October 8, 2012

Mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved: How ‘On the Road’ compares from book to film

Where oh where do I begin?

On the Road, the iconic, much-hyped 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac, is a truly overwhelming, exhausting read.

Perhaps due to the drug-induced delirium of the characters, the story moves at a frenetic, almost hyperactive pace. Through the first-person narrative of the lead character Sal Paradise – who is autobiographically based on Kerouac himself – On the Road constantly jumps from thoughts to actions, thoughts to actions.

The plot is framed out a rambling haze of mismatched thoughts about Sal’s adventures back and forth across America, on an epic road trip “between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

It certainly is a road trip story, but unlike other ‘journey’ stories, the destination is not the motivation – this story is driven by the things that the characters are running from, or hiding from, or trying to bury deep down inside. The road, and the drugs, and the sex, provide the distraction that each character needs to continue through the pains of their lives.

This is a real fly by the seat of your pants adventure novel. Sal’s self-interested, inner monologue style of voice is a strongly reminiscent of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.

In adapting this novel to the big screen, director Walter Sailes was certainly bequeathed an epic task.

Paradise is played credibly by Sam Riley. Garrett Hedlund – the actor who plays Dean Moriarty – could well be my new big screen crush. That lovely face and deep velvety voice is perfectly matched to Moriarty and allows him to convincingly get away with a whole manner of sins.

The role of Marylou was a very brave, edgy choice for Kristen Stewart – and one that she was obviously set on. It is believed that Stewart agreed to a salary of less than $200,000 after the film's budget was drastically cut, out of her love for Kerouac’s novel. And it was a good move. Out of an arguably unlikable character, she has managed to craft a sweet, endearing and forgivable character.

Never before have I encountered such a strange mix of oddball characters. Even in the small-bit roles, which went to Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and Kirsten Dunst, there were multiple opportunities to contribute something bizarre and interesting.

It’s a very confronting film. Some scenes are truly squirm-worthy and uncomfortable, and I warn you, they are not suitable for casual Sunday afternoon escapism. It feels like a long 2 hours and 17 minutes, but it this film is thought provoking, and it does provide some good laughs, so the effort is worth it.

I have to say, I tried to love the book, but it failed to connect with me on a deep level.  It didn’t lock me in. But, having now seen the film, I feel as though I understand and appreciate the story more. The film is a useful accompaniment.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Big Screen
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

Coming soon: The Woman in Black

October 6, 2012

Love for you is an appetite: How ‘Bel Ami’ compares from book to film

Translated from French to English, ‘Bel Ami’ means ‘my beautiful friend.’

The novel, which goes by this name, was written by French author Guy de Maupassant and published in 1885. The first English translation, which has also been referred to as The History of a Scoundrel: A Novel, first appeared in 1903.

The lead character, Georges Duroy, begins the story as a poor and lowly ex-soldier – but through his ‘beauty’ he is soon able to captivate women and climb his way, from bedroom to bedroom, toward the upper echelons of society.

The novel flows at a smooth and steady pace, and is a witty and refreshing read – even though Duroy is perhaps the most unlikable lead character in literature. On every page, Duroy oozes with ego, self-obsession and narcissism. Even when he is poor and destitute, he is equipped with a frustratingly high self-concept.

In the beginning, his sexual conquests are bumbling – he is clearly inexperienced and desperate. But as the story progresses, his flights of fancy become more frequent and exploitative – to Duroy, women are no more than bodies to be used and connections to be abused. Once he has bled all that he can from a woman, she is cast aside.

The 2012 film adaptation, starring the perfectly cast Robert Pattinson in the role of Georges Duroy, follows each plot point of the novel, blow by faithful blow. Every key point is covered, with the only notable exception being Duroy’s curled moustache.

I can see why Pattinson chose this role – if anything was to help him shed the perfect romantic image of the acquiescing and lukewarm Edward Cullen, it’s the cruel, malicious and red-hot Duroy. When he reaches his most emotional high, and Duroy gives in to a fit of rage, it is clear that Pattinson really can act, and he can do it well.

Of course, with Pattinson’s cult teenage following, it would have been counterproductive to make Duroy completely unlikeable. What works in the filmmakers’ favour here is the absence of his internal dialogue.

With the book, the reader has a direct line to each of Duroy’s shrewd and cunning thoughts. With the film, one is able to give Duroy moments of grace – perhaps his behaviour is motivated by the real human feelings of jealousy and love?

In the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, I lamented the loss of Scout Finch’s inner monologue. Not knowing her thoughts took a certain authenticity from the story – the viewer is not as privileged as the reader once was. But in the film adaptation of Bel Ami, losing this insight into Duroy’s mind allows the character to be more forgivable. You may say, more watchable.

On that point, there were certain brutalities of the book that the film stripped away – but again, this was probably also a good strategic move on behalf of the filmmakers. But in either format, this story is worth experiencing. So go ahead, be enamored by Bel Ami.

The verdict is:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 3. A decent, credible, faithful adaptation

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

Coming soon: A review of ‘On the Road’

October 4, 2012

At least I got a ring: How 'Puberty Blues' compares from book to film

“When we were thirteen, the coolest things to do were the things your parents wouldn’t let you do. Things like have sex, smoke cigarettes, nick off from school, go to the drive-ins, take drugs and go to the beach.”

From the very first paragraph, it’s clear that Puberty Blues – the 1979 novel by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette – is incredibly raw and honest.

On Wikipedia, the book is described as “a strongly autobiographical” teen novel. Although Carey and Lette write under the assumed names of Deborah Vickers and Sue Knight, this book oozes authenticity.

From the unashamedly Aussie language to the detailed ins-and-outs of Debbie and Sue’s world, you can tell that this book wasn’t written with the assistance of imagination or voyeurism – the authors actually lived it.

The book is credited as being the first teenage novel published in Australia that was written by teenagers. Carey and Lette are said to have met at the age of 12 and wrote Puberty Blues after they left school and shared a flat together.

In the world that they portrayed, there are certain rules that must girls live by – unless they want to be consigned to the social dustbin of being a prude or a moll:
  • Girls couldn’t eat in front of their boyfriends because “skinniness was inniness.”
  • It was acceptable to sit in a bikini, but never to walk around in one – “that meant she was showing off her body and was an easy root.”
  • You had to go out with a guy for at least two weeks before you’d let him screw you.
  • And perhaps the most important rule of all: Girls are not allowed to surf.

The female characters were “skinny, hair-free, care-free, and girlie,” and the male characters were assessed by the length of their blonde hair and their talent in the surf, rather than on the quality of their character.

Underage sex in the back of a panel van with the aid of a dirty tub of Vaseline was a simple rite of passage – it’s just what you had to do to be accepted by the ‘in crowd’.

It’s no wonder that the content of the book shocked the Australian public. Perhaps as a result of the naivety of the authors at the time of writing, it provides a frank, unapologetic account of all of their youthful misdemeanors.

There are cringe-worthy moments, as you worry on behalf of the girls’ safety and lament the boy’s cruelty as they take advantage of prepubescent bodies for their own gratification.

“Sometimes you’d think it was all worth it. But next day you may as well have been a baked dinner that he’d gorged, enjoyed and forgotten.”

This book provides a candid insight into the dark underside of the world of surfies and molls; the world of teen sex and drugs; and how quickly recreational fun can ruin a young life.

But it’s this rawness that makes you appreciate Puberty Blues – you take pleasure in the girls’ honesty, for how else could you ever understand their lives? And for all the tears there are an equal amount of laughs.

The 2012 TV mini-series, starring Ashleigh Cummings and Brenna Harding in the lead roles, is superbly done. From the opening credits, which depict a stunning swirl of blue crashing waves to the tune of the appropriate ‘Are you old enough?’ by Dragon – to the hilariously retrospective costumes and attention to detail 1970’s sets – its clear that every effort has been made to bring this story to life in the most faithful and devoted fashion.

The series is so committed to presenting an accurate 1970’s Sutherland Shire that it offers an interesting analysis of how far Australian society has come, and how many things have changed in the last four decades. Drink driving, sun tanning, skinny-dipping and smoking – all were accepted day-to-day occurrences on the Puberty Blues set and all are frowned upon today.

By expanding the plot to include the stories of the families, the series has cleverly created a new depth to the original story and has allowed it to appeal to a much broader audience.

Claudia Karvan (as Debbie’s mum Judy Vickers) and Roger Corser (as Garry’s father Ferris Hennessey) are as fantastic as you would expect – as are the rest of the cast. Ashleigh Cummings, in particular, shines as Debbie.

The Deb and Sue from the book do have more attitude – they already knew all the rules, they just needed a way to get into the Greenhills Gang. In comparison, the Deb and Sue of the series are learning on their feet and they reek of innocence and desperation.

A notable difference between the television series and the book can be found in the personal growth of Debbie and Sue. Although they start naïve and silly, they grow to have a conscious and actively demonstrate it when given an opportunity to help one of their own. In the book, the girls only ever turned their backs.

Garry Hennessey’s (played by Sean Keenan) character in the series is also given ample opportunity to shine. By giving him a depth of character, a troubled family life, and a conscience, he is able to give Debbie a credible chance at romance, and provides a welcome relief from the caveman antics of the rest of the boys.

The series also does – understandably – gloss over some of the heavier content of the book. The sex scenes are less vivid, and the topic of abortions, miscarriages and gang rapes are only touched on lightly – whereas in the book they are explored in a shocking amount of matter-of-fact detail.

Undoubtedly due to the fact that producers wanted to leave the story open for a second season (which Channel Ten have now confirmed is coming), the series didn’t tie up the loose ends in the way that the book did. In the book, the ultimate futures of the characters were summed up and displayed like a checklist – in the series, we are left to wonder: what will become of the Greenhills gang? Guess we will just have to wait and see.

The verdict is:
Book or Silver Screen? Silver Screen
The series is: 5. An exceptional improvement on the original

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of Bel Ami (I promise!)