Tag Archives: 2010s

The Medium is Manipulation

Everyone has experienced it. You sit down to watch a film adaptation of a favourite book (or play or, heck, boardgame), full of trepidation but willing to forgive certain sins visited upon the original. Sometimes the results are suprisingly pleasant, others leave you a seething wreck, half angry at the filmmakers and half at yourself for even thinking that anyone could ever make a decent fist of adapting that sublime book/play/boardgame/cereal packet/powerpoint presentation/etc.

Vast tracts have, of course, been written about the act of filmic adaptation, and the inherent problems of translating material into the simultaneously self-contained yet infinite world of the screen, but two recent feature adaptations – one drawn from a stage play, the other a bestselling novel – throw up interesting parallels that serve to highlight how cinema’s limitation on the infinte copes with the inherent freedom in restriction of other mediums.

Poster for Roman Polanski's CarnageIn Yasmine Reza’s play God of Carnage, limitations imposed by the three-walled space of the darkened theatre serve to emphasise the claustrophobic nature of an upper-class couple trapped in middle-class hell, magnifying their desire to leave the apartment but constantly ensuring they are hemmed in. In Roman Polanski’s screen adaptation, however, this central conceit proves a major hurdle, with the limitless potential offered by cinema’s omnipotent rectangle doing Polanski’s Carnage a major disservice, and making the couple’s attempts to leave the apartment seem trite, half-hearted and feeble.

Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseIn contrast to Reza’s multitude of shifting perspectives, Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close offered an intriguing first-person self-portrait of precocious youngster named Oskar Schell, contrasting personal and public loss in the aftermath of 9/11. Told from Oskar’s perspective, the novel is densely narrated and punctuated by typographic experiments that reflect the young boy’s quest to ‘solve’ the final puzzle left behind by his father, who had died in the World Trade Center attacks. Unsurprisingly, Stephen Daldry’s film version (adapted for the screen by Eric Roth) suffers precisely because cinema – especially mainstream, commercial cinema – simply does not lend itself to those kinds of highly internalised narratives. As a novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close draws its impact from this internalisation, delving deep into Oskar’s world and taking the reader along for the ride. And although the book wasn’t immune from similar criticisms, attempts to translate this world onto the screen saw Daldry’s film shouted down (in the UK at least) as ‘annoying’, ‘irritating’ and ‘cloying’.

Poster for Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseLeaving aside the fundamental misunderstandings of most critics – who applied the same terms to the character of Oskar whilst completely disregarding the fact that he almost certainly suffers from Asperger’s or another form of High-Functioning Autism – the film has also been widely discussed as ‘manipulative’ and ‘exploitative’, and even accused of ’emotional blackmail’. And yet it’s hard to see how critics could have expected anything else from a mainstream feature film – a cultural form that is predicated precisely on its ability to manipulate and exploit. This film wasn’t the work of a struggling indie filmmaker, desperate to tell his special story: it was backed by two of Hollywood’s largest studios, both subsidiaries of top-four media conglomerates. At this level, filmmaking has always been (and will always be) about the money. Money drives the medium and – to paraphrase a great cultural theorist – the medium is manipulation.

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We Are What We Are
d. Jorge Michel Grau / 2010 / Mexico / 90 mins
Screen 1 @ Curzon Soho (London, UK)

Still from We Are What We Are

On it’s UK release, We Are What We Are was met with near-universal positivity, but for some reason I just found it to be a bit tired, pretty cliched and very dull. Maybe it was the fact that I saw it first thing on a Sunday morning (and on an empty stomach), but to my mind, the dull thuds that punctuate the soundtrack are a fairly good articulation of the film as a whole. Sure it’s visually interesting, and the performances are fine, but it all just felt a little pointless.

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Due Date
d. Todd Philips / 2010 / USA / 95 min
Cinema 1 @ Empire Leicester Square (London, UK)

Still from Due Date

When I wrote about Todd Philips’ last feature, The Hangover – which receives almost equal billing on some UK posters for Due Date – I arrived at a loose theory about what I termed Male-Orientated Comedies. Since then, I’ve refined the tenets of the theory somewhat to cover what are essentially frat boy stories, told in different ways or in new (non-College) settings, with a distinct gross-out element and a predilection for supposedly ‘boundary-pushing’ (but often just coarse) humour. I termed them Male-Orientated Comedies simply because they are exclusively by men, for men and – crucially – about men.

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The Social Network
d. David Fincher / 2010 / USA / 120 mins
Cinema 1 @ Barbican (London, UK)

Still from The Social Network

I really wanted to not laud The Social Network, largely because I think it’s been a little overhyped. But there’s one element of the hyperbole surrounding this film that I just can’t avoid. Sure, there’s no question that its a solid effort on all counts, there also seems to be no doubt that it is Aaron Sorkin’s script that wins out.

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Let The Right One In / Låt den rätte komma in
d. Tomas Alfredson / 2008 / Sweden / 115 mins

Let Me In
d. Matt Reeves / 2010 / USA-UK / 116 mins
Screen 2 @ Cineworld West India Quay (London, UK)

Stills from Let The Right One In and Let Me In

A little while back – having watched the films almost back to back – I wrote about the similarities between two English-set 1940s classics, Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and the Robert Stevenson-helmed Orson Welles-led version of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. And then, in a post about Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner, I was rather disparaging about the very concept of a Hollywood remake, particularly the way that a dire, saccharine-drenched film such as You’ve Got Mail could suck all the life and energy out of one of the all-time classics of romantic comedy.

Before the firing squad this time around is another remake – albeit from an entirely different genre – and the tale of two films much closer together (temporally, but also in form and intent): Tomas Alfredson’s original Swedish adaptation of Låt den rätte komma in (2008) – better know to fanboys around the world as Let the Right One In – and it’s recent Hollywood revision as Let Me In.

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