Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Books I've Watched Lately

The next best thing to reading a book is watching its film version. With my busy schedule during November, and the pressures of NaNoWriMo making me give up and say "calf rope", I retreated into a spate of extreme movie-watching.

Revolutionary Road (2008)

Why I watched this movie: I've wanted to see this movie since it came out. I was driven to look for it after season 3 of Mad Men ended and I was having 1960s withdrawal pains.

My impressions? After more-viewings-than-I-care-to-admit of Titanic, it was strange and heartbreaking to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in a difficult marriage. Everything felt a little off-kilter. Kathy Bates as the landlady wasn't onscreen too much, but when she was, she was brilliant at signalling those complex emotions about her son. She also seemed to subtly act in a manner befitting the period, calling up memories of GE Theatre. The ferociously intelligent story was well-directed by Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes and the set design was perfect postwar suburbia.

Will I read the book? I already did, back in either late 2003 or early 2004, and in doing so, became a great fan of Richard Yates' writing. After seeing the movie, I'm definitely up for a reread. Do you suppose I could sell one of my book groups on the idea?

The Reader (2008)

Why I watched this movie: Kate Winslet is fast becoming one of my favorite actresses and well, how can I resist that title? Duh!

My impressions? Kate was beyond great, but the story didn't rock my world. I had difficulty believing that when Hanna was on trial she wouldn't give up her secret when faced with the possibility of life in prison.

Will I read the book? My books-from-foreign-countries totals are in the crapper this year, and it would be a boost to claim a book from Germany, but in the end, I'm pretty sure I'll give it a pass.

The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Why I watched this movie: I just finished a book that examines everything about Dashiell Hammett's novel and its movie versions, right down to the minutest detail. Great fannish fun.

My impressions? Ricardo Cortez seemed all wrong as Sam Spade -- he's a slick ladies' man and there aren't enough edges on him. The camera work seemed dull and stagy. As for dialogue delivery, the crackle of tension that is present in Hammett's work is absent here.

Since this movie came out before the Hays Code was in full swing, the director and the crew were able to throw in some "shocking" bits: At the beginning of the movie, a woman stops and straightens her stockings right after leaving Spade's office, and Spade is seen tossing a pillow back onto a disheveled couch inside the office; it's crystal clear that Spade and Iva Archer are having an affair; ditto crystal about Ruth Wonderley (played by Bebe Daniels who is a mixed bag, but comes off better than her co-star Cortez) and Spade spending the night together; Ruth takes a bath, and she's not modestly covered with a bottle full of bubble bath bubbles; Sam makes Ruth strip so he can see that she's not hiding a $1,000 bill that has gone missing.

The scene in which Spade tosses Wonderley's apartment while she's still asleep at his was lifted straight from the book and very well done, but everyone seems to have run out of energy by the final reel and there's a stupid tacked-on ending that is decidedly un-Hammett-like that had me rolling my eyes.

Will I read the book? I was lucky to find a copy of this 1929 classic in the Bybee-ary, and I devoured it in a day. Dashiell Hammett is my new literary crush.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Why I watched this movie: Being a staunch Bogart fan, I've seen this movie a few times, but I wanted to refresh my memory as I compared it with the 1931 version and the novel.

My impressions? By 1941, the Hays Code was in full swing, but John Huston was so clever in making this film that he's able to suggest things without going against the tedious strictures outlined by Joseph Breen. The camera work -- angles and lighting, particularly -- is as brilliant in this version as it was dull in the 1931 version. It may be the main thing that has kept the movie fresh.

The casting choices were impeccable. Bogart is Spade. Cairo and Gutman were just as Hammett wrote them. Mary Astor comes across as a little too respectable in her hair and dress, but as Ruth Wonderley/Brigid O'Shaughnessey, she's got a cornucopia of subtle liar faces she pulls throughout the movie.
This version's ending is perfection. In fact, it ends even better than the novel which has Spade alone in his office and shivering with revulsion as he waits for Iva, his former partner's widow. I wonder if Hammett wished he'd thought of paraphrasing Shakespeare for the last line.

Will I read the book? See my comment above. Did I mention that I replaced my Facebook profile photo with Hammett's picture?

Women In Love (1969)

Why I watched this movie: The 1920 D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name has been on my TBR shelf for about 3 years. I also have a girl-crush on Katherine Mansfield, who was Lawrence's inspiration for Gudrun Brangwen.

My impressions? The movie was beautifully photographed, although it seemed to go on and on, especially in the last half-hour when Gudrun and her sister Ursula and their lovers take a vacation to the Alps. Things begin unraveling for Gudrun and Gerald there, but I was all worn out from all that love and spontaneity and beautiful scenery that had gone before.

Allan Bates as Rupert Birkin was obviously the Lawrence character, and his dialogue about love and being spontaneous felt forced in some places and fretful in others, especially his dialogues with Ursula. (I always have the impression that women absolutely could not win with Lawrence, no matter how free-spirited and kind they were.)

The scene at the picnic with the fig was really cringeworthy -- as soon as the fruit was split in quarters, I got where Rupert was going with it, but viewers are bludgeoned and thrown through the door of knowledge. Eve Ensler would've been ecstatic, but not me. I exclaimed at this point: "I'm really [very] glad that I'm watching this movie instead of having to wade through pages and pages of the exact same [stuff]!"

I don't think viewers were supposed to feel too warmly towards Gerald Crich, played by Oliver Reed. Good thing -- I couldn't get over my dislike of Reed from when he played Bill Sykes in Oliver! (Weren't these two movies made at about the same time?)

The infamous nude wrestling scene between Bates and Reed was a little long and self-indulgent, but I can't complain. They were pretty easy on the eyes.

Why does Lawrence always have to turn his characters into artists? The conversations about painting and sculpting sound a little archly self-conscious. He should just let them be writers, since he's mining the autobiographical for all it's worth, anyway.

Will I read the book? In spite of my annoyed comment above, yes. I want to read this novel as well as the 1915 prequel about the rest of the Brangwen family, The Rainbow.

I'm going to try not to over-challenge myself in 2010, but I am interested in joining the challenge in which one writes about the experiences of reading the book and watching the movie.


Eva said...

CB's challenge? I want to join that one too. But I'm not sure which movies/books to pick, since most of the ones on my radar I've already read the book or seen the movie, lol. So far I have Roots down...maybe I'll borrow some of your ideas. :)

Bybee said...

My plan is to make a tour of the library -- book section and dvd section and see how many matches I come up with.

Linda - SE PA said...

Discovered your blog this morning and am enjoying it. Will "carve" out sometime to read the archives.

However in your mentioning of D.H. Lawrence's Women In Love and the wonderful film... I think you will love The Virgin and the Gypsy as well as The Fox. There was a timeframe when D.H.Lawrence and Thomas Hardy were popular to filmmakers. I have read most of D.H.'s work as well as saw the movies in the movie theatre. Wonderful films - as is Hardy's, Far From the Madding Crowd and a briefer title change to Tess.

Care said...

i'm still laughing at the Bybee-ary! cool. I have Rev Road to read but don't know when I'm going to get to it with all the other books in line first. I want to read before seeing the film. I, too, love Kate.
I read The Reader long before I knew it was a movie and LOVED it. I just might have to read it again (why do I keep saying that?) and I have yet to see movie.
I recently watched the Kubrick Lolita - huh. I love the whole idea of read-it-then-watch-it. I love seeing what someone else does with the story.

lilly said...

I have neither watched any of the movies nor read any of the books. How sad is that? Especially with the books since I call myself a bookaholic. I don't usually care for watching movies anyway so I probably will pass on these but books certainly will find their way into my hands.

Lesley said...

I just finished watching Revolutionary Road as well and now want to read the book. I had a completely different notion of how the movie would end, so I was completely taken aback by it. Kate Winslet is one of my favorite actresses as well.