Top 3: Film Adaptations with guest Dr. Paulette Curtis

By Ricky Herbst, Cinema Program Director for the Browning Cinema, August 22, 2018

[About a 4 MIN read]

This academic year, Establishing Shot’s monthly Top Three episodes are, befitting its conceit, slipping out of a two-seat booth and filling out a table for three (anything the New Yorker does we do with 50% more effort) with the help of some special guests. Fresh off her gig on Establishing Shot discussing ANDkids World Film Festival, Dr. Paulette Curtis joins Ricky and Ted at the new makeshift table cobbled together from microphones and music stands and empty Pamplemousse La Croix cans like the background scenery in Rent. And just as Rent is an adaptation of Puccini’s La Boheme, Ted, Ricky, and Paulette will be discussing adaptations while burning their art for fire to stay warm during this cold, cold August. In particular, adaptions that transform the source material in an interesting way, make use of film’s properties as a medium or transport an original story to an unexpected new location.

Up for Paulette are three films falling generally under the science-fiction umbrella, which tracks given she teaches popular courses on science-fiction literature here at Notre Dame. On her list is the original Planet of the Apes (spoilers on spoilers on spoilers) from 1968, an adaptation of La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle. That cat Boulle is a pretty interesting figure given that his major works are Planet of the Apes and the almost identical The Bridge over the River Kwai.

After touching on the merits of newer adaptations of the book (your Burtons, your Caesars), Paulette hits David Cronenberg’s adaption of Dead Zone, the Stephen King novel of the same name. Perhaps an easy adaption heading from Canada to Maine, Cronenberg directed this forward-seeing thriller in 1983 and has Christopher Walken (and not Anthony Michael Hall) take the audience on a roller-coaster ride through creeping fascism. Lastly, Paulette unpacks last year’s popular and critical darling Logan, inspired by the Old Man Logan comic series by Steve McNiven and Mark Millar, which was the first film to be adapted from a superhero comic book to be nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award (if you don’t count The Remains of the Day).

Ricky’s top three starts with Rear Window from 1954, which is an adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 story It Had to Be Murder. While the shifts from the story to the film are intriguing, the adaptation is also an opportunity breakdown Woolrich’s life trajectory and how it tracked Rear Window. Following that is Who Framed Roger Rabbit based on Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, which begs two questions: (1) who censored that question mark from the movie and (2) if musicals get to end in exclamation marks then why shouldn’t many, many more mysteries end in a question mark?

Gary Wolf’s novel focuses on comic strips and the personalities therein making the shift to film and animated features lively. Further, the darkness in Wolf’s novel helps explain the seedy undertones in the movie because, try as one may, you can’t dip all of those subtexts out of a PG-rating. Lastly, Ricky chats about Candyman—featuring upcoming Presenting Series artist and composer Philip Glass—and the film’s journey aboard the Goodship Lollipop from Liverpool, where Clive Barker set his short story The Forbidden, to Cabrini Green, where the film was set.

Keeping with the noir theme of this top three, Ted discusses Carol Reed’s adaptation of the Graham Greene novella The Third Man, which was written in order for Greene to have the context to write the screenplay for the film. Despite that close relationship, there are still major differences between the two, including many more Dutch angles in the film. Next, Ted skips over from the UK (or Vienna) to Ireland for Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, his first in the Barrytown Trilogy following the Rabbittes from Dublin. That 1987 novel was adapted into a film of the same name in 1991, which was a natural extension for a novel soaked both in a love for music and in musical performance. Ted chats about the jukebox used for the soundtrack and the music performed at community centers, rollerskating rinks, and billiard halls (i.e., the Petri dishes for amateur Irish bands). Ted’s top three ends on Wall Street with Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 book American Psycho, which was the basis for Mary Harron’s film of the same name in 2000. While the obsessions with Hugo Boss and business cards and resies remain the same, Ted teases out the differences between the novel and the blood-soaked Genesis only the film could provide.