazy than in the novel in fact his relationship with his partners wife is played down. There is a rather large feminist critique that believes that in fact in typical 140s misogynist-fashion poor Iva gets all the blame. There are also those who believe that it is in fact a complete rip-off of the 11 movie. It is not denied that the script of the 141 film is word for word the complete same as the movie ten years its senior. Despite excuses of low budget, many critics have viewed this as unforgivable. There are also other aspects claimed dont make a great deal of sense, but these are just few in what was a superb 140s style film. For example to suit Bogarts persona he is situated in a modern high-rise apartment block, not the old fashioned apartment as referred to in the book. Joel Cairo therefore uses the elevator, not the old-fashioned fire escape to sneak into spades apartment block. A common fault of adaptation, which has frustrated critics for many years, is the rewrite of the ending to suit the current ideals of the time. In Hammetts original story Spades secretary Effie is horrified at Spades cavalier manner when he hands over his lover Miss Wonderley to the police. She can see the logic of it, but she cannot come to terms with his actions. ...but dont touch me, Sam, she says brokenly, as if she doesnt want to be contaminated. This is very different to the 141 ending, which no doubt was rewritten to suit the heroic ideals expected by the American cinema-going public of the time. Here Spades motive is the standard a mans gotta do what a mans gotta do, with no hint of the cynicism Hammett envisaged. The impact on Effie is omitted. This is however not uncommon at all, so it cannot be blamed entirely on the director Huston. Censorship prevented the true Spade from coming across, as the man with two things on his mind, money and sex. Bogart did well, however there has been much criticism of the casting of Miss Wonderlys, by people who believe that Mary Astor is just plain sexless, reducing any sexual chemistry between the two.

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An inescapable fact of cinema is its relative newness to the world of performance. The very conservative critique of the old world of the stage find the silver screen very difficult to come to terms with in any great seriousness. Films in general take a long time to do and are shot scene by scene, a lot of the time voiding the need for actors to learn their lines completely off by heart. This can be looked on rather unfavourably by those who marvel and rejoice in the theatrical art of rote learning and becoming so involved with the character that during that period they virtually become that person. Of course a lot of the time this does happen in cinema. Marlon Brando, a very well trained method actor indeed had to become the abusive, conniving, smooth talking Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, and subsequently played the part to critical acclaim. However with the stigma of Hollywood attached to big films, there also comes with it a lot of baggage. The big shot, drug addicted, alcoholic, washed up millionaires ideology which is a stain that a very small minority certainly has evoked, is at the same time hard to let go, particularly for those who want to believe it. The reason why mediums such as ballet and symphonic works dont attract the same sort of attention also is because they are so different. For the most part they dont claim to have a perfect or very close adaptation of the literary text. They use the text and its underlying themes and story to make their performance, but sometimes it borders more on intertextuality. Also the criticism made of musical performances and dance generally is not the adaptation of the story, but more the performance itself, the quality of the dancers or musicians, or the composition.

Adaptation is fraught with problems and difficulties and is never going to be considered perfect by one hundred percent of the audience. There are so many different things to contend with, especially in the world of cinema and its mass audiences. First of all there is time. To appeal to the movie-going public, the film cannot be too long, or else the audience gets bored with the slow-moving film. When adapting a rather large and detailed novel to the screen, it is unfortunately necessary, that a great many scenes will have to be omitted. Directors and writers try to remove those sections that are least important in the outcome of the film, however as the old saying portends Theres no pleasing anyone. Of course there are bound to be avid readers, who perhaps enjoyed a particular scene in the novel which was left out, and of course they will be somewhat displeased. Secondly there is the problem of budget. Some scenes could be frankly just too expensive to film. Anything from a car explosion, a fight scene, a boat chase and even location, could be deemed too costly and so the scene would somehow have to be rewritten. Unfortunately for the audience, and most certainly at the greatest pains for the director, these are often the most exciting sections of the novel, and appear rather flat or uneventful in the film. Finally, not so much today but certainly back some fifty years ago, the director would have to comply with certain censorship issues. Particularly for a lot of Hollywood films, if certain areas were too risque or were on matters that were taboo or even conflicted with the All-American ideals of the time, then it had to be changed. Any reference to sex, deviance, extra-marital affairs etc. had to either played down to absolute minimum, if played at all. Tragedies were rare in Hollywood because as far as the censors were concerned and the public to an extent, endings had to be good, with a pronounced hero. With these factors and I dare say quite a lot more involved in adapting a piece of literature to film it is no wonder that they come under criticism frequently for not handling it better. It makes you wonder whether critics do in fact take any of these things into consideration before they bad-mouth cinematic adaptation, or whether they are too busy jumping on the bandwagon of criticism for adaptive attempts. Of course there are many adaptations that deserve criticism for a failed attempt that could very easily through small changes here and there, been significantly improved. However one must always take into consideration not only the difficulties in transforming a novel to screen, but making a film in general. This is why cinema is so frequently harangued about its problems with adaptation. In particular charges of exploitation by those who believe the director is using the title of the novel to sell movie tickets to more people, whilst at the same time not fulfilling their expectations. Sacrilege from those who cant believe what they have done to the literature, and a complete disbelief about how they can claim it to be indeed an adaptation. And Debasement by the traditionalists who think that they have ruined the reputation of the book by claiming that the film is the same story, and taken possibly

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