December 21, 2007

Eliot and Trollope

The Egalitarian Bookworm has a review of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, both the book and the Andrew Davies adaptation. Speaking of classics, I recently read Anthony Trollope's Orley Farm and thought it would make for a fantastic adaptation, but I took a quick look at IMDB and couldn't find evidence of one. Orley Farm has all the legal thrills of a John Grisham book/film, plus several love triangles, making it ripe for dramatization. The connection between the two books? Trollope's theme is Justice, or the lack thereof, and the bigotry against a Jewish cross-examiner by his hypocritical peers and other "gentlemen" and "gentlewomen" plays a role in his argument. --Kim

December 20, 2007

Marie-Antoinette's Personal Taste

This glamorous sofa is just one of the items on display at the San Francisco Legion of Honor's Marie-Antoinette and the Petit Trianon at Versailles exhibit. It was a piece in a suite created for the queen's private study. More details on this and other pieces here. The exhibit runs through February 17, 2008. I'll be going just before the exhibit closes when I visit San Francisco the 6th through 11th of February so stay tuned for a full report.

Speaking of things Francophilic, I stopped over in Paris for four days on my way to London and among other things had afternoon tea at Laduree. Gilt, cherubs, and cake, oh my! --Kim

December 19, 2007

Bonham, Bon Amie

I feel like Helena Bonham Carter is the cool girl who lives down the street who you secretly have a girl-crush on even though she's crass, bosses you around and makes you play with a naked Ken doll the dog chewed on so she gets all the Barbies. I'm a little afraid of her and yet I want to be her friend.

Here's an interview with her talking about landing the Sweeny Todd role (yes, it was nepotism, but doesn't a Golden Globe nom sort of cancel out the stigma?)

Source: Dark Horizons

December 11, 2007


When I watched this movie last night I couldn't help but get a little paranoid that during production of this film my brain was secretly harvested for the visual memories of my reading experience, which were then transmogrified into celluloid. My name should have appeared somewhere in the credits, in fact. It was more or less EXACTLY as I had pictured it (except for some of the more random war scenes, which were scenes I probably had skimmed over in the book anyway.)

Here's what else I'd like to say about this film:

Barring the occasional exposed brains, just about every frame of this movie could be hung on your wall as a gorgeous piece of art.

Bathing caps really ought to come back in Vogue. I think I'll start painting my fingernails blood red.

I, too, would throw myself into a river in the hopes of James McAvoy coming to my rescue. He could break my vase any day. Or write me unexpectedly obscene letters.

I'm so glad that I still enjoy Keira Knightley and that she hasn't started doing Estee Lauder perfume commercials with puppies.

It's good to see Gina McKee (a.k.a. Irene Forsythe), if only briefly.

I evidently mispronounced Briony's name when I was reading it.

While is wasn't my FAVORITE. FILM. EVER., it didn't disappoint. The first half most definitely trumps what follows, but I think I'd probably say the same thing about the book. If Andrew Davies is Romancing the Tome's patron saint, I would definitely have to say that [Atonement director] Joe Wright is being fast-tracked for canonization.

December 7, 2007

Deadbeat Bloggers

If you haven't noticed lately, Kim and I have been engaging in a semi-hibernation, if you will. December does this to me every year: a general malaise comes about me just when life gets to be its most chaotic. I'm finding it even difficult to nail down a day to go see Atonement, which I've been looking forward to all year, and which has been getting rave reviews.

Kim has a better excuse than I do for all this: She's getting ready (any day now, in fact) to move across the Pond to try to make the measly U.S. dollar work for her in London. (I am jealous as all heck.)

I, meanwhile, am in the last throes of wedding planning, and it's making me wish my wedding could just be like it is in an Austen film: One minute the dashing, breeches-clad gent is on bended knee quavering heartfelt proclamations as I look on with tears welling. Cut to me and said breeches-clad gent emerging joyfully from some chapel with local villagers dancing around and waving streamers. No caterers to pay. No fire permits to be obtained. No half-assed attempts to make placecards on InDesign.

Anyway, we were so good at posting to this blog a month ago, and now, we've discarded it like that glob of cranberry sauce still hanging out in the fridge leftover from Thanksgiving.

To that end, I actually spent three minutes looking for some literary adaptation news to write about today and aside from finding that Colin Firth's signed on for a 3-D version of a Dickens classic, I got nothin'.

So instead, here's a link to this day in British malfeasant history.

Hopefully when Kim's settled into her airy and light-filled flat in Notting Hill, complete with low rent and two fireplaces (we can dream, can't we?) she'll give us weekly correspondence to make us turn green with envy.

And hopefully, I can weigh in on Atonment next week! In the meantime, here's an article on the film's to-die-for fashions from the L.A. Times.

November 26, 2007

"My Brilliant Career" Is, Um, Brilliant

I canceled Netflix (brush aside a tear for the 180+ queue I'd amassed--gone in seconds) a month ago in anticipation of the big move, so last week I had to slum it down to the the local Blockbuster to pick out a movie. How old-fashioned of me, no? It turned out to be a good thing though. Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career (1979), based on a novel by Miles Franklin, stars Judy Davis as an ambitious Australian gal with growing pains. Her relatives are exasperated by her hijinx (wink, wink) as is her noble young suitor (Sam Neill), but the girl can't help herself. I won't spoil the fun for you by revealing any more of the plot. However, if you're not enticed enough already, there's an undeniably swoonworthy pillow fight and the film was nominated for a Best-Costume Oscar. --Kim

November 19, 2007

Trailer: The Other Boleyn Girl...

This trailer for Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl actually looks over-the-top in a good way, even though I sort of hated the book. Natalie Portman looks bitch-tacular.

Source: Just Jared.

November 14, 2007

Fun Refresher Course...

The Guardian's got the clever CliffsNotes (in slide show form) of Beowulf...seeing as how I read it (or an excerpt) as a sophomore in high school, I needed it.

Quoth the Raven: "Yo Adrian!" (Part II)

No, this post is not just an excuse to use this high-larious image of Sly Stallone...(although that's an added benefit). In truth, word is out that Viggo Mortensen might be playing the Master of Macabre in Stallone's biopic of the literary great. Sounds like pretty inspired casting, actually, although Robert Downey, Jr. was originally talked about for the role, and he'd be damn good, too.

Source: Cinema Blend

November 13, 2007

Mailer's Masterpiece Revisited

Norman Mailer passed away this weekend, and today brings word that his son, John, has secured the film rights to his father's first novel, The Naked and the Dead, an epic based on the author's experiences in WWII. Incidentally, the novel was already adapted for film once, in 1958.

November 7, 2007

Counterpoint/Soft Skull Books that Would Make Great Movies

Just received the lovely Winter 2008 Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press catalog and some of the selections look to be must-reads as well as potentially great book-to-film adaptations.

"Bone Rattler" by Eliot Pattison
An historical who-done-it by an Edgar Award winner. A Scotsman travels to the New World during the French and Indian War following "a strange trail of clues" and "Lord Ramsey's beautiful daughter." Dream casting: Scot-o-the-moment James McAvoy.

"How the Dead Dream" by Lydia Millet
Protagonist takes "Conradesque journey" from yuppie real estate developer/aspiring politician to animal-obsessed island dweller. Dream casting: Casey Affleck (oh ye disbelievers, see "Gone Baby Gone" then get back to me).

"Jayber Crow" by Wendell Barry
No "Sweeney Todd," this novel tells the tale of an aspiring minister turned town "melancholy barber." Dream casting: Cate Blanchett... just kidding... Hugh Dancy has a sweetly confused way about him.

"Woman's World" by Graham Rawle
Now THIS is interesting: Artist Graham Rawle created the ultimate word collage by cutting and pasting 40,000 clippings from women's magazines to invent a pulp thriller that "The Times" AND "Ab Fab" star Joanna Lumley are calling "genius." Dream casting: No one in particular comes to mind--I'll tell you after I read the book.

"Mercury Under the Tongue" by Sylvain Trudel
A poetic, "geeky seventeen-year-old" is dying of cancer in a hospital ward, yet the novel manages "avoiding both misty stoicism and made-for-tv bathos." In days of yore this would've been Leo's territory, but perhaps young Paul Dano would be right for the part?

The Tell-Tale Heart

"The Simpsons" did a send-up of this Edgar Allan Poe short story (remember Lisa's diorama?), and now, the horror is making its way to the big-screen, with Josh Lucas signed-on for a contemporized adaptation. The premise: Lucas plays a single father whose recently transplanted heart leads him on a search to find his organ donor's killer before the same fate befalls him.
Source: Hollywood Reporter

FYI, here's the brilliant beginning to Poe's tale:
TRUE! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses - not destroyed - not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

November 5, 2007

November 2, 2007

Because Who Doesn't Love a RenFair?

I remember being 19 and thinking that gnawing on a turkey drumstick at the local Renaissance Fair was just about the niftiest thing north of the Kentucky/Ohio border. My friend, Tricia, and I swooned at long-haired freaks in homemade doublets (we were too cool to dress up ourselves, of course) and we longingly-eyed semi-stupid knickknack booths like the one that had dragons doing every modern profession known to man. (I probably brought a lawyer dragon for my brother, no doubt.) I recall there being lots of incense and ethereal chime music and bands of rowdy thespians trying to solicit audience interaction for various skits throughout the day. ("Now everyone yell 'Huzzahhh!!!!'") We had a blast and I haven't been to another one since.

And I probably haven't thought of that experience since, until today, when I saw this movie premise from The Hollywood Reporter. Sounds cute.

Movie Monarchs

Think you know who has played which royal in film history? Try your luck at the Guardian's latest quiz.

October 30, 2007

Literary Escapades

The next time you hit the road, (be it stateside or abroad), check out, which publishes articles about famous writers and the places that inspired them. The site recently began indexing a list of popular literary destinations in the U.S. They also provide info on available literary tours, from Mark Twain's Missippi River Tours to a Parisian tour of "The Lost Generation."

Newsweek also recently had an article about literary field trips with other resources for the roaming reader.

Meanwhile, I still have lofty ambitions to someday channel my inner Tamsen Donner (okay, let's make that Laura Ingalls, to be safe) and take one of these covered wagon vacations.

Finally, The Guardian is sponsoring a giveaway for a trip to London to experience life as Queen Elizabeth I would have known it, including a tour of Hatfield House (her childhood home), the Tower of London and the Globe Theater. Click here fore your chance to win.

October 25, 2007

The Seagull

Saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Chekhov's The Seagull last night starring Ian McKellen and Romola Garai. Spending three-and-a-half hours absorbed in this Russian soap opera had seemed daunting at first, but the performance flew by. It got me thinking that we may be ready for another film adaptation. The last one was in 1968 starring Vanessa Redgrave as the fame-obsessed aspiring thespian, Nina. Modern audiences might not have the patience for such a character-driven story, so it would have to be an arthouse thing, but I think it could be beautifully filmed. Not sure I'd cast Garai though. I do like her, a lot, but I started to find her wide-eyed exuberance and gesturing a little grating last night. Too over-the-top, perhaps. (Though I LOVED Frances Barber, who played the melodramatic actress Arkadina. She did "over-the-top" to absolute perfection.)

My one pet peeve about live theater: Audience members who OVERlaugh. This happens so much in Shakespeare plays, and it happened again last night. As if by laughing loudly, people get to tell those seated around them, "I get it. I'm erudite. Ah-ha-ha-ha!" There is simply no need. Pretentious.

Gosling Has Departed Role, Wahlberg Steps In

Shooting is scheduled to start today on Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones, but there's already controversy! Variety reports that man-of-the-moment Ryan Gosling has suddenly dropped out of his role as the father and Mark Wahlberg has stepped in. Gosling cited creative differences as the reason for his departure. Hmmm. --Kim

October 24, 2007

Another Scrooge! Ba Humbug!

The Guardian reports that Jim Carrey will star as multiple characters in a special-effects rich adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Personally, I'm a fan of Bill Murray's Scrooged and the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim. --Kim

"Raunchy" Adaptation A Big Hit In U.K.

The 18th century novel Fanny Hill, which contains 39 sex scenes, was banned in the U.S. until 1966 and the U.K. until 1970, but now an audience of 1.1 million is watching the Andrew Davies adaptation on BBC4. Which is kind of funny considering that my mom was just saying the other day that when we lived in Germany in the late '70s one of the most popular television shows there was a situation comedy about a woman who's clothes fell off by the end of every episode. --Kim

October 23, 2007

Elizabeth....A Quick Weigh-In

I was going to wait to write anything about Elizabeth: The Golden Age, but then I figured we all know she winds up defeating the Spanish Armada...and besides, my comments shouldn't give too much away. Here's what I'm mulling over after seeing the movie:

1) Why didn't Mary Queen of Scots have a French accent? This vexed me for the whole film, because she was French, right? But then I thought, "Who am I to know how she might have actually spoken?" I got some answers in this excerpt from a press conference with the director Shekhar Kapur:

"So Samantha [Morton, who plays Mary] was like a dream to work through it. She was fantastic. She was just fantastic. And sometimes you’re so taken aback by an artist’s own interpretation. The only argument we had is did she have a French accent or did she have a Scottish accent? She was a Scottish queen, but accents are very funny. We assume that everybody at that time spoke Queen’s English. We have no idea, and I can bet everything that that’s not how they spoke. It’s just the genre of filmmaking. And in France, did everybody speak with that kind of French accent that we’ve now come to term as a French accent? I bet you they were from all over France. There must be a hundred accents going on in the Court. So ultimately she was more comfortable… ‘She’s the Queen of Scots, she believes she’s Queen. I want to go with a Scottish accent, go with it.’ That was it.”

See full transcript here.

2) Was it just me, or did the scene where Elizabeth teaches Raleigh how to dance with her lady-in-waiting, Bess, seem strangely too reminiscent of the scene in "Dirty Dancing" where Penny shows Baby how to dance with Johnny? I expected Eric Carmen's "Hungry Eyes" to start playing. (I was also distracted by, uh, Raleigh's hand placement in those lifts.) Of course, I should add that I did get a little verklempt when they flashed back to scenes from the first movie of young, fresh-faced Cate doing the same dance...that was indeed inspired.

3) I could have done without the scenes of swashbuckling Raleigh on his took me out of the film and seemed very Disney-esque.

Minor beefs, really, considering I was enthralled with the movie. I got chills in the opening sequence with the stained glass, and it just got better from there with Cate Blanchett's stunningly ridiculous headdresses and badass rants and Samantha Morton's histrionics upon having her secret missives discovered. The final lines mentioned something about there being peace and prosperity in Elizabeth's reign for the next 30 years. I don't care if it was boring and nothing else happens. Bring on another installment.

Bret Easton Ellis's "The Informers"

The Orlando Sentinel reports that Chris Isaak, Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Brandon Routh, Winona Ryder, and Mickey Rourke will star in an adaptation of "The Informers." Publisher's Weekly called the book "a tedious successor to "American Psycho"--but wait, there's a vampire, so color me intrigued. --Kim

October 21, 2007

"Denmark's a Prison..."

Today, this American Life featured an hour-long broadcast about a group of hardened criminals putting on a performance of Hamlet. It's extremely moving and profound, and I would recommend checking out this free podcast to hear insight about the bard's masterpiece from the most unlikely of sources.

October 19, 2007

Guest Blogger: Ron Hogan

Our second mystery guest today is founder and GalleyCat editor Ron Hogan, author of what "Publisher's Weekly" called one of the year's most fun coffee table books, The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane!" --Kim

The best adaptation I've ever seen of a novel into a film is David Fincher's version of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club -- I swear it's like they just ripped the pages out of the book and shot them.

Other favorite movies based on books? I'm going to have to go with some of the films that I covered in my book about '70s Hollywood, The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane!. I prefer Airport to The Poseidon Adventure, but I love The Spook Who Sat By the Door more than either of them. It's an absolutely astonishing film; I've described it before as "Shaft meets The Amateur meets The Battle of Algiers," and that about half taps into its power. And I have to confess I have a soft spot for Myra Breckinridge, even though Gore Vidal will hate me for saying so.

Guest Blogger: Editor Nicki Richesin

We're going to end the week on a high note with not one, but TWO mystery guests. The first is poet and "May Queen" editor Nicki Richesin. Nicki is currently editing her second book of essays, "What I Would Tell Her: 30 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Relationship" (Mira, April 2009) with essays from Jacquelyn Mitchard, Patricia Volk, Arianna Huffington, Joyce Maynard, Ellen Sussman, Ayun Halliday, Sheila Kohler, Karen Karbo, and Kaui Hart Hemmings, among others.

Get the dish on Nicki's wish list, including casting picks for an imaginary adaptation of "London Fields" below! --Kim

There are a great many films I go to for comfort or in despair. Merchant Ivory’s adaptation of the classic A Room With a View never fails to cheer me up. It reminds me of a time when I was sixteen and could dream of falling in love and spending a glorious summer in Tuscany. I was reminded of the final shot of Lucy and George embracing with the Arno flowing behind them when Lizzie and Darcy kiss before the moonlit view of Pemberley’s fountains in the recent Pride & Prejudice film. Will the halls of Pemberley be thus polluted? Yes, indeed! Like Ms. Cerand, I too, have turned to the latest Pride & Prejudice every time I’m feeling blue for a quick pick-me- up. I fast-forward to the heated scene wherein Miss Bennet confronts Mr. Darcy in a downpour or when they shamelessly flirt with each other. These scenes are like a gentle elixir endlessly restorative for me and why I am breathless with anticipation for Joe Wright’s adaptation of another favorite novel Atonement. I have high hopes for this one as Keira promises to be an Oscar contender.

For future adaptations, I would choose classics from the Amis boys every time. I think Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim would be fantastic if done on the big screen again. Although I’ve seen neither the 1957 version nor the more recent TV version, I’d love to see a more modern take on this hilarious jaunt. For me, The Rachel Papers film fell decidedly flat, but I reckon Martin Amis’s brilliant London Fields taken under the masterful helm of someone like Alfonso Cuarón would soar. If I were the casting director, I would cast Cate Blanchett as Nicola Six, Clive Owen as Guy Clinch, and Christian Bale as Keith Talent.

In preparation for this season’s crop of holiday films, I’m reading the highly entertaining The Golden Compass. I hope Dakota Blue will live up to my expectations as Lyra, the sassy heroine. I think Nicole Kidman was perfectly cast as the bewitching Mrs. Coulter. If I myself had a daemon, I would wish for a winged blue duiker with golden horns. The novel has proved a fun romp and the movie promises to be equal to the book.

Occasionally, there is that rare thing, a movie that is superior to the book. A few years ago, I had the misfortune of reading two books I disliked based on the critics’ praise: Feast of Love
and The Kite Runner. I suspect both of these productions will be much better in celluloid. The Kite Runner is already stirring up debates in the SF bay area and abroad.

I have a DVD rec as well. Julie Christie in Away From Her (directed by Sarah Polley) is riveting. You can barely pull your eyes away from the screen--she’s that charismatic.

Mark your calendars for upcoming holiday releases: Nov. 16, Love in a Time of Cholera; Dec. 7, The Golden Compass and Atonement; and Dec. 19, Revolutionary Road. Happy viewing! Finally, I’m thankful to Ms. Askew and Ms. Helmes for entertaining me these three years with their insider gossip, updates, and hilarious quips. Cheers to you both!

October 18, 2007

For the Modern day Wentworth or Hornblower

Marc Jacobs gets that women love a man in uniform, but will any modern straight man? Gotta love this captain's tee (complete with epaulets) and swashbuckling admiral get-up.

Guest Blogger: Meg Leder of I Like Tomatoes, but not Tom H@nks

Today's mystery guest is Meg Leder, a diehard bibliophile and Brooklynite with a marked distaste for all things Tom Hanks. Like a modern-day Samuel Pepys, her blog is an inspired, often amusing take on both the mundane and the profound. She is equal parts cynic and idealist, and her erudition doesn't get in the way of her being deliciously TV-and-pop-culture obsessed. Today, she offers up a list of which adaptations should never be (or never have been) made. In other words, she'll just say "Hanks, but no Hanks," to the following:

Literary Adaptations I Never Want to See and/or See Made

100 Years of Solitude: It’s a sprawling, beautiful insane book, and to squeeze that into two hours of film would be a mistake. See, for example, the disastrous adaptation of Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits. They combined two amazing great Latin American women characters into the singular non-Latin American Wynona Ryder. Enough said.

A Prayer for Owen Meany: Half of the beauty of this book comes from Irving’s INSANE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS ANY TIME OWEN TALKS. Owen is a nutty and wonderful character, and for anyone to cast him would be a mistake. What if they picked someone annoying? What if they picked someone not quirky?

Feast of Love and anything else by Charles Baxter: Yes, The Feast of Love is out now. And I’m sure it’s lovely. And I’m happy Mr. Charles Baxter is making some money from this. But. I don’t want to see anything on the screen that’s been adapted from the works of my favorite writer. His words are beautiful! How do you embody something like, “Her clocks ached” on the screen? Answer: You don’t. You’d lose all the beauty that is his writing.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: This book put me in an existential funk for weeks. What could be more depressing, desolate, and heartbreaking than this grim, grim book? Um, seeing it on the screen. No thank you.

Literary Adaptations That Should Have Never Been Made

Demi Moore’s The Scarlet Letter: Hester Prynne getting rescued by Native Americans? What?

House of the Spirits: A travesty. Such an f’ing disaster for anyone who loved this book.

Daniel Day Lewis’s Last of the Mohicans: So, when I saw this movie, I didn’t mind it. It was sprawling, full of hot men, had sweeping romance and adventure… all the things a gullible teenage viewer like me loved at the time. Then, in grad school, I read the book. Where was hot, sweaty Daniel Day Lewis’s character? Where was the passionate embracing under a waterfall? What happened? All I got was Natty Bumpo, one of the most un-romantic, stupidly named characters ever. And while I didn’t like the book, I was angry at the movie for putting these stupid misperceptions in my head, thus ruining my experience of reading one of America’s classic pieces of literature.

October 17, 2007

Guest Blogger: Ed Champion, Return of the Reluctant

Today's mystery guest is writer, blogger, and podcaster Edward Champion, whose seemingly fearless feats of derring-do and opinionated expostulation appear daily at his popular pit-stop for lovers of all things literary, Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant. Here, Ed turns our attention to the failures and successes of contemporary book-to-film adaptations. --Kim

Over the past three years, the kind Kim and amicable Amy have vigorously tracked the grand topography of literary adaptations. But I'd like to take advantage of their kind invite to throw a few curveballs into their benign little ballpark. Classically speaking -- at least, if we're talking nineteenth century novels and not the kooky craziness of Fellini's feral adaptation of Petronius's Satyricon -- it goes without saying that the Royal Shakespeare Company's ten-hour adaptation of Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is one of the finest literary adaptations to have graced all mediums in my lifetime. Being a wee lad when this all went down thousands of miles away in the West End a good twenty-seven years ago, I tempered, or perhaps perpetuated, my conspicuous love of Dickens by watching this fine production in my early twenties on a grainy VHS tape that had been delivered to me third-hand, drinking in vigorous performers in multiple roles committed to expressing the careful behavioral hues and shades that the great Dickens had happened upon through mere prolific routine! I now understand that this fine dramaturgical gem is now available on DVD. So perhaps a reinvestigation is in order.

What I speak of here is the contemporary novel done right by an intuitive screenwriter's hand. The average auteur, at least judging from recent film adaptations, does not appear to be much of a literary person. Today's cinematic emphasis is on slapdash editing designed for an ADD-impaired crowd, expensive digital effects whose sole purpose is to disguise glaring deficiencies of a slipshod story, and fine actors whose talents are often wasted with preposterous dialogue. But sometimes being literary isn't always enough. Let us not forget that even a screenwriter as talented as Francis Ford Coppola took transformed F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic in 1974 into a vacuous film starring the starry-eyed and wholly unsuitable Robert Redford as Gatsby. But when Coppola applied his talents to a more populist-minded novel, he gave us a masterpiece which spawned two sequels: one equally great, one not so. Perhaps having learned a few hard lessons from tackling Fitzgerald solo, The Godfather's pitch-perfect screenplay might be equally credited to Mario Puzo, who likewise turned the Superman legend into the Greatest Story Ever Told. That's subtlety for you. But it worked.

I suspect that the popular novel is likely a better form for these cinematic experiments. Not even Faulkner or Hemingway could grapple with the intricacies of a three-act screenplay as magnificently as they poured their talents into their fiction. Stanley Kubrick -- himself, a fine literary transpositioner of Anthony Burgess and Thackeray -- made an amusing enough film out of Lolita, but it is Nabokov's novel that stands as the true exemplar. To my mind, the last notable literary adaptation involved the five (!) writers led by Alfonso Cuaron who converted P.D. James's somewhat preposterous novel, Children of Men, into one of the finest dystopian films to hit our screens since Blade Runner. Could such a distinct and detailed vision have been effected if James were a more literary author? And while we're on the subject, if too many cooks spoil the broth, why then was High Fidelity such an effecting adaptation with four screenwriters? Was it because this quartet had the foresight (pardon the pun) to set Nick Hornby's novel in Chicago? Or was it because Hornby's novel fit the criteria of popular novel?

Frank Darabont's adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption is based on a novella by Stephen King, perhaps one of America's most popular writers, and is widely regarded as one of the great films of the '90's. And yet Darabont faltered somewhat with The Green Mile. Is it because novellas translate better than novels? Or is it because King designed The Green Mile as a six-part serial? Tom Perrotta's Election was transformed into one of the great satirical films of the '90's by the dynamic duo of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. The duo have a pretty solid literary adaption track record with Rex Pickett's Sideways and Louis Begley's About Schmidt, the latter of which was transplanted to Omaha, Nebraska. Is topographical transposition one of the secret ingredients to a successful literary adaptation? Or just in these particular cases?

Another unusual film adaptation in recent years-- one executed with considerable success -- is Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Bergman's adaptation of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor and Our Cancer Year. If one can quibble with their failure to capture the horribly debilitated Pekar as he is undergoing radiation therapy during his cancer, one must likewise applaud not only the way in which they included the real-life exemplars of Pekar and company, but the manner in which the comic book medium transcends itself upon the cinematic.

These are just a few examples. To delve into these issues any further is to promulgate another blog. And it's hard enough maintaining just one. I think Kim and Amy are wiser than I am. Their concentration on nineteenth century novels-turned-films present enough fascinating talking points. I've only just dipped my toe into their pond, and I now appreciate their interests greater than before.

October 16, 2007

Get Lady Jane's Look

The New Yorker has a piece on two newly discovered portraits that may be worth more than the latest paparazzi shots of Britney or Paris. If either of the paintings turn out to be of the tragically murdered queen Lady Jane Grey, she will no longer be the only English monarch of whom there were no contemporary portraits. --Kim

Danes Does Doolittle

I can't decide whether or not I like Claire Danes. She's like a see-saw in my mind:

Up: She debuts in Shaw's Pygmalion this week on Broadway as Eliza Doolittle. What a daring choice! Plus she does random ballet moves in Gap ads! She's so classy and bookish and learned!

Down: Prior to accepting the role, she had neither read the play nor seen "My Fair Lady." (I would have thought she'd have been a little more up to speed on her literary and popular culture, for crying out loud.) It makes me skeptical that she'd have the wherewithal to do the role justice.

Guest Blogger: Fellow-ette of The Egalitarian Bookworm (Chick?)...

Today's mystery guest emerged on the scene literally one year ago at The Egalitarian Bookworm, where she delights us with her highly creative (and hilarious) film reviews, and offers much more to ponder in the realm of books, politics and pop culture. Here, she gives ample reason why filmmakers need to give women their due. -- Amy

First off I'd like to thank the lovely ladies of Romancing the Tome for inviting me to guest-blog. I feel that if we were in Regency times, we'd write each other lengthy epistles about country dances and new parsons. Also, after Amy and Kim told me about their anniversary, I did some snooping and realized that October 16th is the one-year anniversary of my blog, too! I can think of no better way to celebrate, and I think this proves how psychically connected we are.

For my contribution I'm combining two of my favorite topics: feminism and period films. (I know that Romancing the Tome covers all film adaptations, but empire waists and riding breeches have a special place in our hearts.) Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about women in Hollywood due to the widely-publicized Warner Brothers scandal. In brief, the WB studio head recently said he was fed up with having female stars anchor his films because they weren't bringing in enough cash. Now it may be true that women don't flock into theaters these days as we once did, but the obvious reason for this trend seems to elude commentators. To me, and most of the Romancing the Tome audience no doubt, the answer is clear: in an industry dominated by male producers and directors, there are few realistic depictions of women onscreen.

That's the gap that literary adaptations fill so well. It's no wonder that we look forward to BBC adaptations of books like North and South and Jane Eyre and Hollywood movies like Pride and Prejudice and the Merchant-Ivory oeuvre. These are the kind of stories that have strong, interesting female protagonists, and are told from a uniquely female point of view. The gorgeous heroes of these tomes orbit around the heroines and are sex symbols for viewers. This is a welcome reversal of how most Hollywood movies work, with a fleshed-out hero and a secondary heroine who often exists to pout and look pretty.

Plus, even literary adaptations where women are not the central protagonist, frequently deal with historical oppression and restriction of women's roles. Screenplays about contemporary women's dilemmas like the mommy wars, reproductive rights and the wage gap most likely have little to no appeal for the big studios. Can you imagine one of these head honchos getting excited about a film about a harried working mom who's neither a victim nor a ball-busting bitch? Me neither.

But historical romances feature women who have to choose between marrying for love or money, who have to figure out how to navigate a life that's full of unspoken boundaries and rules that diminish their personal choice. That kind of subject matter speaks to modern women about our own dilemmas. When Emma Woodhouse tries to take care of her father and look out for her friend Harriet Smith and fails miserably, when Lucy Honeychurch has to choose between standards of propriety and her own eccentric nature, we relate because it's like a more concrete version of the current pressure on women to have it all and look good doing it.

It irritates me to no end that writers continue to puzzle over "Austen-mania" and conclude that its endurance means that women must yearn to be bound up once more in the good old fashioned corset. I mean, how idiotic can you get? We like these films because the stories are good, and because they pay the kind of nuanced tribute to women's lives that's missing from so many modern movies. Of course, we also have a deep appreciation for costumes and set pieces and stately British manors, but that stuff is just icing on the cake. I wish that there was a more welcoming climate for movies about real women that didn't have to go back 200 years to be palatable in L.A. Until then, I'm holding my breath for Sam Mendes' Middlemarch.

Fellow-ette, known in the real world as Sarah Seltzer, is a freelance writer who fulminates periodically at The Egalitarian Bookworm (Chick?)

October 15, 2007

Film Flashback: Young Bess

Turner Classic Movies is celebrating "Royals" all this month, so tonight, (in anticipation of seeing "The Golden Age" this weekend) I checked out "Young Bess," a 1953 adaptation of the novel by Margaret Irwin. Jean Simmons (no, not GENE Simmons, but how awesome would that be?) plays the feisty future monarch in her late teens up until the death of her sister, Mary...seems like it took some significant historical liberties and was too "sound-stagey" for my liking, but it got me in Tudor mode, nonetheless.

My favorite part, perhaps, was the line of text opening the movie...

Born at a time when heads were falling around her like cabbage stalks...

Can't you just imagine voiceover master Don LaFontaine saying that line today...?

Guest Blogger: Lauren Cerand of Lux Lotus

Our first mystery guest this week is perennially stylish Lauren Cerand from, who muses on her favorite adaptation--of the moment--and throws down the gauntlet to screenwriters everywhere with a wish list of the stories she'd like to see given the treatment. --Kim

When Kimberley asked me to contribute a guest post for Romancing the Tome’s third anniversary, I was naturally thrilled. Not only have I been reading RT since she was a wee lass, but adaptations, and their tip of the rarified chapeau of your choice to mash-up culture, have always had a soft spot in my heart. I immediately thought of my favorite films (was That Obscure Object of Desire adapted? Belle du Jour? Do I like any films not directed by Luis Buñuel? The answer is yes on all counts), as well as those already released that I’ve been meaning to see, such as The Virgin Suicides (novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, film by Sofia Coppola), and those due in theaters soon, like Beowulf.

And of course I wanted to come up with an homage to something achingly erudite, but as I lingered on the topic, I realized somewhat to my chagrin that the adaptation that’s probably brought me the most pleasure is Pride and Prejudice (the most recent adaptation). There was the two-week period after a boyfriend and I broke up and I watched it every night while I fell asleep, more for continuity than entertainment but a source of contentment nonetheless. And then of course drinks with a friend wherein we quoted entire passages of the film while simultaneously discussing loftier concerns. Not to mention the consolation that one could have any number of awkward encounters with a sexy but taciturn man that would not preclude making out in a sunny field, which is no small triumph when most of the men you date live in New York and work in publishing. That matter aside, one of the most endearing forms of adaptation is the exaltation of that simultaneously revered yet perennially maligned form, the short story. When made into a short film, it’s chocolate and peanut butter. A couple of years ago I publicized one such project, Craig Macneill’s Late Bloomer, “about 7th grade sexual education class gone horribly wrong. Loosely based on the dark tales of HP Lovecraft,” that went on to screen at Sundance and around the world. Not too long ago, a friend sent me the first issue of Wholphin, the McSweeney’s DVD magazine, which features The Big Empty, a spectacularly lavish short film starring Selma Blair and based on a short story by Alison Smith.

As for adaptations not yet realized, I’d love to see cinematic expressions of Maureen Gibbon’s astonishingly frank first novel, Swimming Sweet Arrow, and The Sisters, Mary S. Lovell’s biography of the extraordinary Mitford family. I’m currently publicizing, an online project by a Berlin-based filmmaker, Florian Thalhofer, traveling across the United States on motorcycle, for one month with no set itinerary other than the stated purpose of interviewing Americans about their lives. As he posts rough cuts and daily updates to the site, one of the things that strikes me most is how much people’s accounts of their own experiences sound like disjointed journal entries if recent, or have the burnished, lyrical quality of having occurred in the distant past, and how intrigued I am by storytelling in all its forms. And how fascinating it is to watch them in action!

Lauren Cerand writes about art, politics and style at

Romancing the Tome Turns Three!

We can hardly believe it, but tomorrow is the third anniversary of our first Romancing the Tome post. To celebrate three years of commenting on all things book-to-film, including fantasy casting calls, gratuitous Ioan posts, and our very own tempest in a teapot, we've persuaded some of our favorite bloggers to take the helm this week. Check back each day as our mystery guests are revealed!

October 14, 2007

Film Flashback: "Women In Love"

I can't stand HBO's new series, "Tell Me You Love Me," because it's basically a bunch of self-indulgent whiners engaging each week in a bit of soft-core porn. For those same reasons, I might have hated Ken Russell's adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" were it not for the phenomenal, jaw-dropping 1960s camp factor that had me wide-eyed and sporadically collapsing into laughter. At the time it was released, this film was critically lauded, but I'm not sure it holds up three decades later. Alan Bates (a poor man's Ewan MacGregor) is playboy Rupert Birkin while Oliver Reed (a.k.a. Bill Sykes in Oliver!) is the brooding industrialist Gerald Crich, whom, I might add, is reminiscent of a mustachioed Jake Gyllenhaal. Both men have a serious "Brokeback" thing going on, complete with a buck-naked Greco-Roman wrestling scene in front of a raging fire that, well, can only be seen to be believed. Meanwhile, Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden wear way too much eyeliner for their 1920s alter egos, Gudrun and Ursula, who are besotted with the aforementioned lads. In addition to some bizarre romps through wheat and fir trees and an erotic education on the proper way to eat a fig, the strangest part of this movie are the experimental camera angles and an ending that is so abrupt it gives the Sopranos series finale a run for its money. Jackson actually won an Oscar for her role in the film, thanks no doubt to her kick-ass dance moves. (I now know where Madonna learned to "vogue.")

Verdict? So bad it's good. (As it's listed as No. 87 on the British Film Institute's Top 100 films, I'm sure there are some diehard fans out there somewhere. If so, feel free to comment and tell me what I'm missing.

Bloom Goes Bump in the Night

Having managed to bypass the forboding bouncers at the new Hollywood hot spot Green Door last weekend, I was enamored of the garishly gilded 19th century decor, which lent itself to my delusional dreamings that I was a guest at some wealthy nobleman's French chateau and might bump into the Count of Monte Cristo around any corner. Sadly, I was one week too soon to cross paths with another staple of my overactive imagination: Orlando Bloom. Needless to say, he probably should have hired a coach and four to get home that night.

TMZ's got video of him practically challenging some dude to a modern-day duel before his car collision this weekend in Hollywood.

October 12, 2007

The French Lieutenant's Many Women

An old issue of Granta (#86) has excerpts from Jonathan Fowles' journals throughout the period when The French Lieutenant's Woman was being sold and adapted for the screen. A variety of screenwriters, directors, actors, and actresses were considered for the film (Meryl Streep made the final cut, of course) in the years before it actually made it from the page to the screen and Fowles has an interesting (and bitter and frustrated) take on the whole process from the viewpoint of the novelist. I've yet to see the movie, but I started the book today. Harold Pinter, who adapted The French Lieutenant's Woman, wrote the script for the new flick Sleuth, an adaptation of Anthony Shaffer's Tony award-winning play.

Playing Casting Director

I'm currently reading Henry James' A Portrait of a Lady, which I've long shied away from after viewing a most horrendous adaptation starring Nicole Kidman. (The director, Jane Campion, if I recall correctly, tried to get way too if the movie took its inspiration from the boat scene in Willy Wonka.)

That said, I'm quite enjoying the book and am thinking the time is right for another movie version. Here's who I'd cast:

Isabel Archer: Bryce Dallas Howard. We need an American here, and I think the usual suspects (Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams) are played out. Since I was bowled over by Bryce Dallas Howard in HBO's "As You Like It," I'll give it to her. But am not tied to it. There might be a better young ingenue.

Henrietta Stackpole: This is strange, but in my head, I'm picturing her as Sara Tancredi from "Prison Break." Laugh all you want. (Which reminds me, we need to see that Prison Break hottie, Wentworth Miller in a period film. With a name like that, he was born for it.)

Lord Warburton: James Purefoy is who I'm imagining (maybe because he's been on the brain lately...see post below.) And he's good dashing "lord" material.

Madame Merle: Helen McCrory (aka Anna Karenina, aka, Tony Blair's wife in "The Queen.) I think she's someone Isabel would harbor a girl-crush on, yet she'd be good at being subtly Machiavellian. The Kidman version went with Barbara Hershey, which was pretty spot-on.

Gilbert Osmond: John Malkovich was the all-too obvious choice in Campion's film, but I'd like to see Ralph Fiennes here, instead.

Ralph Touchett: Ioan Gruffudd (gotta get our boy in here somewhere.) Rupert Graves would also work.

Caspar Goodwood:
I'll say Daniel Day-Lewis, just because this character so reminds me of his Cecil Vyse in A Room With A View.

Mrs. Touchett: Let's go with Ellen Burstyn...I'd like to see her all done up in costume.

Anyway, if the movie I'm imagining in my head is any indication, I really ought to be picking out my gown for Oscar night when I'm nominated for "best casting." And I could probably get them all to work for free, of course.

"Golden Age" Over the Top?

I rather enjoyed this L.A. Times review of the Elizabeth sequel in this morning's paper which suggests that our heroine is a cross between Joan of Arc and Joan Crawford.

Clive Owen, as Walter Raleigh, is also described as "sex in hose and breeches." Could I possibly BE anymore excited? Has anyone seen it yet? If so, please weigh in!

October 8, 2007

Keira In "Georgiana" Costume

Here's Keira Knightley on the set of The Duchess, an adaptation of Amanda Foreman's Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The chap in the scarlet leather jacket is Orlando Bloom-lookalike Rupert Friend, aka Mr. Wickham and Keira's significant other. More pix here. --Kim

New Buccaneers: Now's Your Chance!

Okay, so maybe you won't snare a well-heeled London gent, but the country blokes are looking for love, too, according to this article from the Guardian.

Victorian Sims

I'm way too busy in my real life to adapt another imaginary one. Still I'm intrigued by the Victorian-themed virtual reality happening over at The Independent State of Caledon. Try out your own avatar if you dare!

Being Mr. Darcy

I'm a few weeks behind on this one, but love this interview with Colin Firth wondering when Mr. Darcy will die already. He says being known as Darcy feels like a nickname he just can't shake and refers to it as his "part-time burden." To his credit, he goes on to say he doesn't resent the connection, seeing as it pretty much made his career and all.

Also amused by the Andrew Davies revelation that Darcy was supposed to be full-on buck naked in the legendary lake scene.

Source: The Times UK


Have to confess, I didn't love-love the book by Phillipa Gregory, but this poster gets me excited nonetheless. Coming in February.

October 5, 2007

In A Lather!!!!

Everything Johnny Depp is involved in appears to be cinematic gold.

Case in point, check out the trailer for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

War of Words

Big time controversy about the filming of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and whether or not the film's young stars knew what they were getting into -- and what it could mean for them now. Originally scheduled for a Nov. 2nd release, the film's debut has since been postponed to give the boys and their families an opportunity to leave Afghanistan, where they might face retaliation for participating in the film's controversial scenes.

Source: The Guardian

October 4, 2007

The Golden Compass

Check out this short feature about the making of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass followed by the trailer. The movie has a Pan's Labyrinth/Narnia vibe.

I covet Nicole Kidman's wardrobe, for the record. And Daniel Craig.

October 2, 2007

Whereabouts: James Purefoy

You may know him as Marc Antony from HBO's "Rome," or perhaps he rings a bell as Rawdon Crawley opposite Reese Witherspoon in Vanity Fair. Jane Austen film fans know him as Tom Bertram, but he's also played Beau Brummell, and the Mayor of Casterbridge's nemesis. In any case, James Purefoy will soon play a humble 16th century swordsman, Solomon Kane, in an adaptation of the stories by Robert E. Howard.

From Dark Horizons:
"Kane is a 16th century soldier who learns that his brutal and cruel actions have damned him but is determined to redeem himself by living peaceably. But he finds himself dragged out of retirement for a fight against evil."

October 1, 2007

The House That Ben Built

Ben Kingsley's career takes him from Elizabethan England to 17th century India when he plays the emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in 1648 in memory of his beloved wife (played by Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai). The film will also recount the emperor's eventual imprisonment by his son -- it's said that he spent the last days of his life gazing upon his architectural masterpiece from the confines of his cell. (Probably all the slaves who toiled over the construction process didn't cry him a river. But we might, knowing Kingsley.)

source: Reuters

September 27, 2007

Let There Be Light...

Like the Victorian dress featured below, not sure this would work with my home decor, and yet I appreciate any artist who can combine medieval weaponry with toile print. This toile mace lamp (which came to my attention through Modish) is a creation of Julianna Holowka, who also happens to make some of the most hilarious greeting cards I have ever seen. Check out her Etsy store here.

September 26, 2007

From Bess to Bob

Cate Blanchett talks about Elizabeth: The Golden Age in this interview at Dark Horizons. Up next? She takes a turn as Bob Dylan (strange, yet inspired casting) in I'm Not Thereand she has a role in the next Indiana Jones movie. All I know is, she'd best start dusting off horizontal surfaces in her home for her next few Oscars.

September 24, 2007

Movie Review Monday: The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club adaptation is no Bridget Jones Diary (it lacks consistent wit and a mischievous Hugh Grant, for starters), but it is a light-n-frothy chick flick with a half dozen or so happy endings and Hugh Dancy in bike shorts. Unlike disappointments such as last year's drippy Kate, Cameron, Jack, and Jude flick, The Holiday (we know we deserve to be punished for even seeing that movie in the first place), JABC is actually sweetly entertaining, if a bit silly and predictable. Emily Blunt's wardrobe is to-die-for and Maria Bello and Amy Brenneman look like real adults you'd want to befriend rather than plasticized, airbrushed actresses. If you examine the film too closely, you're bound to find flaws; but keep your expectations low and your cliche-o-meter on silent and you'll be just fine.

Meet the Lincolns

Liam Neeson will play Honest Abe and Sally Field will play shopaholic First Lady Mary Todd in a film based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of the 16th prez. Spielberg directs.

September 21, 2007

Kingsley Does Shakespeare...Literally

Ben Kingsley (whom I admire and yet whom I think I might be strangely afraid of were I ever to meet him in real life...flashbacks from Sexy Beast, perhaps), will play William Shakespeare in an adaptation of Christopher Rush's recently released Will, a novel in which the Bard delivers a deathbed confessional of his life to his lawyer.

September 19, 2007

A Necklace with Victorian Verve

Style Bubble led me to this adorably eccentric Vatements Little Dress necklace--and many more like it--available from Etsy. I couldn't carry it off, but maybe one of our loyal readers can. If so, do send us a pic as proof of your incredible panache!