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Monday, November 02, 2009

Adaptation

This weekend I learned these things:

– Including our computers and cell phones, we have over 25 timepieces in my house.  Funny how the computers and cell phones know all about daylight savings.

– There is an intriguing but unsubstantiated rumor floating around the Internets that David Horowitz secretly ghost-wrote Going Rogue

– Betty no longer loves Don.  Also, Kennedy was shot in Dallas.  You knew the Draper marriage was going to come apart somewhere around November 1963, right?  You just thought, as I did, that it would be the season finale.

– I cannot watch more than fifteen minutes of the film version of The Sound and the Fury.  I’d always heard that it sucked in over 25 different ways, but I was curious as to whether this wasn’t just anti-adaptation snobbery at work, so yesterday I checked to see if someone had uploaded it to Ye Youtube, and sure enough, there it was.  At the fifteen-minute mark, I said to myself, “by Moloch’s cognitively disabled brother, this movie might actually be worse than The Spirit.  I didn’t know you could adapt a novel this badly. Yul Brenner as Jason?  Jason and his mother are not Compsons?  What are all these competing Accents From Around the World?  Caddy’s daughter Quentin does voiceover, after spending the night—riding a bus round-trip to Memphis?  And what is going on with that lunatic soundtrack? In short, W? T? F?” I peeked ahead, after reading on an IMDB board that Margaret Leighton’s Caddy was the one redeeming feature of the movie, only to find Margaret Leighton playing Caddy as Blanche DuBois.  And Jason kissing Quentin!  Sweet mother of Zuul, make it stop!  So I did.  I made it stop.  I mean, I’ve wasted time on the Internets before.  I’ve even read entire Townhall columns from start to finish.  But this movie was melting my eyeballs and making the vitreous humor run down my face.

And why was I anywhere near the film version of The Sound and the Fury in the first place?  Because last year I had a Bright Idea®.  I had grown tired of trying to sneak a few moderately whimsical or experimental or just plain fun novels into American literature survey courses, where they inevitably went over badly with everyone except my most talented and intellectually curious students.  (Though this was a pretty good way to find out which of my students really like reading.) I’m still not sure why “survey” seems to mean “varieties of domestic realism” to so many people, but this year I figured, eh, what the hell.  I’m going to offer a class called “Stranger than Fiction” in which I teach a bunch of challenging things with the appropriate surgeon general’s warning posted in the course description, beware, this class consists of one challenging novel after another.  I decided not to go hardcore, which meant that Nightwood and The Third Policeman didn’t make the final cut.  And I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that the twentieth century had cornered the market on weird, so I opened with Wuthering Heights and The Confidence-Man, promising students that WH would in fact be much weirder than its various film versions (and general reputation as a “romance”) would lead one to believe. (Indeed, it appears that one of the standard features of film adaptations of the novel is that Heathcliff must be whitened.  Yes, he’s played by dark brooding Byronic hero types, sure, but he’s whitened.  The only adaptation I can find that gets Heathcliff right is this one.)

Anyway, so the next two novels were those high-modernist classics, To the Lighthouse (Ross Douthat, white courtesy phone) and The Sound and the Fury, and for the next five classes I have the great privilege of teaching ... dang, now I’ve forgotten the title. Help me, Will!

I hear the film version is kind of odd—hard to tell just what’s going on at the end.  But I’m planning on enjoying the next few weeks, this much I know.

Posted by Michael on 11/02 at 09:06 AM
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