Tagged Literature

As I Lay Dying is Stream of Consciousness on Film

As I Lay Dying. 2013. Dir.  James Franco. Screenplay by Franco & James Rager; based on the novel of the same name by William Faulkner.
Starring James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, Ahna O’Reilley, Logan Marshall-Green, Brady Permenter, and Danny McBride. Millenium Films.
Rated R. 110 minutes.
Drama

★★★★

It’s not always necessary for someone to read a novel before they see the film version, however, with James Franco’s As I Lay Dying, an adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic novel, I believe it’s very necessary for someone to have read it.

After that, have a look at Franco’s film.

as_i_lay_dying_poster-storyThe reason I say this is because a lot of people don’t really understand, or see the point to, why Franco chose to use a lot of split-screen sequences. First of all, if you’d read As I Lay Dying, you might possibly understand it as how Franco chose to present all the point-of- views within the book. The whole novel is divided into chapters, each one labelled by the name of which character we are hearing the story from- this is why I think Franco wanted to use split-screen a lot.

Sometimes in the novel, you almost have to flip back and say to yourself, “Okay this is Darl’s chapter, this is Addie’s chapter (who in the novel sort of speaks ‘beyond death’ as well)” and so on.
It’s not easy to read William Faulkner in general; I’m a fan, and I still struggle to make it through a novel of his I’m reading. He was one of the first great American writers who was interested in stream-of-consciousness writing. Franco did a great job at trying to recreate that stream-of-consciousness feel.
asilaydying-01Second, I love the acting here. Some may disagree, but each of the main actors in particular brought some great work to the film here. Tim Blake Nelson as Anse is incredible. In the novel, it’s known that Anse is not particularly easy to decipher, nor does he always necessarily make any sense either, and he is not a good man, regardless of him agreeing to bring his wife’s body back to Jefferson. Nelson brings the downhome Southern quality to Anse, and I loved every second of the portrayal.

Franco was also a good here. In the book, it’s not always clear if Darl is mentally unstable, or what his deal is, until you read further and further. Franco did well subtly portraying Darl’s his personal journey.
Logan Marshall-Green did a perfect job with Jewel. There is a raw intensity about Jewel, here and in the novel, so his character was one of the best that came through on film. Marshall-Green is fast becoming a favourite of mine. There are more nice performances here, smaller ones, and they hit some great notes. I dig how most of the characters translated into film. It may not be the perfect adaptation, but it was great in terms of acting.
As-I-Lay-DyingI certainly give this a 4 out of 5 stars.

I don’t feel it’s perfect, but find it close. Franco understands Faulkner, in the way I understand and enjoy him. I’m not saying I’m right about how I view Faulkner’s work, or that Franco is right, or that I’m even correct about feeling the same way as he does about the famous author- I just know what I feel.
There are great moments here, classic moments, in my mind. The split-screen works for me. It really brought to the surface an idea that we were seeing the story through the eyes of the entire Bundren family. That’s how the novel worked, that’s why it was so compelling. Faulkner was a master of the craft. I continue to read his work, and hope one day I’ll have read it all. His novels, short stories (et cetera), are not for everyone. However, they are engaging, and have, for decades, stirred up many debates and critical opinions from one end of the spectrum to the next.
Franco gets what Faulkner was doing in As I Lay Dying. I hope he’ll be able to capture the same understanding with his adaptation of The Sound and the Fury.
asilaydying-04Highly recommended. Even if you don’t enjoy it, don’t be one of those people who turns it off after 20 minutes to half an hour. You can’t judge any movie that way. Sorry- you just can’t. Just like a novel. Sit through until the end, and I suggest reading the novel if you enjoy the story, or want to understand Franco’s intentions here.

Frankenstein: Fun But Less Penetrating Shelley

Frankenstein. 1931. Dir.  James Whale. Screenplay by Garrett Fort & Francis Edward Faragoh.
Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, and Boris Karloff. Universal Pictures.
Unrated. 70 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the excellent sequel, 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, click here.

I won’t bore anyone by recounting the plot of Frankenstein because, not to sound snobbish or anything, if you haven’t seen it by now then that’s ridiculous. This really is one of the classic horrors of the film world. Regardless, everyone knows the story of Frankenstein because it’s one of those tales that really stood the test of time; in fact when Mary Shelley wrote the book it was ahead of its time. And if you haven’t seen it you’ve probably seen some other work which had its primary influence developed due to Shelley’s novel.
Poster - Frankenstein_01That being said the film is excellent. My personal problem with this version of Frankenstein is mainly a subjective thing. I try not to negatively judge the film adaptation of a novel of which I’m a fan. It isn’t fair. Film and novels are two entirely separate universes. While reading a novel you have no choice but to use your imagination, guided by the words of an author. However, while watching a film you’re essentially subjected to the imagination of the filmmakers. You have no choice but to shut off your imagination, for the most part (depending on what sort of film you’re watching – avant garde film, for instance, usually requires the imagination to be in full gear). Either way, I can’t help but feel as if James Whale’s adaptation of the Shelly novel missed out on some spectacular opportunities.
Clive, Colin (Frankenstein)_01Now, of course, this was made in 1931. Though at the time I’m sure it was a lot of money, the film only cost a little over $250,000 to make (it would go on to make $12-million in domestic box office and who knows how much in video sales, and continues to make). I can forgive them to a certain extent for not fully going along with the entire story. There’s also the fact portions of Shelley’s novel are written in epistolary pieces, which frame the story; letters to and from characters. These, which occur right at the beginning of Frankenstein, are set on an expedition near the North Pole. My first thought as to why the screenwriters (the credits for the writing are actually a mess, as far as I’m concerned) decided not to start the film the way in which the novel begins is because maybe they felt audiences at the time might not respond to Henry Frankenstein (another change I just didn’t like) the same way. In the novel, we meet Victor Frankenstein through the eyes of Captain Robert Walton (who is writing the letters); he is near the North Pole, in the freezing cold, disturbed, lost, all sorts of a mess. Before he recounts the story of his terror-filled life, we already know he has suffered the consequences of whatever he’s done. I just feel as if the novel’s opening works perfectly for the characters. But of course, Henry Frankenstein is quite a different sort than Victor.

The monster looks great for 1931. Not to mention Boris Karloff does an incredible job of acting as Frankenstein’s monster. The performance isn’t overdone. Some of the subtleties in Karloff’s Monster are amazing. The first time we actually see him it’s brilliance. Everything moves so slow. And of course there’s the famous scene of the Monster befriending a little girl; you almost well up with fear beforehand, wondering exactly what will happen, and the Monster goes right ahead subverting our expectations. Until things go a little bit too far. It’s a really wonderful moment.
However, all that being said, I still prefer the descriptions of the monster in Shelley’s novel to the visualization in film. You can’t simply pass that off as this being done in 1931, either. It’s not the problem. They simply toned it down. Yes, that has to do with audiences in 1931, but that didn’t totally limit them. The make-up effects didn’t have to be terribly gruesome. I just imagine Frankenstein’s monster looking less like a man in a lot of regards. Karloff looks great, and actually does appear creepy a lot of times, mostly in his facial expressions. But the Monster in the novel is far more terrifying. I know, again, this is a very subjective line of critiquing. Whale’s film did a fine job enough with the horror, but that there were a lot of other opportunities he could have mined to really horrify audiences. I can only imagine seeing this at the time – I would’ve shit myself. Still, this movie does a great job even today of being highly creepy. There are just a lot of missed chances I wish Whale had taken.
Annex - Karloff, Boris (Frankenstein)_04Aside from my problems with the translation into film, it’s still a classic, as I mentioned in the beginning. The iconic status of Frankenstein’s Monster is unparalleled. He is parodied in countless other films and television shows (I think of, more recently, a skit on Chappelle’s Show involving African-Americanized versions of Frankenstein’s monster, as well as the Mummy and the Wolf-Man). The core of the story about Frankenstein and his Monster has been used in various other novels, films, and so on; the idea of playing god, making a man, et cetera. It is something that endures on and on. It’ll continue to do so, as every Halloween you no doubt see at least one kid walking around with a Frankenstein’s Monster costume on (although everybody mistakenly calls the Monster Frankenstein when really he has no name, and is Frankenstein’s Monster… but whatever). It’s one of those tales we cannot forget. And film adaptations help these novels extend their lives further into new generations.
Annex - Karloff, Boris (Frankenstein)_NRFPT_04The Blu ray release by Universal Pictures is absolutely magnificent. The picture was digitally restored, and it’s shocking how great the film looks in such beautiful high definition. I’d seen Frankenstein countless times before. Once I watched this I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only is the picture worth the price, but there are a bunch of really interesting special features. One such extra is a short film called Boo! which is a comedy lampooning Universal’s own horrors such as The Cat Creeps and Frankenstein, as well as their own Dracula; however, instead of using footage from their own version they used the German Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. It’s actually a riot. You can imagine this being done today, honestly. A few jokes about cosmetic surgery and congress, a couple more using quick reverse-fast forward sequences, and hilarity ensues.

Other extras include a fun little bit called Monster Tracks: basically at various points throughout the film bits of trivia will pop up on the screen. For instance, there are some fun pieces concerning the scene where Frankenstein ‘plays’ with the girl by the lake (such as how Whale wanted Karloff to throw the girl in insisting “You see it’s all part of the ritual”). Furthermore, you’ve got some little documentaries & featurettes like “Karloff: The Gentle Monster” (including interviews with everyone from several Karloff biographers to the likes of Joe Dante, Ramsey Campbell and Richard Gordon) and “The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster”. These are some awesome little bits to fill in the release. We got a lot of great insight behind the film itself, as well as its star, the Monster himself Boris Karloff.

As a film, I give Whale’s Frankenstein a 4 out of 5. It’s classic, it’s amazing, yes, but I really do feel they missed opportunities here. If they were able to adapt Shelley’s actual novel they should have used some of the best bits, which unfortunately they did not. It doesn’t ruin the film at all. Look at this as a much more subjective review than I would normally do. I only do it this way because the novel is an absolute masterpiece. Some say different, that it’s overrated. So wrong. It’s near perfect as a horror novel can be.
The Blu ray release gets a flawless 5 out of 5 star rating. How can it not? The picture alone is enough to justify buying the Blu ray. I can’t get over it. Everything looks so wonderful for a film that was done over 80 years ago now. Plus, all the features included on Universal’s restored version are a blast. You can spend hours going through this disc just to get through all the wonderful material they’ve added.
Annex - Karloff, Boris (Frankenstein)_06I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen this film, please, go do it. Especially if you’re a horror fan, or consider yourself a horror buff. Your viewing isn’t done until you’ve seen this. And also, if you have yet to read the novel, go get a copy. Shelley is an absolute master. A really wonderful read. And just like a film, it will grip you, and shock you at times. One of my all-time favourites.