Thursday, July 18, 2013

Books on Screen

We hope you're making time for a few literary adaptations in between summer blockbusters, moviegoers. Here are a couple I've recently watched.

On the Road (2012)
I loved this book, and I was really looking forward to the film. After I missed it in theaters, though, it was kind of hard to get a hold of until it popped up on my On Demand offerings—I hoped this scarcity meant that it was just too awesome for the unwashed masses to appreciate, but that I would still love it. Alas, no, it was just okay. And it was a bit depressing. And it was kind of boring. I mean, look, there are moments in the book like this one:
“At dawn I got my New York bus and said good-by to Dean and Marylou. They wanted some of my sandwiches. I told them no. It was a sullen moment. We were all thinking we’d never see one another again and we didn’t care.”
…that clearly show there were some lulls and some downers in Sal’s adventures. But to see those moments pervade the entire film was a bit of a letdown. Here’s the other thing: what excitement there was, was mainly focused on drugs, sex and fast driving, all of which were played up disproportionately compared to the book. But where was the unbridled exuberance? And the sense of wonder? Where was the fun? They tried to sell us on Sal’s and Dean’s friendship with lots of intense, heartfelt man hugs—a constant coming and going where locked eyes and sincere, sullen glances were supposed to communicate everything. They didn’t. I thinkall but the most hardcore Kerouac fans, and even a good number of those, can skip this one.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)
Ten years before he became Atticus Finch, Gregory Peck played the role of Harry Street in the adaptation of Hemingway’s classic short story. But while it starts off true enough to the original—the necrotic leg injury, the vultures, the desperate wait for a plane—it takes some liberties that rubbed me the wrong way. For one, the flashback action was just a cheap rehash of Hemingway’s own life story: Spanish Civil War, expat Paris, big game hunting, bullfights in Pamplona. I guess if you’re trying to get Hemingway nuts into the theater, that’s one way to do it. But it cheapens the work of fiction that’s supposed to be played out on screen. 

And while the trail of tortured romances opened up roles for Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward, that’s not what the story’s really about. Snows  is about examining one’s life, finding it wanting, resolving to change and redeem oneself… only to have the chance whisked away at the last second. Bittersweet brilliance. Which brings me to the most egregious crime of all: the ending. Instead of flying off into the metaphorical snows of Kilimanjaro, a peaceful resignation to death and dying, Harry Street (and his romance!) are saved. The plane arrives, the vultures disappear, and all’s well that ends well. I haven’t had a film betrayal like that since The Grapes of Wrath , the movie.


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