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About this book

Adaptation studies has historically been neglected in both the English and Film Studies curricula. Reflecting on this, Screen Adaptation celebrates its emergence in the late 20th and 21st centuries and explores the varieties of methodologies and debates within the field. Drawing on approaches from genre studies to transtexuality to cultural materialism, the book examines adaptations of both popular and canonical writers, including William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and J.K.Rowling.

Original and provocative, this book will spark new thinking and research in the field of adaptation studies. Mapping the way in which this exciting field has emerged and shifted over the last two decades, the book is also essential reading for students of English Literature and Film.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
In a collection published in 1936, Seymour Stem rants about the mechanical and infantilising process of screen adaptation in Hollywood: ‘It means the reduction of every story to the lowest level of human intelligence, the assimilation of every idea to the spirit and grain of the universal Average Man.’1 Advocates of adaptation studies have been contesting this view since the beginning of cinema, and only recently are there signs that the argument is beginning to be won. This volume attempts to pursue some of the reasons why literary adaptations on film and television have been so despised by critics; framing the subject is indeed difficult, but we’ve tried to strike a mean between a seemingly haphazard collection of case studies and a semi-deceitful promise that this volume offers a comprehensive, coherent and systematic overview of an area that just refuses to be pinned down.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

1. Adaptations: Theories, Interpretations and New Dilemmas

Abstract
Nearly a decade ago, we characterised the area of adaptations studies as still ‘caught between literary criticism and film studies’.1 One sea change, as we examine today’s dilemmas for adaptation studies, is that discussions about where to situate the study of adaptations recede and other questions are posed from different perspectives. Linda Hutcheon brings to adaptations her abiding interest in intertextuality, and in her 2006 book she focuses on ‘modes of engagement – telling, showing, and interacting with stories’,2 also emphasising that ‘the contexts of creation and reception are material, public, and economic as much as they are cultural, personal, and aesthetic’.3 In this way she displaces her own putative disciplinary location and skirts round the issue of medium specificity, not to ignore the formal qualities of the medium but in order to emphasise the social and cultural processes of exchange in adaptation.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

2. Film on Literature: Film as the New Shakespeare

Abstract
This chapter looks at literary adaptations from the perspective of film, especially in the early period of cinema, setting forth some of the reasons why the form was so disdained by so many film-makers and film enthusiasts. The formulation ‘Literature on Screen’ or ‘Shakespeare on Screen’ implies a superiority of one art over another, and this view that literature/Shakespeare is the pre-eminent party is, by no means, universally shared and is especially evident outside English and Drama studies. Our argument departs from ‘traditional’ Shakespeare on Screen studies in its attempt to locate Shakespeare on film within a larger field of adaptation studies, considering that Shakespeare on film seems to have established itself as an area in its own right, with little or no heed of the wider context of studies in adaptations.1 In the light of the artistic claims made for cinema in the first half of the twentieth century, together with the negative reception to film adaptations of literature, especially adaptations of dramatic literature, this chapter examines how feature-length films of Hamlet, in this period, compare and contrast theatrical and filmic styles. In some instances, it seems, the usual trajectory of Shakespeare on film is subtly reversed: that is, Shakespeare on film becomes, if only momentarily, film on Shakespeare.2
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

3. Literature on Film: Writers on Adaptations in the Early Twentieth Century

Abstract
While the previous chapter reflected on attitudes to adaptations from the perspective of those in the early film business, this chapter looks at perceptions of adaptations from those connected to literary studies in the first part of the twentieth century. We address the seemingly inseparable intellectual and social opposition by writers to adaptations from the early twentieth century onwards, a snobbery that succeeded in withholding serious or sustained recognition of the field, as anything but an adjunct to the ‘main business’ of literary or film studies. The last section reflects on how recent work has interrogated long-held assumptions about film adaptations of literature, assumptions which, we argue, have their origins in social elitism as much as in a sense of intellectual unworthiness and which reflect deeply outdated views about the way we consume both film and literature in the twenty-first century.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

4. Authorial Suicide: Adaptation as Appropriation in Peter Pan

Abstract
This chapter explores a text that seems to have been conceived of and persists as an adaptation: Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie, best known for the authorship of Peter Pan seems to have had a love/hate relationship with film adaptation, as testified in his own foray into the field with The Real Thing at Last (1916), an ‘adaptation’ of Macbeth which, as its title implies, lampoons film adaptation of literature for its inane belief in the superior ‘reality’ of the moving image. Barrie’s many changes to the play, which was performed before Queen Mary, Princess Mary and Prince Albert, include the ending in which Macbeth and Macduff are joyfully reconciled, accompanied by a piano rendition of ‘Life’s Too Short to Quarrel’.1 It seems that one of the points behind the production, as part of the Shakespeare tercentenary celebrations, was to protest that film adaptation of dramatic and literary work reduces everything to the same cinematic formula. But a survey of film adaptations of Barrie’s most famous work reveals another story; each adaptation appropriates the text differently, translating it according to an ever-changing ideological, economic and social agenda.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

5. Beyond Fidelity: Transtextual Approaches

Abstract
Film reviewers today are often unconcerned as to whether a film adaptation is ‘faithful’ to its literary source, in the sense of attention to detail and inclusiveness. Rather than what’s left out, more attention is cast on what is added; it is the additions, not the deletions to the source that are largely responsible for an adaptation’s box-office and critical success. To take Shakespeare as an example, Kenneth Branagh’s carrying of a dead child across the bloody battlefield of Agincourt in Henry V (1989), Baz Luhrmann’s use of guns for swords in William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), the flashbacks in Branagh’s adaptation of the complete 1623 text of Hamlet (1996), and the use of Blockbuster’s video store in Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet (2000) were applauded as defining moments in these films. It was the liberties taken or the intertexts of the films rather than ‘faithfulness’ that were admired. This was not the case in the early Harry Potter films. Criticism was dominated by ‘the not as good as the book’ argument and the changes that were made were greeted with outrage. Taking a close scrutiny of the first in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone we will try to account for the seemingly anachronistic reviews of Chris Columbus’s first Harry Potter film.1
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

6. Genre and Adaptation: Genre, Hollywood, Shakespeare, Austen

Abstract
Due to the legacy left by Aristotle, we tend to take genre for granted. Aristotle, in the Poetics, describes genres, concentrating on comedy, tragedy and epic, and their features, as if they exist naturally rather than artificially — as if they can be plucked out of the air. Genre is often seen as something akin to a Platonic Form, something that has an ideal or divine status, what Hamlet describes as having ‘a divinity that shapes our ends’. Northrop Frye, in the mid-twentieth century, following Coleridge, divides literary critics into Iliad critics and Odyssey critics1 and attributes genre, as defined by the classical writers, with a mythic status; spring is associated with comedy, autumn with tragedy, winter with satire and summer with romance. Genre theory here is intimately connected to both the natural world and to Christian doctrine, that just as spring follows winter, individuals fall only in order to rise again.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

7. A Simple Twist? The Genrification of Nineteenth-Century Fiction

Abstract
As we discussed in the previous chapter, genrification of literary texts is both a way of revivifying and recontextualising a classic literary text for a new audience, sometimes in a new historical period or geographical location. Genre provides us with a way of talking about the translation from literary to film narrative, and in this chapter we would like to take this notion of ‘genrification’ further and explore three adaptations since the 1990s which have variously taken the work of George Eliot, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, and produced genre films which ‘make new’ to varying degrees of critical and commercial success.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

8. Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Letters on Screen

Abstract
There has been some discussion in recent years about ‘unfilmable’ books, and also the film industry itself has engaged with such phenomena — as has already been noted, examples are Adaptation and A Cock and Bull Story celebrated as cultishly unreadable. There are also films about the failure to adapt — for instance Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s Lost in La Mancha (2002). Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) might seem on the face of it to present similar problems to those posed by Laurence Sterne’s Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759), its epistolary framework presenting some challenges to the film adapter, not least that a defining event in the novel — the death of Valmont — cannot be directly narrated. After letter 162, which comprises Danceny’s challenging of Valmont to a duel, the final 12 letters follow rapidly, and anti-climatically wrap up the drama with the death of Madame de Tourvel, the flight of Danceny and news of the hideous disfigurement and escape of the Marquise de Merteuil.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan

Conclusion: Impure Cinema — Another Apology for Adaptations

Abstract
This book is subtitled Impure Cinema in order to call attention to the bad press that adaptations have received since the beginning of film’s history and, like every new and consequently aesthetically questionable art form, the book offers another ‘apology’. The initial reaction to any emerging form of entertainment is often to dismiss it as rubbish, seeing it as a throwback to what went before, and whilst apologists, since and before the likes of Sir Philip Sidney, have won their debates about the artistic merits of their beloved art forms, in spite of a history that spans over one hundred years, the jury still seems to be out on the merit of adaptations. This book has tried to chart the gradual recognition of cineastes and literary scholars to the aesthetic challenges of the adaptation guided by Bazin’s repudiation of the concept of the author as offering a way through the Scylla and Charybdis of Film and Literary Studies.
Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whelehan
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