Sunday, January 29, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 10)

The Grapes of Wrath directed by John Ford
The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck

This seems to be a case where the book and the movie are held in equally high esteem. The film is ranked #21 in the American Film Institute top 1001 list and the book is in the top ten of the Modern Library’s list of top English language novels of the century.

I’m guessing that more school age students over the last few decades have read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men than The Grapes of Wrath because it is shorter and probably easier to grasp. But I think Steinbeck’s tale of the Oakies traveling West during the depression looking for a pot o’ gold or at least a roof over their heads is a highly worthy journey to take even if it might take you a little longer to get there.

Book or Movie? Even though I’m picking the book over the movie this time, you got to at least see the scene where Henry (should have won the Oscar that year) Fonda gives his speech to his Ma before heading down that Golden Highway.

I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be ever'-where - wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad - I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.

I can hear Woody Guthrie singing in the background now.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

LOLITA (1962)

Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 9)

Lolita directed by Stanley Kubrick
Lolita written by Vladamir Nabakov

I hesitated many months before choosing Lolita for my reading group due to the controversial subject matter of a middle-aged man’s first person narrative about his infatuation with an under-aged girl. But after skimming the book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, I figured that if these sheltered Iranian girls weren’t traumatized by it, I figured my book group could take it without much fuss.

I was wrong.

One member of my book group kept asking “Who wanted us to read this? Who wanted us to read this filth? I stopped after page 25!” Another member said that in his determination that Nabakov had to be a… "purrr-vert"

Wow! I’m just glad I didn’t choose to read Portnoy’s Complaint!

I did point out to my group that the book is listed on many top ten lists of best English language novels of the twentieth century, but there was no convincing the nay-sayers on the evil of this work.

As far as Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of Lolita, it is in the 1001 Movie book. Now I’m a big Kubrick fan and I think any list of essential movies should have every Kubrick listed since there are so few. (All his major movies are listed in one edition of the book or the other except The Killing, which really should be listed.) However, if I were to leave one of his films out, it would be Lolita. Not that I don’t like it, as it has James Mason and Peter Sellers perfectly cast in their respective roles and is as faithful to this controversial work as a 1962 movie was allowed to be. I’m only saying, I’d put The Killing in the book and remove Lolita if I had to choose between them.

Book or Movie? Obviously I’m picking the book here. If you don’t mind getting in the head of a "purrr-vert," it’s really a substantial piece of literature.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 8)

Great Expectations directed by David Lean
Great Expectations written by Charles Dickens

I counted fifty entries on my list of books/plays I’ve done for my Classics Revisited book group and I finished all but four. Unfortunately, Great Expectations was one of them. I liked the story of young Pip, Herbert Pocket, Estella and the mysterious Ms. Havisham; I just kept getting bogged down while reading it and wasn’t able to finish it.

David Lean’s 1948 film version with John Mills and Alec Guinness I did get through and thought was quite good, so I did get the whole story that way. There is also a BBC version I saw starring the guy that was in those Fantastic Four movies, though I am still partial to Lean’s version.

Book or Movie? Since I didn’t go with the David Lean movie for my Doctor Zhivago post, this time I’m choosing the 1946 movie over the book without guilt.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 7)

Doctor Zhivago directed by David Lean
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

I had never seen Lean’s famous film or read Pasternak’s famous novel before my book group, so I had my work cut out for me that month. After reading and viewing, I find myself a little partial to the book, as I don’t think the film version compares with some of Lean’s other great films. There actually is a more recent television mini-series of Doctor Zhivago that gives the viewer more on the relationship between Zhivago and the love interest Lara. Of course, I would never say a television production could be superior to a David Lean film for fear of being smote by the cinematic gods.

Book or movie? I do think it’s okay to pick Pasternak’s novel here, using much of the same criteria I just used in choosing Gone With the Wind (novel) over Gone With the Wind (movie).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 6)

Russian Ark directed by Alexander Sokurov
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

I am sure that if I grew up in Russia I would have read Pushkin’s epic poem and perhaps learned much of its verses by heart. But I didn’t and I had a lot of trouble just getting through the English translation by Charles Johnston. I did watch a film version of Eugene Onegin with Ralph Fiennes (not on the 1001 movie list) that I found more palatable than the original source.

I also viewed a most unusual film called Russian Ark (on the 1001 list in some editions) in which the entire movie is filmed in one take, while moving through the Hermitage art museum in St. Petersberg. It attempts to tie recent Russian history together along the way, including a cameo by Alexander Pushkin himself. The one take narrative is more than a stunt, it makes the movie quite captivating, though it should come with a warning label to young filmmakers to not try this at home.

Russian Ark or Eugene Onegin?

Defintely a vote for the movie. If seeing Russian Ark makes you fall in love with Russian history, then pick up a copy of Eugene Onegin and have a ball, though I doubt if I’ll be joining you anytime soon.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Gone With the Wind directed by Victor Fleming
Gone With the Wind written by Margaret Mitchell

First of all, I like the movie Gone With the Wind. I’m from Atlanta and it’s practically a law that I like Gone With the Wind, as I certainly don’t wish to be accused of being a Yankee sympathizer. But over the years, I could never bring myself to read the book (1,100 pages or so) until I chose it for my book group.

Book or movie? After reading Ms. Mitchell’s book, I found I liked it more than I thought I would. I know it gets poo pooed on as being taken as serious literature, but I did find the details of the story captivating most of the time. So I will go with the book this time.

I’m not sure how to end this post. So I’ll jot down my list of the differences I found between Gone With the Wind (the book) and Gone With the Wind (the movie). I also found some interesting criticism over the years about the original story that I will also post.

Gone With the Wind Book vs. Movie

In the book, Scarlett has a boy named Wade Hampton Hamilton by her first husband, Charles and a girl called Ella Lorena by her second husband, Frank Kennedy. She has no children by these men in the movie.

In the book, it was Honey Wilkes who was in love with Charles Hamilton, not India. India's beau was Stuart Tarleton.

In the movie, Melanie is the first to give up her wedding ring "for the cause" at the Atlanta Bazaar. In the novel, Scarlet donates her ring first.

In the movie, when Ashley returns from the war, Mammy restrains Scarlett from running to greet him. Will Benteen restrains her in the novel.

In the novel, it is long after Scarlett marries Frank that her father Gerald dies. Will Benteen explains to her how it happened, and it is an interesting story - also much different than the movie - involving Scarlett's sister Suellen.

In the novel, while Will does fall in love with Careen, they do not marry. Careen never gets over the death of her only love, Brent Tarleton. It is Ashley who almost goes to work in a bank in New York before Scarlett asks him to manage her lumber mill. Will does get married in the book... to Scarlett's other sister, Suellen! Careen eventually enters a convent in Charleston.

Archie is another character from the book who, like Will, doesn't make it to the movie. Scarlett hires him to drive her around Atlanta, which he does until she hires the convicts for her lumber mill. Since he was a former convict, he quits. Archie turns up later, discovering Ashley embracing Scarlett at the mill, another episode that is different in the movie.

In the movie, at the sewing party, Melanie reads aloud from David Copperfield In the novel, she reads from Les Miserables.

In the movie, Bonnie is afraid of the dark, but it is never explained why. In the novel, we learn Mammy was afraid Bonnie would hurt herself so she told Bonnie there were "ghosts and buggerboos" in the dark

In the movie, Scarlett goes to Atlanta for the first time right after her first husband, Charles, dies. In the novel, she visits her mother's relatives in Charleston and also her father's relatives in Savannah before she goes to Atlanta.

Gone With the Wind Literary Criticism

We have had other novels about the Civil War by women. But I don’t know of any other in which the interest is so consistently centered, not upon the armies and the battles, the flags and the famous names, but upon, that other world of women who heard the storm, waited it out, succumbed to it or rebuilt after it, according to their natures.
-Stephen Vincent Benet, “Georgia Marches Through,” Saturday Review Magazine,
July 4, 1936.

She writes with a splendid recklessness, blundering into big scenes that a more experienced novelist would hesitate to handle for fear of being compared unfavorably with Dickens or Dostoevsky.
-Malcolm Cowley, “Going With the Wind,” New Republic, September 16, 1936.

Margaret Mitchell is a gifted storyteller. She can create characters to set tongues wagging, she can swing a plot and make it crackle, she has the courage of patient endeavor, she is a “natural” if there ever was one.
-Holmes Alexander, “Holmes Alexander to the Defense. Gone With the Wind,” Saturday Review of Literature, January 8, 1938.

Gone With the Wind may be one of the few books, from the 20th century that the great mass of readers will assure of survival into the next age. It would not be the first time that the people had made a “classic” in despite of the critics and the academicians.
-Edward P. J. Corbett, “Gone With the Wind Revisited,” America, August 24, 1957.

It dramatically demonstrates, as The Aeneid did before it, that you cannot destroy a traditional society simply by destroying its machinery. The strength of such a society does not lie ultimately, in outward forms or institutions but rather in the knowledge carried to the heart, the intangibles by which it lives.
-Robert Y. Drake, “Tara Twenty Years After,” The Georgia Review, Summer 1958.

Great literature can occasionally be popular, and certainly popular literature can occasionally be great. But with a few notable exceptions, such as the Bible but not Gone With the Wind, greatness and popularity are more likely to be contradictory than congenial.
-Floyd Watkins, “Gone With the Wind as Vulgar Literature,” The Southern Literary Journal, Spring 1970.

Reading the book now is a burden, the hopelessly bad outweighing the honestly good. Gone With the Wind is much too long…and a great many readers of the book and viewers of the film persistently and legitimately complained about the second half.
-James Boatwright, “Totin’ the Weery Load,” New Republic, September 1, 1973.

To me it seems that Margaret Mitchell wanted to write a success, a bildungsroman about a woman who was successful in breaking away from the life of self-effacement her mother had lived, in working counter to the existing patriarchal system as she matures from a young frivolous girl to a twenty-eight-year-old serious minded woman.
-Dawson Gaillard, “Gone With the Wind As Bildungsroman; or why did Rhett Butler Really Leave Scarlett O’ Hara?” Georgia Review, 1974.

As fiction, it achieves the child’s impossible desire for everything, and if it gratifies us, it also makes us ashamed of our childishness, ashamed of enjoying a novel that is not great, only compelling and indelible, only uniquely and universally popular.
-Blanche H. Gelfant, “Gone With the Wind and the Impossibilities of Fiction.” Southern Literary Journal, Fall, 1980.

Schefeski postulates that Tolstoy would have approved of Gone With the Wind because both authors shared a belief in simplicity and infectiveness as the most essential criteria of artistic work.
-Harold K. Schefeski, “Margaret Mitchell: Gone With the Wind & War and Peace,” Southern Studies, Fall, 1980.

No one more compellingly portrayed the relation between the past and the future of the nation and the South than Mitchell. But, for her, the binding of wounds required a share bourgeois ethic and could ill afford the luxury of mourning a “feudal” past. Under the bourgeois rubric, the nation cold understood as the destiny of the South, and the South as a generalized, rural, rational past. Perhaps it is a final fitting irony that the magnetic care of Mitchell’s vision of a revitalized bourgeois order lay in the unconscious life of a most disorderly girl.
-Elizabeth Fox-Genovese “ Scarlett O’Hara: The Southern Lady as a New Woman.” American Quarterly, Fall, 1981.

I guess I can end this post now.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 4)

A Streetcar Named Desire directed by Elia Kazan
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

The thing about comparing a movie to the text of the play is that the play is written to be performed and watched over being read. I would certainly do both with A Streetcar Named Desire, but regardless, the original movie does have much going for it. The strength of Tennessee’s story, the New Orleans setting brought to life by director Elia Kazan and the great cast led by Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando all make this required viewing.

There were a couple of censorship issues that the movie couldn’t deal with adequately. I’m speaking primarily of Blanche Du Bois (Vivien Leigh) confessing to Mick (Karl Malden) that her ex-husband was a homosexual. Since she couldn’t say it this way, the script changes the confession to say that he was a …poet. What was that, again?

Another censorship issue that actually works to the films advantage is the rape scene, which is symbolized by a crashing mirror. The audience doesn’t see exactly what happens and this makes the drama and horror of it more effective.

Since I’m not making a real choice between play or movie here, I will choose the Kazan/Brando collaboration on Streetcar over the Kazan/Brando collaboration on On the Waterfront just because I felt the need to choose something.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

HAMLET (1948) & HAMLET (1996)

Classics Revisited Book Group (Posting 3)

Hamlet directed by Kenneth Branagh, Hamlet directed by Laurence Olivier
Hamlet written by William Shakespeare.

I do have a bone to pick with the 1001 Movie list. I know they are trying to “not give automatic preference-free passes as it were to self-consciously quality productions or high cinematic art,” but other than the Kurosawa adaptations of Shakespeare, the only 1001 listings for the bards adaptations are Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight and Olivier’s Henry V. That’s it! So we’re supposed to accept that Pretty Woman is essential viewing and no version of Hamlet is quite good enough to make the cut? Oh! Something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark and time is most definitely out of joint!

Hamlet was the first Classics Revisited book group that I held. Before I read it, I watched several film versions. My favorite is the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet, which films the entire play at about four hours. Others still revere Olivier’s award winning 1948 adaptation, though much of the story is heavily edited. It may be of interest to watch the BBC version just to see Derek Jacobi (Claudius from Branagh’s Hamlet) as the Dane and Patrick Stewart as Claudius. The Franco Zeffielli/Mel Gibson version is worth viewing, though wasn’t my favorite. You may also want to see the odd modern day Ethan Hawke Hamlet which at least gives us Bill Murray as Polonius and Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz (or does he play Guildenstern?).

Movie or Play? That’s simple. See a movie version. Read the play. And see it performed in live theater. Be in a version if you have the resources. It’s Hamlet! Do it ! Just do it!
And while you’re at it, watch Series 1 of Slings and Arrows.

Alas poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest,
of most excellent fancy, he hath borne me on his back a thousand times-
and now how abhorred in my imagination it is!


Thursday, January 5, 2012

RAN (1985, JAPAN)

Classic Revisited Book Group (Posting 2)

Ran directed by Akira Kurosawa
King Lear by William Shakespeare

Ran is the second adaptation of Shakespeare by Akira Kurosawa that is also in the 1001 movie book. This version of King Lear is certainly of merit in its own right, though I can’t say I like it quite as much as Kurosawa’s Macbeth adaptation, Throne of Blood. Another very interesting King Lear adaptation is Kozintsev’s 1970 Russian version. Also check out the recent BBC adaptation with Ian McKellan as Lear.

And don’t forget to watch series 3 of the Canadian television show Slings and Arrows.

Play or movie?
I’ll go with the original this time over its Japanese counterpart because you really should read King Lear. Why? Because if one ever calls you the following, you may want to know its original source.

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
One-trunk-inheritingslave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining,
If thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.

King Lear

Monday, January 2, 2012


Classics Revisited Book Group

Since 2005, I have led a book discussion group at our library in the hope that it would give me an incentive to read some of the more famous works in literature or revisit (hence the name of the group) works I haven’t read in a long time.

I usually tried to find an accompanying movie to go with the book or play when applicable. Sometimes the movie based on the classic book turned out to be as famous as the original work (To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind.) Other times there was no accompanying movie to go along with the original source. (I’m still waiting for movie versions of Ellison’s Invisible Man, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.)

Looking at my list of books read again, I have noticed that many of these movies that sprang out from books are also on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, so I’ve decided to grandfather in the ones I’ve seen as well as add some of the also-rans for this blog.

Classics Revisited (Posting 1)

Throne of Death directed by Akira Kurosawa
Macbeth by William Shakespeare

First of all, Kurosawa’s film set in Samurai Japan is not a word for word adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, though it does follow the story fairly closely. There are certainly other interesting literal film adaptations of the story, including the Roman Polanski version from 1971 or Orson Welles’s 1948 version. The Trevor Nunn Royal Shakespeare company adaptation from the 1970’s with Ian McKellan and Judi Dench may be the best of the bunch. Also, see Series 2 of the Canadian television show Slings and Arrows if you get the chance.

But Throne of Blood or the orignal text? I’ll go with Throne of Blood just because it’s such a great cinematic experience and probably is only second to The Seven Samurai on my favorite Kurosawa movie list. It’s scary, dramatic, intense and if you like action, make sure to check out the film’s final scene.

But you really should read Macbeth, too.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life‘s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth 5.5.27