Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Based on the Novel...

The HBO miniseries of Mildred Pierce directed by Todd Haynes and starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Melissa Leo, and Evan Rachel Wood is finally out today on DVD and Blu-ray. (If you prefer your Winslet more contemporary and sickly as opposed to Emmy-award-winning and motherly- you're in luck! Contagion is also out today. Anyone up for a Kate movie marathon?)
I've get you now Emmy. Tony-you're in my sights...
I know a lot of reviewers and viewers were a little disappointed in the final product. The comment I heard the most was that it was a little slow paced or, you know- boring. I actually saw the complete miniseries, all five and half hours of it, in one day at the Museum of Moving Image on Mother's Day. And it flew by. I didn't find it boring at all. I found it engaging and interesting. Watching mother and daughter, Mildred and Veda, going at each other was the perfect way to celebrate Mother's Day. It was all build-up for those last scenes between the two and Winslet and Wood really brought it. Eight months later, I still think about their confrontation scene in the bedroom.

I've seen the Joan Crawford version from the 40's as well and you can't really compare the two. The film from the 40's added a murder plot and had a film noir feel to it. Todd Haynes said that he wanted the miniseries to be more faithful to the book by James Cain. The miniseries length really allowed him to do just that. He was able to delve in, explore the relationships, and give them a real slow burn. So it had me wondering what other classic films based on hefty novels would benefit from an updated miniseries version? After the jump, my four picks...

A Place in the Sun/ An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
A Place in the Sun is one of my favorite films. It was the first Montgomery Clift film I ever saw. He and Elizabeth Taylor were so beautiful that the camera seemed to lovingly linger on them. The film really is a commentary on the American dream and the limits one will go to achieve it. So, why remake it? The novel it's based on, An American Tragedy, while it shares the basic plot, is very different. Unlike the 1950's set film, the novel is actually set in the early part of the 20th century. It also has an earlier part that begins long before the main character arrives to work for his uncle. It sets up a backstory and possible motives for the future events of the story.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
While Rebel Without a Cause may be the film that made James Dean a movie star, his first-and most nuanced- performance is Cal in East of Eden. But the film version is only a small part of the entire novel.  The story is a sprawling family drama that covers generations and also introduces us to arguably the most interesting character in the novel- a cruel and sexual Cathy Ames who later becomes the mother of Cal and Aaron. Steinbeck's novel is heavily influenced by the bible and the story of Cain and Abel.  There's no way a two hour movie could cover everything. The miniseries format would allow for this compelling story to unfold.

From Here to Eternity by James Jones
The 1953 film is considered to be one of the best American films of all-time and even won 8 Academy Awards. So why try to mess with near perfection? For the simple fact that the censors of the day couldn't  go as far as the novel. The author himself had to eliminate graphic language and gay scenes from the final version of his novel. They have since been reinstated in updated versions. A newer version could be more realistic and grittier.

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
The film version of this novel has always bothered me. It just doesn't capture the spirit of the book and, most importantly, it eliminates one of the major characters of the story- the omnipresent and satirical narrator. The novel also imagines three possible endings where the narrator himself makes an appearance. The film's solution is to eliminate the narrator completely and have two parallel story lines. The actors playing the characters in the story are also actual actors in the present day filming a version of the story. A miniseries could have each different version of the ending over different nights. Just as long as it keeps the narrator!

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