I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan. I was forced to read some of his plays in high school and then again while at university. Although I may not be his biggest admirer, I can still appreciate the gravity of his work and therefore understand why some people regard him as being one of the greatest writers in the English language! It has become a common trend in Hollywood to showcase his plays in the theatre of today: the cinema.
Although there have been many movies based on Shakespeare’s plays (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream etc), one stands out among the rest as being a remarkably bad remake. O, directed by Tim Blake Nelson, has finally taken the poetry out of Shakespeare. If you read any synopsis about this film the words “modern” and “update” are bound to crop up. Why does this bother me? It’s the same as taking the “old” out of “old-school”- it’s just PLAIN wrong! Some of you may disagree with me on this point but hear me out. Othello was written in 1604 and “O” was made in 2001 as a loosely modern adaption of the play. In plain English, Othello and his cohorts were transported from the banks of Cyprus to the locker room of an elite private school in the American South! Wow, just writing that sentence probably made Shakespeare turn in his grave. I mean come on- doesn’t that just scream TV melodrama instead of theatrical masterpiece?! It’s like asking the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 to talk to each other in Shakespearean verse!
What does “modernize” mean anyway? To make better or to make worse (that is the question)! Instead of Othello being a General in the service of Venice he becomes Oadin, head of the basketball team at some private school. I wonder who made up the rest of the team. Could it be Hugo (Iago) and Michael (Cassio)? Well if ever there were a reason for Humpty Dumpty to fall off his wall, I think this is it. The icing on the cake comes in the form of Desi (Desdemona), played by Julia Stiles. Our daughter of the duke has had a makeover if ever there was one. Stiles is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but she’s playing a high school chick named Desi. Desdemona has been transformed from fair maiden to a hoodlum school girl all in one movie showing. Shall the halls of classic literature be thus desecrated?
And don’t even get me started on the movie’s dialogue. I mean let’s face it, “f***” is about the most descriptive word in the movie. In scene 1 of the play Iago says to the Duke: “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.” In high school terms Iago’s speech would go something like this: “your daughter is getting tapped by this dude, O, and if she gets preggo it’ll be one weird looking baby.” Ok, so even though that WAS NOT in the movie my point is that by dumb-ing down (aka modernizing) Shakespeare that is what you are going to get: a second rate movie.
In this case Shakespeare’s Othello should be completely disassociated with the movie “O”. I think it is safe to say that just like a Venetian army is worlds apart from a basketball team so is Shakespeare and the director of this terrible movie, Tim Blake Nelson.
What did you think of ‘O’ the movie?
Before launching into my long list of book/movie comparisons, I think it is important for me to share my thoughts on the subject first. It dawned on me today that good books being turned into bad movies, as a topic, does not deal with the central issue! The central issue being that good literature isn’t handled with the careful thought and consideration that its readers deserve!
Take for instance a book that you love,- ANY book that you love. You cherish every single page; you have a whole mental world devoted to the characters and the story unraveling before you. In other words: you and your favourite book have a very intimate bond- a connection that transcends the words being read.
Along comes a movie (and I say ‘a’ because ‘the’ would imply that the book and the movie aren’t two very separate and unique entities). You, innocently or not so innocently, watch said movie. Bam! You find your whole mental world self-imploding as it becomes bombarded with the movie’s version of the book (most often a very tacky and completely different version to the one going on inside your head). It’s very complicated you see. I think that you can’t even associate some books with “their” movie; it would be unfair to the reader to do so. Why the reader and not the author? Personally, I think the author is as much responsible for their book’s movie as the director- unless the author is dead and therefore has no say!
How can some authors allow their book to be portrayed by people who oftentimes haven’t even read the book, don’t care about it, and lack the ability to ACT? This key quality isn’t always available in Hollywood- and these are the people that we are trusting with our most cherished piece of literature?! If we can’t even trust the author to look after their work then how do we trust anyone?
Unfortunately for any lover of books, we gamble every time we read a book. We know that if the book is good it has a 50/50 chance of being made into a movie. If it is made into a movie then it could be your very own literary dream that is finally realised OR it could be that your favourite book is massacred over and over again with every cinematic showing of the movie :(. The compulsion to watch a book that has been turned into a movie is of course strong within all of us- perhaps those of us who are knowledgeable are even worse than those who watch these movies being completely ignorant of the books existence. They don’t have anything to lose! We willingly hand over our imagination’s integrity by making it adapt to the Hollywood version of our books. Mind movie or Hollywood movie?
Spiderman said that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.. .well the same applies to books! You wouldn’t go to the Louvre and draw on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa!
Enough ranting for the day- teehee- happy reading everyone 😛
Let’s face it! We have all gone through the heartache of watching a favourite book of ours turned into a trashy excuse for a movie. This blog will catalog my long list of gripes about the people who are responsible for RUINING some of my all time favourite books! All those kindred spirits out there are more than welcome to post their own thoughts, complaints, and ideas 🙂 .
I will of course mention those oh so few books that were made into brilliant movies; but mostly I will be writing about GOOD books gone BAD!