The Effects of The End of the Tour

I haven’t yet had a chance to see The End of the Tour, James Ponsoldt’s film adaptation of David Lipsky’s book-length interview with David Foster Wallace, but I’ve found a lot to like about the responses it has drawn from critics so far — or, rather, the breadth and variety of those responses. At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got Tom LeClair lamenting that even though The End of the Tour “offers itself as a respectful homage to and elegy for David Foster Wallace,” “exploitation mars the film from its origin through its casting to the final product.” The result, writes LeClair, is “a movie that Wallace’s widow and his editors said Wallace would have hated” and, worse, “the kind of commercial entertainment that Wallace’s best work critiqued.” But then you’ve got Christopher Schaberg taking a more generous view of things — “the movie is perfectly okay!” — and pointing out that, far from downplaying or bypassing its treatment of Wallace’s major critical concerns, The End of the Tour gives consideration to most of them. “Nothing in the movie breaks from the overt themes of Wallace’s actual writings,” Schaberg insists, “unless you want to go meta and insist that the movie itself is everything Wallace would have hated — but then, the joke is on us, too.” Continue reading

Minor Notes on Much Ado About Nothing

This year has been for me, in a sense, the year of Much Ado About Nothing. Back in November, I began helping a couple of colleagues to direct our students in a performance of the play. We spent November and December closely reading the text, then we spent January and February intensively preparing for the stage. We also paid careful attention to both Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film adaptation and the 2011 West End production starring David Tennant as Benedick and Catherine Tate as Beatrice. And although we pulled the trigger too soon to catch Joss Whedon’s more recent take on Shakespeare’s material, I saw his Much Ado when it hit cinemas this summer and I’m convinced that it is the best of all those I have seen. It could have just as easily gone the other way. Whedon shot the film in only twelve days, while in the middle of post-production on The Avengers, using his own house as the set and restricting himself to a grainy monochrome palette. It could have been a sloppy, rushed, underdeveloped mess. But it isn’t. Why not? Continue reading

Under the Sway of the Cinematic Imagination

John Freeman, the current editor of Granta, published an essay in last Saturday’s Age that attempted both to commemorate the tenth anniversary of “9/11” and to assess the impact of 9/11 on American literature. It’s a stunning piece of critical oversimplification, beginning with the most reductive possible reading of some unfathomably complex novels: Continue reading

Formal Bias and Frankenstein

Before Danny Boyle’s theatrical adaptation of Frankenstein ended its run in London last Sunday, I managed to catch one of the dozen or so performances that were broadcast into cinemas worldwide. There was a lot to like — outstanding performances and set design — but especially pleasing was what I originally thought of as the adaptation’s fidelity to its source material. Notwithstanding the abridgement of certain scenes, the erasure of peripheral characters like Robert Walton and Henry Clerval, and the dramatisation of events in chronological sequence rather than the explication of events in retrospect, Mary Shelley’s narrative survived largely intact. The creature escapes from Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory in Geneva only to be persecuted by wider society; he observes the De Laceys from a distance and is befriended by the old blind patriarch before the younger De Laceys turn against him; he returns to Geneva where he kills Frankenstein’s brother and orders Frankenstein to create for him a bride; and, when Frankenstein refuses, the ensuing struggle between he and his creature takes the two of them on their cataclysmic journey to the North Pole. For the most part, Boyle’s adaptation of Shelley’s novel appears to be an extremely faithful one.

In a sense, though, the fidelity of the translation from the page to the stage is precisely what makes the adaptation essentially and radically different. It’s not possible to make a faithful visual adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, since Shelley’s Frankenstein invests so much importance in the essentially abstract and non-visual nature of its own artform. Continue reading

Putting a Finger on the Problem

At Spike: The Meanjin Blog, Jessica Au has some harsh words for the recent film adaptation of John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began. Nostalgia for Marsden’s original series of books was what prompted her to see the film, she says, “despite my qualms about the trailer, which seemed stuck somewhere between Summer Bay and a big-budget Hollywood extravaganza.” After noting some of the key differences between the books and the film, she goes on to take issue with the differing degrees of violence displayed by the obscure forces that invade Australia on the page and the pan-Asian army that invades Australia on the screen: Continue reading