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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Thanks to Monica, one of my  latest acquaintances in the blogosphere, I got to read this article in The by Mark Lawson. My friends know how hectic I am these days and are always ready to help me in the hard task of being an updated,  active blogger. Grateful thanks to them all!
This is a reflection about the success of and the great interest in filming the classics,  even when the same text is adapted for the umpteenth time. It's always the same, same old story would you say? You'll find out that many disagree with you.

The article titled "Timeless Taboos: why 19th century novels appeal to film-makers" focuses on three films currently in production  new Anna Karenina by Joe Wright (25 previous adaptations) , Great Expectations by Mike Newell (16) and  Wuthering Heights  by Andrea Arnold (17) . Despite the disadvantage of being very long stories for a two hours' movie  (Wuthering Heights runs to around 300 pages, Great Expectations to more than 400 and Anna Karenina to almost 900) and the fact  that the basic narratives have been told so often don't seem to scare these 21st century leading cinematic talents. There have been 10 major Pride and Prejudice on big and small screen, but Janeites don't seem to have had enough. 

To re-propose certain literary rooted classic stories has also its economic reasons, Mark Lawson admits: 

"It's also a proven rule of the entertainment industry that familiar material becomes even more appealing during economic difficulties: for obvious and understandable reasons, both producers and consumers prefer, when cash is tight, to risk it on projects that have already shown they can give value for money. In this respect, an additional advantage for producers in hard times is that a play by Shakespeare or a book by Dickens or Brontë will be out of copyright, avoiding an often expensive tussle for the rights"
(...)  "All of the performing artforms have rapidly established the concept of a canon: an agreed list of stories that merit re-telling. In theatre, this trove contains Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov and, latterly, Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter. In television, the works of Dickens and Jane Austen have become the reflex refuge of both the BBC and ITV, especially at times when the networks' cultural credentials are being questioned by regulators or at Westminster"

However the writer acknowledges that
... the fundamental reason that fiction from a pre-cinematic period has proved so attractive  to the cameras is that these are compelling narratives filled with fascinating characters 
and that ... 
 ... beyond the narrative satisfaction of the stories, I think there's another reason why these 19th-century classics are so regularly revisited; and one that holds a warning for contemporary film-making and fiction. At their simplest level, each of these books features a couple whose union is impossible or dangerous: Cathy and Heathcliff face the bar of class and propriety, Anna and Vronsky challenge the adultery taboo, and Pip and Estella are thwarted not only by their starkly different social backgrounds but by her bizarre guardian.

(...) Fiction is driven by friction and taboo but, in most parts of contemporary society, we have created a society in which there are few obstacles to people doing what they want or being with the person they desire. Numerous traditional narrative triggers – a sexual secret, the threat of bankruptcy, a spell in prison – now result in no more than a few months' embarrassment, an expensively maintained anonymity injunction or a tearfully confessional TV interview.
This generally more tolerant society has usefully reduced the prevalence of suicide and blackmail but is problematic for modern storytellers trying to construct a plot

This problem of achieving genuine moral hazard in a contemporary setting is the reason that so many high-profile novels and films are either historical stories or biopics: the past is more dramatic and morally complex.

Has our world become so ugly, shallow or even numb that the past is in many ways more appealing to film makers and to many of us ? I think this is partly true. We must look back to the past to find truer colours and more passionate stories. Strong values and deep, rooted passions sound more credible if set in distant ages. Why? What about nowadays ? My reason for loving the  fiction set in the past more  is actually a wish to escape what I do not like around me, but it is also the awareness of the closeness of the past to the present in many ways. How's it possible to recognize ourselves in Anne Elliot, Anna Karenina or Margaret Hale, otherwise? 


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