TCM presents Great Adaptations

This was far too related not to share. If you have TCM but never or rarely tune in to the channel, now would be the time to start. If you don’t have TCM, then I at least offer the titles as suggestions for our final movie, easily filling up the “Pre-1965” heading; obviously, one ought to narrow the field of inclusion for voting purposes, but I wouldn’t presume such authority.

In a fortuitous set of circumstances, TCM’s theme for this month is Great Adaptations. Every Monday and Wednesday in November will be devoted to films based on novels. The line-up is on the right-hand side of the page.

How they qualify “great” should be interesting to discover. Since TCM specializes in screening older movies, most of the titles in the line-up are decades old; I think the most recent one is The Andromeda Strain, which was released in 1971. Their qualification then likely involves some sense of fidelity, but to what extent? After all, TCM is a film channel, so their selections betray judgments grounded more in film history and technique than literature – their allegiance to the medium often derided by the criticism we’ve read so far could provide a nice counterbalance.

Truly monumental adaptations are included, of course: Gone with the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. I’m a little surprised that the genre of pulp fiction didn’t warrant its own focus because it practically spawned film noir, arguably one of the most influential genres/styles in film history (another month, I hope). A handful of pulp-noir titles are under National Book Award Winners & Finalists: The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Sleep, The Postman Always Rings Twice, etc.; I’m a little perplexed and disappointed that Double Indemnity didn’t make the cut.

The inclusion of one title piques my interest in their definition of “great”: they plan to show the 1930 adaptation of Moby Dick, and from what I’ve gathered from my research so far – my investigative proposal is on the novel and the 1956 and 2011 films – it’s what we would call an unfaithful adaptation because, in short, Ahab is portrayed as a hero with a sweetheart, not a lone man consumed by his appetite for revenge. (That Ahab is portrayed by John Barrymore certainly contributes to this shift: a matinee idol can’t be evil.) Why then is it deemed “great”? Are they differentiating between a great film and a great adaptation? Why not show the 1956 adaptation, which by most accounts was great and truer to the book?

If you have the chance, I hope you’ll tune in for at least one movie. It would be a good opportunity to apply the criticism we’ve read to movies based on titles more commonly taught in English classes (I don’t think any of us read Tristram Shandy). Not to mention, in my opinion, it never hurts to expand one’s repertoire of older movies, and TCM – in a completely unsolicited endorsement for which I swear I will not get paid – does a great service by preserving these old movies and keeping them alive, unedited and without commercials.

On a side note, Martin Scorsese’s column for this month is about adaptations, some in the line-up and some that aren’t. His language is tinged with some of the criticism we’ve read, but since his perspective is a combination of viewer, filmmaker, and historian (so, I suppose like Eisenstein but with a greater bank of historical knowledge and perspective), he’s less critical and more observational. The way he ends his piece brings up a subject we’ve discussed only in passing but I think is the direction in which adaptation studies are inevitably headed: the difference between adaptation and inspiration, “based on” versus “inspired by.” Apart from copyright issues, what does the difference mean and imply?

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3 Responses to TCM presents Great Adaptations

  1. Great post–and you’re really making me wish I had cable!

  2. I saw *A Murder on the Orient Express* an adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel. From Wikipedia it says that she hated the early adaptations of her novels, but she liked this adaptation.

    I saw *I Confess* — the Hitchcock movie adapted from some French play.

    And I watched *Rear Window* again. I forgot all the sex that was involved. Well not sex sex, but sexy stuff. This was adapted from a short story I think.

    You know Prof. Ferguson, you can get all those movies for free online. I’m just saying. I haven’t been to the movies in years.

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