Although by the 1950s US producers had largely scaled back their reliance on British literary source material (see above, pp. 234–6), the international Brit-Lit film still had the cultural capital to dominate the Academy Awards well into the 1960s. The Best Picture nominees included: Sons and Lovers (1960), West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia* (1962), Tom Jones* (1963), Becket (1964), Mary Poppins (1964), My Fair Lady* (1964), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Dr. Doolittle (1967), Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), and Oliver!* (1968). Some of these films drew on adaptation styles and assumptions about Britishness that were forged in much earlier decades of film history. In a decade of great upheaval and cultural strife, tradition fared surprisingly well in the mainstream movie house. In the art houses, however, where Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave had begun to exert a considerable influence on film styles, the adaptations were becoming grittier, angrier, at times even nihilistic: Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies (1963), Peter Hall’s underrated A Midsummer Night Dream (1968), Ken Russell’s Women in Love (1969), and the two remarkable films of King Lear made in 1971 by Brook and Grigori Kozintsev respectively. Indeed, several of the darker Brit-Lit films of the 1970s continue to be regarded today as among the most dynamic and revolutionary movies of any era: A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), and Apocalypse Now (1979), to mention a few. Though Brit-Lit films could easily have ossified into irrelevancy, then, they were far from peripheral in the era of independent production.
In this chapter, we examine Brit-Lit adaptations beginning in the late 1950s, with the formation of the French New Wave, and stopping in the late 1970s, just prior to the surprising resurgence of the heritage film in the following decade. Identifying unique trends in national styles of adaptation (mainly in Britain and the United States) becomes complicated in these decades, given the increasingly hybrid, international nature of film production, but we suggest that British producers were mainly responsible for an ambitious reinvention of the Brit-Lit prestige film, which we call the “Panavision adaptation,” as well as a distinct brand of literary horror in Hammer films. In the United States, much of the interest in British literature was localized in this period in the production of mainstream fare such as musicals, animation, and thrillers based on genre fiction. The second part of the chapter charts the influence of European cinema on art-house movements such as the British New Wave, arguing that the rise of auteur theory led to the creation of a new kind of Brit-Lit film, which we call the “auteur adaptation.” Though such films emerged from, and still had strong roots in, a number of national cinemas, it’s also true that under the influence of the international auteur cinema, the Brit-Lit film continued to be, more than ever, a transnational phenomenon.
Before turning to the chapter’s first focused section on Panavision adaptations, we’d like to discuss just briefly what we see as some of the most relevant trends in film production between the late 1950s and 1970s. British cinema in the 1960s experienced a fair amount of growth and energy. A new sense of prosperity followed the long postwar recovery, and a number of films sought to address, often critically, the rise of a consumer culture (see below, pp. 290–4). According to Paul Newland, “The British working classes became less deferential and more affluent, and more able to enjoy a kind of consumer lifestyle their parents could only have dreamed of.” As in the United States, cinema attendance in Britain had declined since the 1950s, and this sparked the turn to movies for and about youth. Amy Sargeant associates 1960s British cinema with the “birth of cool,” otherwise known as Swinging London: “Many of the films of the 1960s are the work of visiting directors, attracted by a much publicized and promoted London scene in music, art, architecture, industrial design, fashion and photography.” Antonioni’s Blow-up (1966) captures the energy of the art and fashion scene in London, and a new sense of social mobility and sexual freedom informs a series of films starring Michael Caine: The Ipcress File (1965), Alfie (1966), and The Italian Job (1969). Sargeant also identifies Julie Christie as an ambassador of 1960s style and attitude in such films as Billy Liar! (1963) and Darling (1965). Probably the most important cinematic movement of the decade, however, was the so-called British New Wave, a socio-realist cinema focused on the mobile working and middle classes of the industrial North (see below, pp. 290–6). The relative prosperity of the 1960s British film industry was fueled partly by an influx of American financing, especially in Hollywood’s British subsidiaries.
Compared to the relative confidence and style of 1960s filmmaking, the British film industry suffered several setbacks in the 1970s. There was a precipitous drop in Hollywood’s investment in the British film industry, and the first Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher made good on a promise to end subsidies for the industry. The number of registered British productions fell from ninety-eight in 1971 to a mere thirty-six by 1981. It was a gloomier and much more divisive decade than the 1960s in many ways, with the rise of inner-city racial tension, the crisis over Home Rule in Northern Ireland accompanied by a series of IRA bombings in London, as well as a series of protracted industrial actions. British cinematic talent like John Schlesinger and Jack Clayton moved to Hollywood, and others turned away from the cinema toward television production. Shail is correct in noting, then, that the “1970s has invariably been seen as an era of decline for British Cinema.”
At the same time, the Carry On franchise thrived, and so did the Bond films. The 1970s offered opportunities to alternative and art-house filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick (see below, pp. 311–14), Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, and Susan Clayton, whose remarkable The Song of the Shirt (1979) translated Thomas Hood’s poem on the poverty of garment workers into a striking experimental documentary. Not all film historians, therefore, view the 1970s as mere “shlock and dross.” Andrew Higson, for example, sees the decade as a vital transitional period leading to a 1980s revival, in which productions such as Chariots of Fire (1981) found international success. Though film historians have never acknowledged the fact, Brit-Lit adaptations thrived in this era and could be said to have formed the backbone of the film industry: The Railway Children (Lionel Jeffries, 1970); A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971); The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971); Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (joint US/UK, Mel Stuart, 1971); Don’t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973); Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974); Barry Lyndon (Kubrick, 1975); The Tempest (Derek Jarman, 1979), et cetera.
Hollywood took a quite different direction in these decades. Competition from television forced many US studios to farm out the production of feature films to independent film companies so that by “1958, half of the features produced in the United States were ‘independent.’” As we’ve seen, Hollywood relied increasingly in the 1960s on independent British producers, which contributed directly to the large number of mainstream Brit-Lit adaptations. By the end of the decade, in a time of financial crisis for the Hollywood studios, independent productions were exerting even greater influence on American cinema. Independent films like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Mike Nichols’s The Graduate (1967), and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) were widely credited as having saved Hollywood from financial and artistic ruin. Peter Biskind writes that these particular films “sent tremors through the industry” and gave birth to “The New Hollywood” of the 1970s:
This was to be a directors’ decade if ever there was one. Directors as a group enjoyed more power, prestige, and wealth than they ever had before. … The first wave … included Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Coppola, Warren Beatty, Stanley Kubrick, Dennis Hopper, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen, Bob Fosse, Robert Benton, Arthur Penn, John Cassavetes, Alan Pakula, Paul Mazursky, Bob Rafelson, Hal Ashby, William Friedkin, Robert Altman, and Richard Lester. The second wave was made up by the early boomers …, the film school generation, the so-called movie brats. This group included Scorsese, Spielberg, George Lucas, John Milius, Paul Schrader, Brian De Palma, and Terence Malick.
In contrast to Great Britain, American cinema enjoyed in the 1970s one of its golden ages. The antiestablishment sentiment of many New Hollywood films was striking for American pictures, and many of the era’s most famous directors, much influenced by the auteur theory, drew heavily on European art-house styles in cinematography and editing. Nonetheless, signs of trouble were also visible by mid-decade, when the runaway success of Jaws (1975) served to redirect Hollywood financing back toward big-budget films and blockbusters and away from the more progressive films of the director’s cinema. David Cook, in fact, characterizes the release of Jaws as the “paradigmatic event of the seventies,” establishing new models of studio investment in so-called “event films.” The soundness of these strategies would soon be validated by the international success of George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), whose earnings surpassed 750 million dollars. If such blockbusters can be said to have killed the too short-lived American director’s cinema of the 1970s, Michael Cimino’s 44 million dollar western, Heaven’s Gate (1980)—which managed to earn back only three and a half million dollars at the box office and was panned by critics—can be said to have buried it.
In this section, we discuss a group of films that we call “Panavision adaptations,” which attempted to put a new spin on the Brit-Lit prestige film that had emerged in the 1930s. Like those earlier films, they seek to transport audiences into a “romantic” and literary past, using all the devices of the classic costume drama: historical settings, period dress, music, et cetera. While the earlier prestige films were generally shot in black and white, projected onto screens in the Academy ratio, and filmed largely in studio, these films employed wide-screen formats, usually Panavision, made full use of color, and were passionately dedicated to location shooting and a pictorialism arising from it. This emerging style of adaptation was largely pioneered by British directors and probably had its roots in earlier films like Powell and Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale, which paid such lyrical homage to the countryside of Kent, albeit in smaller-screen black and white formats.
A significant subset of these adaptations were intent on emplacing the literary text in period worlds and landscapes that are not only ravishingly beautiful but which move in a sympathetic orbit with the word painting of the authors being adapted. For most of them, “setting” is a weak word for describing their particular approach to literary and cinematic place. Perhaps predictably, filmmakers working in this school of adaptation were drawn to the works of Emily Brontë, Hardy, Conrad, and Fowles, and they exploited the long take and slower editing paces. The lush pictorialism of their films seemed calculated to transport audiences into a past that stood at a significant distance from the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s—into the unspoiled bucolic landscapes of a barely industrialized England. Adjectives like “lush,” “gorgeous,” “ravishing,” and “sweeping,” accurately describe the cinematic effect of such adaptations, which distinguished the films from the smaller-format television adaptations that continued to make headway throughout the period. This is not to say that the films necessarily harbored a type of regressive nostalgia. For example, as the sexual revolutions of the 1960s were rewriting the very moral and social underpinnings of the nineteenth-century novel of marriage, these films tended to meditate on the tragic consequences of repression and patriarchy.
The “Panavision adaptation” did not emerge overnight. A few adaptations attempted to replicate fairly precisely the prestige formulas of earlier decades. A Tale of Two Cities (1958), for example, is a film that has the palpable look and feel of a 1930s prestige production. It was directed by Ralph Thomas for the premiere film company in Britain after the war, the Rank Organization, a vertical combine dominating production, distribution, and exhibition of films. Given the new uncertainties of film adaptation in the post-studio era, Rank may have been consciously attempting to appropriate the aura of MGM’s 1930s Brit-Lit classics. With the hindsight of cinematic history, such a move seems ill-calculated since the quality film approach to adapting classics by authors like Dickens had migrated almost completely to television by the 1960s and 1970s (see above, pp. 228–34). MGM had made its famous A Tale of Two Cities in 1935, featuring matinee idol Ronald Coleman and sparing no expense for costumes and sets. In the Rank version, the formula isn’t radically different: the film, shot largely at Pinewood Studios, starred Dirk Bogarde, a matinee idol under virtual contract with Rank, and highlighted elaborate costumes and sets—though it included a bit more location shooting than its predecessor. The black and white cinematography and score also seem to operate largely in the 1930s mode; see for instance the storming of the Bastille sequence, which hinges on a satisfying but seriously dated use of double exposures. This film represented the end of the line for the Brit-Lit prestige film forged at the height of the studio system.
Doubtless the most epic of all prestige adaptations in the period covered by this chapter was Lawrence of Arabia (1962). David Lean’s masterpiece, unlike A Tale of Two Cities, paid homage to, but also significantly reinvented, the prestige adaptations and imperial epics of the 1930s. Based on the writings of T. E. Lawrence, primarily his outsized memoir The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the film is an extended flashback, following the death of Lawrence in a motorcycle accident, to his life in the British army in Cairo, his unlikely rise, and his role as a flawed, perhaps murderous, messiah for pan-Arabian independence. To call Lean’s film vast would be to understate the matter: he makes full use of the Super Panavision 70 process, the successor to CinemaScope, a 1950s technology intended to offer a spectacle impossible for its rival, broadcast television, to duplicate. The film’s politics, particularly its critical reappraisal of Britain’s imperial project in Egypt, Suez, and Palestine from the point of view of the post-1957 world, are strikingly contemporary. In many other ways, though, Lawrence of Arabia evokes a classical cinema of an earlier era. In fact, Alexander Korda had attempted to make this film in the middle 1930s but was thwarted by the BBFC’s aversion to controversial political themes (see above, p. 202).
At the heart of the film, the two arduous desert crossings, Lean depicts tiny human figures dwarfed by vast landscapes of sand dunes and mountains (see Figure 6.1). Lawrence of Arabia, though, exhibits few of the modernist traits—such as narrative ambiguity or formal disjunctions—prized by the period’s art-house filmmakers (see below, pp. 289–96). Instead, it depends on the conventions of classic narrative cinema, especially in the first half, in which the drive to Aqaba over an unforgiving landscape consumes every single shot. In the last section of this chapter, we will consider the “auteur adaptation,” a category to which some readers might prefer to assign Lawrence of Arabia. Lean is a director, however, who fits uneasily into the category of auteur despite the fact that his was clearly the controlling intelligence of the film on every level. (For example, Lean and screenwriter Robert Bolton confidently restructured the narrative and rewrote the historical events in Lawrence’s classic book.) The epic tracking shot in the attack on Aqaba sequence reveals an incredible level of control and vision, following the rebels from their desert base through the Turkish encampment and, finally, onto Aqaba itself, with its massive guns pointed uselessly toward the sea. Despite such cinematic virtuosity, the shot demonstrates the classic narrative focus of Lean’s cinema. Though the driving story of the first half of the film becomes more complex, darker, and episodic after the intermission (featuring Maurice Jarre’s score on a blank screen), the cinematic pleasures afforded by Lawrence of Arabia link it very naturally to the epic prestige pictures of the 1930s.
Another impressive prestige adaptation of this period is John Schlesinger’s 1967 version of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. The several British New Wave adaptations Schlesinger made earlier in the decade (see below, p. 290) cast into starker relief the inspired classicism of his later film. It is a prestige adaptation displaying the narrative mastery of the best studio adaptations, films like Wyler’s Wuthering Heights (1939) and Stevenson’s Jane Eyre (1943). Similar to Lawrence of Arabia, it fully embraces the new wide-screen pictorialism. It also announces its superior quality first, with an overture, played over an unmoving freeze frame of a beachy landscape; and later, with a formal intermission featuring entr’acte music and a freeze frame of a hay wagon which will appear in the second half of the film. Overtures and intermissions signal not only quality, of course, but also the more formal, theatrical aspects of movie viewing celebrated in earlier periods.
Far from the Madding Crowd shows an extraordinary commitment to evoking Hardy’s Wessex through a lush, color Panavision. Unlike classic 1930s and 1940s adaptations, the film was shot on location in Dorset and Wiltshire rather than in the studio or in the Hollywood hills. Schlesinger’s patient, lyrical camera follows its characters through both large and small rural landscapes, which dominate the film as much as the story and characters. Schlesinger has commented on the film’s pacing, which he later regretted: “I think it’s terribly slow. … I was in the habit of liking the leisurely pace and starting on a detail of a building and then panning down and opening the whole thing up to a street, or whatever it was.” The adaptation uses this technique and others to show respect for the novel’s own evocation of place, exercising a level of care verging on reverence. Especially in its treatment of the classic source text, Far from the Madding Crowd conjures the aura of the big studio adaptations while updating many of their visual and cultural formulas.
While the film goes to great lengths to immerse viewers in a fully visualized past, it seems to aim at something more than pure escapism or nostalgia, especially in its attention to gender roles. Schlesinger shows Christie’s Bathsheba, for instance, taking charge of her farm and dealing with men in the corn exchange. Additionally, in one of the film’s most memorable sequences, the dashing Sergeant Troy demonstrates his mastery of swordplay before Bathsheba in a small grassy valley (see Figure 6.2). The scene communicates a kind of aggressive sexual energy that surprises in the context of this otherwise restrained film. As the shots start piling on top of each other in ever more rapid succession, the camera assumes Bathsheba’s perspective—the focus goes soft and the action slows, melting into a dream or imaginary scene of Troy charging on horseback into battle. Schlesinger devotes a moderate amount of energy to this kind of subjective camera work, giving some impressive point-of-view shots to the key characters at the most dramatic moments of their stories. On the whole, though, Far from the Madding Crowd remains the kind of adaptation that seems intended to immerse viewers in the lives of its characters, in the text and its mentalities, in the gorgeous rural and village landscapes of England—rather than calling direct attention to the medium or the presence of the director.
Other Brit-Lit prestige films like George Cukor’s epic Justine (1969), based on the Alexandria Quartet of Lawrence Durrell, and most notably, Robert Fuest’s Wuthering Heights (1970), starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall, also belong to this pictorial, immersive style of adaptation. Though much more direct and provocative in its eroticism, Ken Russell’s Women in Love (1969) employs the same visual grammar as the other Panavision adaptations.
In concluding this section, however, we wish to consider a much later film, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (1977). Based on a Conrad novella, The Duel, the film stars American actors Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine and is set in France during the Napoleonic wars. It focuses on a simmering contest of honor between Keitel’s hot-headed Feraud, and Carradine’s sensitive D’Hubert. The Duellists has much in common with Schlesinger’s Far from the Madding Crowd in its desire to immerse the audience in the particularities and beauties of the past. The rich material world Scott presents through the mise-en-scène is romantic and convincingly historical—showing great attention, for instance, to the flash and tassels of the hussar military uniforms. In such a way, Scott mimics the intense visuality of Conrad’s story: for example, as a number of elegant people speculate about the cause of a duel, Conrad writes that “A sub-commissary of the Intendence, an agreeable and cultivated bachelor in kerseymere breeches, Hessian boots, and a blue coat embroidered with silver lace, who affected to believe in the transmigration of souls, suggested that the two had met perhaps in some previous existence.” Here Conrad writes in a nineteenth-century descriptive mode that matches rather precisely the type of novelistic cinema Scott is dedicated to advancing.
The entire film seems under the spell of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), an “auteur adaptation” par excellence; in fact The Duellists might be thought of as a Barry Lyndon in which something actually happens. Scott shows interiors in a natural or natural-seeming light and frames them in a very painterly way. As D’Hubert returns from attempting to arrest Feraud, the camera pans around his quarters and lingers slowly on the still life of his supper, a broken crust of bread, two pears, and a glass of wine, with the sunlight streaming in through an open window. The still Vermeer-like interiors contrast with the violence of the many duels and skirmishes the film presents, typically shot with handheld cameras and edited at a startling pace. The sound design contributes greatly to the romantic realism of these scenes, with the harsh and deep clang of swords giving a sense of the materiality and danger of the fights. As the film progresses, the rivalry between the two men over their honor and a woman broadens to include the wars in which they fight, giving way to a series of increasingly epic panoramas of fields, mountains, and rivers reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich. Despite its intense action, The Duellists is ultimately a film invested in the immersive pictorialism we have identified as the hallmark of the Panavision adaptation. Moreover, the film’s larger meditation on the causes of violence and warfare reveals that, like other Panavision films, The Duellists is no mere escapist historical fantasy but, rather, a film capable of a subtle yet powerful presentism.
The films belonging to this naturalistic cycle tend to equate place fully with fate and, in the period considered by this chapter, probably reach their height in works like Barry Lyndon and Roman Polanski’s Tess (1979), which we consider below (see pp. 301–2). Both of these films set the fates of their protagonists against vast historical landscapes but in ways that explicitly invoke the contemporary auteur aesthetic. Panavision adaptations often express a novel-like ambition to create fully realized worlds in which to immerse their viewers but, in general, they avoid the reflexive, antinarrative montage and cinematography associated with European New Wave, art-house, and auteur films. Though lines of descent are difficult to trace definitively, we would suggest that the lasting influence of the Panavision cycle of adaptations is most legible in the Merchant-Ivory heritage films of the 1980s and 1990s, and even in more recent Brit-Lit adaptations like Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice (2005). Pamela Demory observes that Wright’s adaptation “ratchets up the romanticism with sweeping widescreen shots of lush English countryside, brooding Darcy in long black coat, Elizabeth in flowing gown standing at the edge of a dramatic cliff.” Some of the film’s power, then, depends on an exploitation of landscape that isn’t fully native to Austen’s novel and may be derived at least in part from this earlier adaptation tradition.
As discussed in the previous chapter, US producers in the 1940s and 1950s turned surprisingly often to British literary source material for a number of their most inventive genre films, while British producers continued to use canonical and contemporary British literature for more prestige-oriented pictures. In the 1960s and 1970s this dynamic seems to hold—with a few significant differences. While the Panavision adaptation was pioneered mainly by British directors on the model of the earlier Hollywood prestige films, US producers continued to rely on Brit-Lit sources for certain types of genre film, including musicals and animations, science fiction, and thrillers. British producers, however, took the lead at this time in revitalizing both the horror and spy genres largely through a systematic reliance on Brit-Lit source material.
So many of this period’s animated films were also essentially musicals, and some of the musicals, like Mary Poppins (1964), included animation. Furthermore, both types of film often were aimed at audiences composed mainly of children. In surveying the films made in both genres in the 1960s and 1970s, especially those aimed at children, we are struck by how many of them are Brit-Lit properties of an intensely traditional sort. A number invoke or rework famous prestige Brit-Lit films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s: Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967) depends clearly on Korda’s 1942 version starring Sabu, whom the animators used as a model for their Mowgli; Carol Reed’s musical Oliver! (1968) has an eye on David Lean’s Oliver Twist (1948) as well as earlier film versions, and in the musical Scrooge (1970), Albert Finney filters his performance through that of Seymour Hicks in Scrooge (1935) and Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol (1951). Disney’s Robin Hood (1973) is partly a parody and partly a remake of Michael Curtiz’s Robin Hood (1938), with Peter Ustinov channeling in his voice work the charming ooze of Claude Rains as King John; finally, My Fair Lady (1964) follows the plot and dialogue of Asquith’s Pygmalion (1930) very closely.
On the whole, animated or musical adaptations made for children tend to be rather cautious or conservative with regard to issues of race and colonialism, perhaps the reason that a certain kind of old-fashioned or depoliticized Brit-Lit was chosen in the first place. Disney’s The Jungle Book, for example, appropriates Dixieland jazz styles in a potentially offensive way in songs like “I Want to be Like You.” As Michael Newton puts it,
Given the Imperialist complexities and context of Kipling’s stories, it should be no surprise that one unspoken tension in Disney’s The Jungle Book forms around the representation of race. This is, after all, a film about an Indian boy (with an American accent) in an Indian jungle, that equates that jungle with jazz, a style of music once itself thought to be “jungle music,” a “dark” and “primitive” subversion of western classical standards.
Newton goes on, however, to suggest that jazz had lost its dangerous associations by the 1960s and that Louis Prima, a white Italian American jazz star, who channeled Louis Armstrong in many of the film’s songs, was not so much pretending to be African American but performing a form of New Orleans jazz through which Italian Americans and African Americans had forged particularly close-knit ties. In other words, though Disney made the choice to use jazz music in The Jungle Book, it did so in a manner which allowed it to avoid directly raising issues of colonialism and race.
Other musical films with Brit-Lit sources—Mary Poppins (1964), for example, based on the children’s book by P. L. Travers, or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), adapted from the novel by Ian Fleming, or Dr. Doolittle (1967), based on the children’s book by Hugh Lofting—seem stuck in a Victorian or Edwardian time loop, evoking Anglophilic stereotypes of traditional Britishness favored in the 1930s and 1940s. Mary Poppins, for example, mocks, ever so gently, the pompous, stiff-upper-lipped Britishness of Mr Banks. He objects to the playful outings Mary Poppins organizes with the song, “A British Bank”: “A British bank is run with precision / A British home requires nothing less, / Tradition, discipline and rules / must be the tools / without them, disorder, chaos, moral disintegration / in short you have a ghastly mess.” In the end, though, the film does not stray very far from traditional British stereotypes, since it features a revised version of the Victorian nanny and a caricature of the Cockney chimney sweep, played by the very American Dick van Dyke (see Figure 6.3). Mark Glancy called the view of Britain in Hollywood’s “British” films of the 1930s and 1940s “backward looking” since these classic adaptations “often focus on the rigidity of the class system, social snobbery, and Anglo-American differences.” “Backward looking” would also be a good way to describe both the animated and musical adaptations of this era.
There are some notable exceptions, however. West Side Story (1961), based on the stage version of the musical, successfully transferred Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet from early modern Verona to the gang-infested streets of early 1960s New York, reimagining the Montagues and Capulets as the Anglo Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The stylish choreography of Jerome Robbins is iconic, and the songs written by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Steven Sondheim, have a distinct 1960s political edge, particularly in the song “America,” which constitutes a full-scale debate about the degree to which the nation has turned its back on its immigrants. The immense success of West Side Story’s appropriation and Americanization of Shakespeare’s play established a precedent for later modernizations of canonical Brit-Lit geared primarily toward a youth market.
A larger trend of explicitly Americanizing Brit-Lit source material is, in fact, unmistakable in this period. Only rarely was the decision to Americanize justified by the intrinsic nature of the adaptation, as in West Side Story’s desire to explore ethnic and racial strife in New York City. One peculiar convention that developed in 1960s animation in particular converted British child protagonists—like Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and Arthur in The Sword and the Stone (1963)—into American speaking and singing characters. Upper-class British accents, on the other hand, were usually reserved for villains like King John in Robin Hood or Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, magnificently voiced by George Sanders. Even in pushing these conventions, the films were in many ways merely reviving certain formulas of classic Hollywood films like MGM’s David Copperfield and 20th Century Fox’s Jane Eyre, which usually featured at least one Hollywood star, sometimes with a doubtful British accent, among a mixed cast of British and American character actors.
The two most prestigious Brit-Lit musicals of the era, George Cukor’s My Fair Lady and Carol Reed’s Oliver!, both of which won Oscars for Best Picture, stoutly resist the creeping Americanization of many US-produced Brit-Lit musicals and invest strongly in an “authentic,” though literary, Britishness. The general absence of Americanisms in My Fair Lady is particularly striking since it was written by the legendary American composer-lyricist team of Lerner and Lowe, directed by Hollywood legend George Cukor, and filmed on Warner Brothers’ back lot in Burbank, California. The cast, however, consists of top-rank British actors Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. Oliver!, by contrast, was made in Britain and might be regarded as a British response to the painful fakeries of the Disneyesque Brit-Lit musicals.
Unfortunately, neither film updates the politics of its original convincingly, showing a sentimental preference for a traditional Britain in which a rigid class structure remains firmly in place. In My Fair Lady, Eliza does not leave Higgins but turns up at the end of the film, ambiguously bearing his slippers, hinting strongly that she has not become as liberated from the trammels of class and gender as the play insists. Oliver! doesn’t send Fagin to the gallows but, instead, pairs him with the Artful Dodger for a future, glorious life of crime. They both dance off into the sunset to the song, “I think I’d better think it out again!” Reed softens Fagin (played by Ron Moody) considerably, and his rather simple strategy for dealing with the long tradition of anti-Semitic portrayals of the character, including Alec Guinness’s infamous one, is simply to bury Fagin’s Jewishness altogether.
In Chapter 5, we argued for the anarchic and inventive nature of many animated Brit-Lit films of the 1940s and 1950s. By the 1960s and 1970s such films seem to have been recuperated by Hollywood, which continued to push a nostalgic aesthetic in its mainstream Brit-Lit adaptations. In the musicals too, at least those likely to draw in large numbers of children, the same aesthetic seems to have prevailed.
From the 1930s through the early 1950s, US studios like Universal had a virtual monopoly on Brit-Lit horror (see above, pp. 166–71), but at the same moment that the Hollywood studio system was losing its influence, one small, British production company managed to thrive. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the success of Hammer Film Productions was shot through with accident and luck.
Founded in 1935 by comedian William Hinds (whose stage name was Will Hammer), this was a studio with a sense of humor from the very beginning. Its first production was The Public Life of Henry the Ninth (1935), a cheeky play on the title of Alexander Korda’s international hit, The Private Life of Henry VIII. But not until the 1950s did Hammer Films stumble on the formula that would define the studio for the next twenty years: a series of horror films that invoked the iconic monsters of 1930s Universal Studios and reinvented British Gothic in the process.
In every way that mattered, Hammer Productions functioned like a studio built on an old-fashioned model—not just an independent film company. It was run by impressarios (William and then Tony Hinds along with Michael and then his son, James Carreras), boasted a dedicated studio space (Bray Studios located in a country mansion in Berkshire which first was leased and then purchased), as well as a pool of reliable directors (Terence Fisher, Michael Carreras, Peter Sykes, et cetera), writers (principally Jimmy Sangster), a stock company of actors (including stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, starlets and bombshells like Stephanie Beacham, Ingrid Pitt, Veronica Carlson, as well as character players like George Woodbridge and George Benson), and other loyal artists and technicians (like composer James Bernard, cinematographer Jack Asher, makeup artist Philip Leakey, and special-effects technician Les Bowie).
According to Peter Lev, the major US studios in the 1950s were desperately scrambling to keep their audience, which was turning more often to television for its entertainment. Many of them sold TV rights to their back catalogs, and others turned to independent film companies to make films that they would partly finance and then distribute. Columbia Pictures found great success, for example, in shifting production to its French and British subsidiaries. Even before the decline in markets in the 1950s, Universal Studios had turned to B movie serials starring Francis the Talking Mule and Ma and Pa Kettle, also turning its back catalog of 1930s monsters into fodder for a series of Abbot and Costello monster mashups.
Hammer Films succeeded in this environment precisely because it could supply cheap, stylish products on time to those US studios and distributors just beginning to give up on the production of feature films. In a sense, Hammer Productions can be viewed as leading the wave of independent producers about to arrive on the film scene in the late 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps the closest parallel to Hammer in the United States was Roger Corman’s Filmgroup, which also concentrated on literary horror, particularly adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe such as House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). Corman’s operation, like Hammer’s, ran on tight budgets and quick production schedules, and Corman himself acted as a mentor for a generation of young independent filmmakers who would help to form the New Hollywood and shake the major studios to their foundations—most prominently, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
Hammer’s working relationship with Columbia Pictures and Universal Studios and later MGM itself, once at the top of the food chain in the Hollywood studio system, would turn out to be key: Columbia financed and distributed many Hammer films in the 1950s and 1960s, but Hammer’s complicated relationship with Universal, more than any other factor, determined the shape of the Hammer horror line. After producing melodramas and science fiction films based largely on BBC radio series earlier in the decade, Hammer made its first foray in 1957 into the kind of Gothic horror that would later define it with The Curse of Frankenstein.
Universal was concerned about the prospect of Hammer poaching one of its most iconic franchises from the 1930s and threatened to sue if Curse turned out to be an unauthorized remake of their 1931 classic. Universal was particularly insistent that Hammer not borrow Jack Pierce’s makeup effects and general look for their creature. Universal’s warnings may ironically have acted a catalyst for the creation of Hammer’s distinctive horror style. The film is at pains to distinguish itself visually from Universal’s Frankenstein, on the one hand, but to draw on its electrifying power, on the other. It achieves this uneasy balance in several ways. First of all, the art design for Curse rejects decisively the German expressionist style that influenced Universal’s Frankenstein—its canted angles and deep chiaroscuro lighting effects. In its place is a vivid color palette, starting with the blood-red background of the opening credits, and radiating out through the wallpaper and stained glass of the sets. The color design of Curse and other Hammer films was carefully calibrated. It may well be that the central European setting of Curse determined the fixed locale of the Frankenstein and Dracula franchises that were to follow: though the protagonists in both Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker’s novels travel widely, the Hammer versions of both stories are rooted in a strange European no-place, probably an amalgam of Switzerland (the setting for key scenes of Frankenstein) and Transylvania, though the language and place names are always in German.
The Curse of Frankenstein refocuses the story on Frankenstein the scientist—veering away from Whale’s emphasis on the monster. Sangster cleverly and breezily reengineers Shelley’s original, which acts more as raw material than a true source, making the Baron into an autocratic intellectual whose single-minded devotion to science and logic leads him to commit atrocity after atrocity. As Sinclair McKay observes, “Then there is the Baron himself, a frosty psychotic figure many light years away from the tortured romantic sensibility of Mary Shelley’s original. Yet Hammer’s Frankenstein is still intriguingly closer in spirit to that very British sense of the gothic.” Peter Cushing plays this brittle, bloodless psychopath to perfection. But even the minor characters of the novel are radically reassigned; instead of having his childhood friend of the novel, Henry Clerval, act as his main confidant, Sangster picks from the novel the name of Frankenstein’s antagonistic and skeptical professor, M. Krempe, and fashions a rival out of him in the shape of Paul Krempe, Victor’s tutor, friend, and ultimately rival for Elizabeth’s affections. Similarly, Justine, who in the novel is wrongly accused of killing Frankenstein’s brother William, appears as Frankenstein’s jealous maid and mistress.
Following the example of James Whale and Tod Slaughter, Hammer movies showed next to no reverence for their sources as literary classics. As McKay notes, “In truth, even at the start, Hammer owed less to literary antecedents, be they Shelley or Stoker, than it did to that old British tradition of barnstorming bloodthirsty melodrama.” In fact, they rely on a form of the Gothic which started as a literary phenomenon but was prized away from books to become an independent cultural force. More than any single literary source, Hammer appropriated and transformed the Universal back catalog of monsters, indicating again that Hammer horror depended on a combination of imitation and innovation. Perhaps the clearest indication that Hammer was thinking carefully about how to appropriate Universal horror was the fact that it established lucrative franchises just as Universal had once done. The Frankenstein series included The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein must be Destroyed (1969), The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974); while the Dracula series consisted of The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Kiss of the Vampire (1963), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Scars of Dracula (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971), Countess Dracula (1971), and Dracula, A.D. 1972 (1972).
The Curse of Frankenstein was an unexpected hit, particularly in the United States, despite excoriating reviews in Britain. Hammer quickly moved to revive another Universal monster, Dracula, choosing Christopher Lee to play the Count and casting Cushing in the role of Van Helsing in The Horror of Dracula (1958). Here again, Sangster treated the original material as freely as possible, and the desire both to appropriate Universal’s house style and differentiate the Hammer product typifies the Dracula films as well. Though Sangster preserved at least the notion of Jonathan Harker’s diary and Van Helsing’s Dictaphone recordings, he dispensed with telegrams, Mina’s typewritten diary, et cetera, and basically rewrote the motivations and actions of the central characters. Lee’s Dracula, for example, is less the hypnotic foreigner with gigantic, ominous eyes as played by Universal’s Bela Lugosi, and more of a suave aristo with a cape; both had their own unique brand of sex appeal, but Lee’s Dracula is more conventionally romantic than Lugosi’s.
Whereas the Universal horror films were A pictures with big budgets, Hammer’s films were made cheaply but in such clever ways that the low budgets rarely called attention to themselves, outside of the special effects which are used only sparingly in the early films. Dracula’s disintegration on being exposed to sunlight is lightning fast and fairly unimpressive, and outside of makeup (see Figure 6.4) and a few electrical effects with the machinery, there are no effects at all in Curse. Another way in which frugality shows itself relatively unobtrusively is in the camera work and editing: when Van Helsing pursues the Count through his castle, for instance, intent on driving a stake through his heart, Fisher employs long takes reminiscent of television—using very little rapid cutting to ramp up tension. Hammer made up for these economies with the solid and understated acting of Cushing and Lee as well as the dramatic musical scores of James Bernard.
After Dracula’s success at the box office, Universal began to view Hammer Productions less as a plagiarizing rival and more as a potentially profitable partner, quickly dropping its opposition to the company’s appropriations of its most lucrative 1930s franchises. Michael Hearn notes that Universal’s change of heart owed much to the fact that its share of Dracula’s profits more or less saved the US studio from bankruptcy. In Hammer and Beyond, Peter Hutchins points out that
an important connection between the British and American ‘schools’ of horror lies in the copyright agreement struck between Hammer and Universal permitting the former’s “remakes” of Universal horror classics. This was only one of a series of agreements between US and UK companies that signalled the importance attached by British film producers to the US market. In this respect, it makes sense that Hammer should turn to Americanized models of horror, if only to transform them.
This theme is a common one in this chapter: British filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s regularly looked to classic Hollywood movies, intent on borrowing their formulas and aura, while fundamentally reworking many of their basic conventions.
A few other Hammer horror films have British literary origins and are worth briefly mentioning here: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1961, in which repression is worse than libertinism), Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971, which exploits the gender-bending transformation of Dr Jekyll at the height of the sexual revolution), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959, in the Sherlock Holmes franchise that never happened), and She (1965) and The Vengeance of She (1968), both featuring European bombshells in the title roles. Each of these films exploited Hammer’s characteristically free approach to adaptation, retaining the character names and macro plot elements, but restructuring nearly everything else. In addition, Hammer films tended to question openly class and gender stereotypes, even if many of the productions thrust scantily clad, buxom women under the full glare of the camera lights.
Additionally, the lasting influence of Universal’s horror legacy reached well beyond Hammer Films Productions. Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (1974), written by Gene Wilder, positively embraces the look and feel of at least five of Universal’s Frankenstein pictures, borrowing most from Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Frankenstein (1931). In his history of seventies American cinema, David Cook calls Brooks’s film “a nearly perfect balance between parody and homage.” As with Hammer, the literary origins of the film are obscured under layers of references to its filmic predecessors.
In a more explicitly literary horror film, Theatre of Blood (1973), directed by and starring Vincent Price, a stage actor takes revenge on his critics by making them real-life participants in Shakespeare’s most hideous death scenes. This camp horror film, standing more or less in its own category, underscores that, for the most part, Brit-Lit horror films of the period retreated to a maximum distance from their literary and theatrical sources.
The popularity of Hammer horror itself also spawned many imitations. In Spain, Jesús Franco made a series of campy, sexually charged Dracula and Frankenstein movies: Vampiresas 1930 (1962), Count Dracula (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Drácula contra Frankenstein (1972), La fille de Dracula (1972), and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1972), among others. And in the United States, Dracula and Frankenstein were appropriated in the blaxploitation cult classics Blacula (1972) and Blackenstein (1973). Viewers of Blacula, made by African American director Willaim Crain, easily detected the film’s subversive allegorical meanings—its suggestion, for example, of the “explicit connection … between slavery and vampirism,” or its idea that, in the words of one African American reviewer, “white vampirism” is the source of “the black man’s plight.” In Blacula, Crain brilliantly exploited and interrogated both the literal whiteness of Stoker’s pasty vampires and the cultural whiteness of traditional Brit-Lit (see Figure 6.5). After the notable success of Blacula, American International Pictures announced its intention to remake all the classic Hollywood horror films with black casts, a project that never fully succeeded, though it did produce the sequel Scream Blacula Scream (1973). Other small film companies followed with less successful efforts like Blackenstein and Mr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1975, also directed by Crain).
With East-West tensions at their height, other forms of Brit-Lit genre fiction served as popular material for film adaptation, the international spy thriller in particular, a genre that British writers like Somerset Maugham, John Buchan, Graham Greene, Alistair MacLean, and directors like Carol Reed and Alfred Hitchcock helped to create in the 1930s and 1940s. Filmmakers of this era seem to have preferred a darker, existential strain of this material by writers like John le Carré and Greene, both of whom dissected wearily the conflicts of the Cold War from a distinctly disillusioned post-empire point of view. Three of le Carré’s novels were made into British films in the 1960s: The Spy that Came in from the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1965), The Deadly Affair (Sidney Lumet, 1966), and The Looking Glass War (Frank Pierson, 1969). Following the success of earlier adaptations of his work like This Gun for Hire (US, Frank Tuttle, 1942), Brighton Rock (UK, John Boulting, 1947), and The Third Man (UK, Carol Reed, 1949), filmmakers turned increasingly to Graham Greene’s fiction. Across the Bridge (UK, Ken Annakin, 1957), Our Man in Havana (UK, Carol Reed, 1959—a comic take on the emerging spy genre), The Quiet American (US, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1958), The Comedians (US, Peter Glenville, 1967), Travels with My Aunt (US, George Cukor, 1972), a comic road caper, England Made Me (UK/Yugoslavia, Peter Duffell, 1973), and The Human Factor (UK, Otto Preminger, 1979).
Without a doubt, though, the adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels represents one of the most enduring Brit-Lit cinematic events of the period—or any period. Fleming began writing the series in 1953 with Casino Royale and had completed a total of nine Bond narratives by the time he sold the rights to two UK-based North American producers: New Yorker Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Canadian Harry Saltzman; the arrangement stipulated that Fleming would not be writing the screenplays. The first film in this joint American/British series was Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962), featuring Sean Connery in the part of 007. From Russia with Love (Young, 1963), Goldfinger (Young, 1964), and Thunderball (Guy Hamilton, 1965) followed in short order, with a new Bond film appearing every year or two thereafter. In an incredibly short period of time, the “Bond film” formed as a full-fledged, self-contained cinematic genre, with its own set of unmistakable conventions: the pre-title action sequence, the iconic Bond-Barrel sequence, the visually innovative title sequence with its commissioned theme song, exotic international locations, the focus on spy gadgetry, Cold War politics, shadowy confederations of villains (SMERSH and SPECTRE), underground lairs, “Bond” women, and sex. No surer sign of the franchise’s immediate generic status exists than the parody film Casino Royale (Val Guest/Ken Hughes, 1967), predating the Austin Powers homage by decades. The film features David Niven as a suave James Bond, coaxed out of retirement to take over the directorship of MI6 after M’s death. To confuse SMERSH, who is eliminating British agents, Bond declares that all agents will be called James Bond and receive extensive training in withstanding the sexual temptations of enemy agents. This army of fake James Bonds, including Peter Sellers, must eventually confront Woody Allen as the real Bond’s psychotic nephew and head of SMERSH. Casino Royale was not in fact a parody of the novel, but of the Bond films of the earlier 1960s, especially their sexual politics.
Another early parody, Our Man in Havana (Carol Reed, 1959), plays upon the conventions of the emerging Bond genre. Based on Greene’s 1958 novel, this film might in fact be considered practically a “pre-parody.” The always-prescient Greene spoofed the spy novels and movies that gave rise to Bond, and surely had an eye on Fleming’s fiction. In the film version, a spymaster played by Noel Coward (!) recruits an ordinary British vacuum cleaner salesman to be Britain’s “man” in Havana. His fake network of spies and reports of military installations (based on drawings of vacuum cleaners) almost sets off the Third World War.
At first glance, the status of the early Bond films as literary adaptations is not always clear. The main titles always give the author’s name: Ian Fleming’s Dr. No, Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, et cetera, but he is not credited as a writer, nor are the novels ever mentioned in the opening credits. Some of these omissions had to do with the particular rights Fleming sold to Broccoli and Saltzman. For the most part, though, including an author’s name in the title of a film—Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (1972) or Emily Bronté’s Wuthering Heights (1992), for example—indicates the great popularity or prestige of a book and its author. After examining the history of Dr. No, James Chapman suggests that in the early days of the Bond franchise, the “popularity of the novels was seen as an important factor in the likely box-office success of the films.” Later on, when the movie versions became something of a cultural phenomenon in their own right, the argument could be made that they actually served to lend the books a certain literary cache they had previously lacked as genre fiction.
Probably no other group of films contributed more to a popular sense of “Britishness” in this period than the Bond films. The British master spy exuded a sense of sophistication and intelligence, not to mention sex appeal, far surpassing that of his American counterparts, who Bond was always bailing out. Bond’s knowledge of fine wines, art, and world history formed part of this mystique and suggests how conservative Fleming’s cultural politics tended to be. Bond is an old-school, Times-reading patriot uncomfortable with social change. Dr. No “was redolent with the remnants of British imperialism and the class system that sustained it.” At the same time, Bond isn’t really a classic gentleman in the mold of Richard Hannay or Bulldog Drummond, but a modern professional killer who can be ruthless, at times underhanded, sexually manipulative, and despite his suave connoisseurship, relatively unmarked by class. Though the Bond films were made in Britain, financing for them came almost entirely from US backers, and so the “Britishness” of the Bond series has an oddly international currency. As Paul Monaco writes,
The Bond movies were ingenious hybrids of an increasingly internationalized popular culture industry where, in this instance, British production talent blended neatly with American producing and marketing skills. In essence, the Bond movies offered to Hollywood a model for a phenomenon of the screen basically unknown before the 1960s but increasingly prominent in Hollywood after the late 1970s—the action blockbuster.
That Brit-Lit films with such mixed origins—created by a Canadian and an American and cofinanced by companies in Britain and America—were able to market so highly artificial but enduring a form of Britishness, shows how the industrial nature of cinema was driving it toward postnationalism even as early as the 1960s.
A number of whodunits and mysteries based on classic British authors continued to be made. Agatha Christie’s mysteries were among the most popular cinematic sources: see Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (1965), Ten Little Indians (1974), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), and Death on the Nile (1978). Sherlock Holmes films were pulled even further away from their literary origins into a number of free appropriations like A Study in Terror (1965), Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), The Seven Percent Solution (1976) and parodies like Gene Wilder’s The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975).Brit-Lit science fiction continued to be represented by the cinema’s fascination with the works of H. G. Wells: in big-budget adaptations such as The Time Machine (1960) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), as well as B movie adaptations like Terror is a Man (1959—based on The Island of Dr. Moreau), made in the Philippines by Gerardo de Leon, and The Food of the Gods (1976).
Seen as a whole, Brit-Lit genre fiction continued to serve as a major source of material for musicals, animated films, science fiction, horror, and thrillers in both the United States and the United Kingdom. As we have seen in this section, though, the contributions of British filmmakers to revising and sometimes reviving these genres—especially the horror and spy genres—were significantly greater than in previous decades.
About the same time that Hammer Films was beginning to make a name for itself in quasi-literary horror and the Bond franchise was gaining traction, another more revolutionary cinematic development was reaching the height of its influence: the international art-house cinema. Though art house, with its many sources and influences, could never be called a genre, David Bordwell makes a strong case that it is at least “a distinct mode of film practice, possessing a definite historical existence, a set of formal conventions, and implicit viewing procedures.” What distinguishes it most clearly is its opposition to Hollywood narrative cinema. The protagonists of art-house films often have no classically clear motivation for their actions, and narrative structure tends to be episodic. More importantly, Bordwell notes that art-house style often violates clear lines of narrative causation in temporality and spatiality, embracing a kind of ambiguity and disjunction that forces viewers to develop a particular kind of art-house “viewing procedure”: when faced with an inexplicable or unexpected moment, the viewer attempts to resolve ambiguity first by seeking out “realistic motivation,” then by using a character’s subjective mental state to explain the ambiguity, before finally turning to “authorial motivation,” what the director or the guiding intelligence of the film intends to express. Obviously, in this last point, the art-house mode merges significantly with auteurism.
Given the conventions that Bordwell lists, it stands to reason that art-house literary adaptations would spurn the classic storytelling mode of the quality film in favor of a more disjunctive and subjective narrative mode. Early auteur theory focused on such self-conscious, anti-narrative formal characteristics as evidence of the auteur at work. Art-house adaptations by and large rejected classic or canonical texts, choosing to embrace literary source texts of a more modern, more fragmented, and sometimes more challenging kind. On the other hand, great auteurs in this period sought out great authors, as we’ve seen (see above, pp. 255–65), Shakespeare in particular, and there is some reason to argue for a certain separation between the styles, techniques, and aims of quotidian art-house adaptations on the one hand and auteur adaptations on the other, though the separation may be a matter of degree and emphasis rather than substance. The lines between the two are often unclear.
We will first turn our attention to a cycle of art-house films typically grouped under the term “British New Wave” or “kitchen sink realism,” associated with the Free Cinema movement and the work of young directors like Jack Clayton, Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, and John Schlesinger. British New Wave directors were committed to social realism and exploration of class conflict, and for this reason, they chose to set a number of their films in northern industrial cities and narrated them from the point of view of working-class protagonists with distinct northern accents. Most of the films, shot in grainy black and white with complex layerings of mid-tone grays, are intent on evoking the land- and cityscapes of the industrial midlands and north in a style that veers between documentary reportage and lyric naturalism.
The founding films of the British New Wave were Room at the Top (1958, directed by Jack Clayton and based on the novel by John Braine) and Look Back in Anger (1958, directed by Tony Richardson and adapted from John Osborne’s play)—both set in the midlands and focused on the vagaries of social mobility in the postwar era. Other Brit-Lit films included: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960, directed by Karel Reisz and based on Alan Sillitoe’s novel), The Entertainer (1960, directed by Richardson, screenplay by Osborne), A Taste of Honey (1961, directed by Richardson and adapted from Shelagh Delaney’s play), A Kind of Loving (1961, directed by John Schlesinger, based on the novel by Stan Barstow), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962, directed by Richardson based on a Alan Sillitoe short story), and This Sporting Life (1963, directed by Lindsay Anderson and adapted from the novel by David Storey).
John Hill in particular has contextualized New Wave films in relation to the economic upturn and the rise of consumer culture in the late 1950s after nearly a decade and a half of postwar austerity. This period was also marked by signs of Britain’s loss of international influence after the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the continuing dissolution of the old empire. In general New Wave films and their overwhelmingly male protagonists bitterly rejected this new consumer culture, which is strongly associated with women, betraying a nostalgia for the male working-class solidarity of industrial labor.
Unlike the realist turn in Italy and France, though, in the 1940s and 1950s the British New Wave had a distinct literary impetus, and a majority of the central New Wave films were based on contemporary novels and plays of the so-called “angry young men”: John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, John Braine, Allan Sillitoe, and the angry young woman, Shelagh Delaney. This short-lived cinematic cycle, which generally is thought to have begun around 1957 and ended around 1963, was also associated with the avant-garde and politically engaged scene swirling around the Royal Court Theatre. If the French New Wave in general and Truffaut in particular rejected the un-cinematic “films of quality,” often based on literary classics (see above, pp. 255–8), it could be argued that the British New Wave directors revealed a similar aversion to classic British authors adapted in earlier decades: Shakespeare, Dickens, the Brontës, et cetera, gravitating instead toward the most contemporary writers and dramatists for material, and preferring radical new forms of adaptation. In the discussion that follows, we will consider the British New Wave adaptations as forms of rebellion against the classic adaptations like 1958’s A Tale of Two Cities.
Though many film scholars think this short-lived movement ended around 1963, New Wave styles and themes proved influential for the rest of the decade. For example, Room at the Top was followed by two sequels, both written by John Braine: Life at the Top (1965) and Man at the Top (1970), while Red, White and Zero (1967) and Charlie Bubbles (1967, directed by Albert Finney), both written by Shelagh Delaney, still show an intense interest in the northern industrial cityscape and its politics. The New Wave style and subject matter influenced films on the periphery of the cycle as well, such as To Sir, with Love (1967—based on the novel by E. R. Braithwaite), which shows an interest in the lives of working-class kids in East London and acknowledges growing West Indian immigration in its protagonist, Mark Thackery, played by Sidney Poitier.
The Free Cinema and British New Wave directors prided themselves on their atmospheric use of actual locations: the Locarno Dance Hall, Yorkshire countryside and blood, sweat and mud of the rugby scrum in Anderson’s 1963 adaptation of David Storey’s 1960 novel This Sporting Life …; the Nottingham factory, fairground and countryside of Karel Reisz’s 1960 (commercially successful) adaptation of Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
This commitment to location certainly contributes to the realism championed by New Wave filmmakers and was a hallmark not only of the British New Wave but also of Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave itself.
Room at the Top arguably established the basic dynamics for the British New Wave adaptations that followed. In it, Joe Lampton leaves the small factory town he grew up in and arrives in the industrial city of Warley (filmed in Bradford) as a clerk in the Borough Treasury. He sets his ambitious eye on the daughter of the local industrialist, Susan Brown, but is snubbed by her posh friends and parents. In the meantime, he falls in love with an older married French woman, Alice, who draws him into the local theater scene. In the end, Joe tragically pursues his ambitious goal of climbing to the top by pursuing a flat, loveless marriage to Susan and abandoning Alice to her fate. Braine’s novel offers not only thick descriptions of the industrial city of Warley but takes the time to analyze its districts and their history. Typical of such evocations is the description of the district around the train station: “The station was at the centre of the eastern quarter of Warley. The effect was as if all the industries of the town had been crammed into one spot. Later I discovered that this segregation was Council policy; if anyone wanted to set up a mill or factory in Warley, it was the east or nowhere.” Braine contrasts this crowded space of labor with the “top” of Warley, St. Clair Road, the tree-lined avenue where the wealthiest citizens live.
In adapting Braine’s novel for the screen, Richardson gives some sense of this complex geography. Throughout the film the camera offers significant glimpses of Warnley (Bradford). For example, Alice and Joe have a romantic encounter on Sparrow Hill overlooking the entire city. In another scene, Joe returns to Dufton to visit his parents, and the camera frames him and his old house squarely in a panoramic industrial wasteland (filmed in Barnsley). The film’s crucial use of place has the force of nineteenth-century naturalism; showing that the characters are caught up in the fate of place, but going beyond the urge merely to document social conditions, the camera also infuses these industrial settings with a lyric quality.
A Taste of Honey offers a different spin on the formula suggested by Room at the Top. It follows a female protagonist, young Jo, who lives in the chaotic orbit of her mother, who drags them from lodging to lodging and brings home men of questionable character. When her mother abandons her for Peter, Jo gets pregnant with the child of a black sailor but makes a sort of idyllic life, a substitute marriage of sorts, with her gay friend Geoffrey before her mother returns to take her up again. Filmed largely in Salford, the cityscape, even more than in Room at the Top, dominates the film. Although Geoffrey proposes marriage in the country of beautiful views near Castleton in the Peak District, the film implies that escaping the city is not so easy: in a famous scene, Jo and Geoffrey discuss their future together by an industrial canal with factories looming over the polluted water, while children play in the debris (see Figure 6.6). The camera tracks them in a very long shot that curiously flips the usual relationship between background and foreground—what Jo and Geoffrey say or do in this scene does not matter nearly as much as where they are. The New Wave approach to adaptation as it emerges here is largely novelistic in its world-creating ambitions, and though Delaney’s play takes place exclusively in apartments and pubs, Richardson renders it cinematic by reading the story against the broad background of an industrial northern city that’s not actually depicted directly in the play. Ultimately, the film’s exploitation of city space can be traced back to the urban politics of Braine’s novel.
Later on in her original screenplays, Delaney seems to have appropriated the landscapes of Braine’s novel for her New Wave films. She placed this distinctive industrial landscape at the center of Red, White and Zero, which revolves around a suicidal woman’s surreal bus tour of an industrial city. Similarly, in narrating the return of a successful author to his hometown, Charlie Bubbles shows him driving his Rolls Royce around dilapidated sections of Manchester in scenes that both document the city’s squalor and render it lyrically at the same time. Clearly, the boundary between literary text and film adaptation in the New Wave was a particularly porous one, part of a two-sided conversation rather than a one-way transmission from source text to adaptation.
The reception of British New Wave, despite its literary connections, was complicated. Many New Wave films were commercially successful in both Britain and America, received positive reviews in the popular press, and were nominated for major film awards. Room at the Top, for example, was nominated at the 1960 Academy Awards in six major categories including Best Motion Picture, and Rita Tushingham won a British Academy Award for her performance as Jo in A Taste of Honey. Even at the time, though, culture critics especially from the Left tended to dismiss the New Wave films as phony representations of working-class life.
Along with Andrew Higson, Sargeant, and others, Hill faults New Wave films on a number of fronts. First of all, their protagonists, though born to working-class parents, generally have middle-class jobs and aspirations. Uniquely among New Wave films, in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning we see Arthur Seaton working on the factory floor. In general, though, as Hill points out, the films focus not so much on work or industrial labor, as on new opportunities for leisure and consumption among working-class Britons.
Another critique leveled against New Wave films and their literary sources is that they betray a deep misogyny. In Look Back in Anger especially, Jimmy Porter treats his wife Allison with absolute brutality, blaming her for her posh upbringing and family. Many of the other literary texts and the films based on them showcase resentful men of working-class backgrounds who are either outright womanizers (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) or social climbers who view women and marriage as mere opportunities for sex or social advancement (Room at the Top, A Kind of Loving). Women are also depicted in films like A Kind of Loving and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner as particularly susceptible to the superficial enticements of consumer culture.
The films also were conservative in their treatment of race, immigration, and generational conflict. The cultural elites in the late 1950s and early 1960s were very concerned with the chaos of youth culture and juvenile delinquency. As a result, the New Wave films reveal a particularly split position on the culture of jazz: though the soundtracks pulse with it (Look Back in Anger has a jazz trumpeter, played by Richard Burton, as its protagonist), many of the films assign it an anarchic quality and associate it with the racial other of West Indian immigrants. Thus, though the New Wave seems to claim a radical politics of resistance and to take up the cause of the working class, its political commitments are open to interpretation.
Perhaps the most sustained critique of the New Wave films, though, concerns their deployment of mise-en-scène. The essential criticism is that, inspired by 1930s documentary films of working-class life, the New Wave poeticized industrial and working-class landscapes to the point of making them mere aesthetic objects. Hill notes that the long “descriptive” shots in films like A Taste of Honey and A Kind of Loving create spaces that fail to become realms of narrative action and thus have a kind of added, supplemental feel and function: “Rather than place providing the setting for narratively significant action, it is insignificant action which provides the pretext for a visual display of place.” He calls this focus “an ‘excessive’ emphasis on place that impedes or delays the narrative and becomes a kind of inoperative lyricism.” In terms of adaptation, critics like Hill would claim that place seems ladled on top of the literary source materials in a particularly inorganic way. Higson too criticizes the New Wave fetishization of place along similar lines. Noting that most New Wave films contain at least one sequence that could be described as “That Long Shot of Our Town from That Hill,” he suggests that such panoramic shots empty cityscapes of people and history and render them aesthetic objects, very much blunting the moral realism that the New Wave seemed to court and even separating protagonists from place rather than locating them within it. It has the further effect of shifting the point of view from the working-class protagonists to that of a sympathetic, but outside viewer—perhaps another kind of moral deflection.
If these criticisms have a broad applicability to New Wave films viewed as a group, they can be a misleading shorthand for reading individual films. For example, Alice in Room at the Top comes across as a three-dimensional character with her own agendas and problems, not merely an object of lust. A Taste of Honey in a different way shows how men disrupt women’s lives and turn out to be unreliable or incomplete partners, seeing and evaluating them through a feminized point of view. Overlooking the significant achievements of cinematographers like A Taste of Honey’s Walter Lassally would also be a mistake in our view. Finally, the way landscape functions in a film like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner arguably challenges pretty dramatically the reductionist aesthetics identified by Hill and Higson.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner follows Colin Smith’s life in a borstal, where he is imprisoned after perpetrating a robbery with a friend. Smith is passionate about his father’s socialist politics and identity and resists the reforming attempts of the prison’s governor, who fervently wants Smith to win a cross-country race held between the prison and a local public school. Smith doggedly resists any invitations to work toward a brighter future through athletic achievement. The film weaves the national hymn “Jerusalem” ironically through the story in both the score and diegetic music, suggesting through the subjective camera that the beautiful countryside that Smith runs through belongs to him, not to any grand, unified nation (“In England’s green & pleasant land”). Further, the flashback scenes of Smith’s life at home amid factories and crowded streets have a gritty quality that thwarts any attempt to make the scenes mere objects of aesthetic enjoyment. Finally, Smith’s refusal to win the cup is an act of defiance and a statement of his allegiance to his father’s working-class identity. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner doesn’t merely evoke some vague sense of class consciousness, but makes it the uncompromising subject of the film.
The British New Wave, as short-lived as it may have been, had an essential art-house look and feel. Its unique treatment of place through location shooting was shared among a number of directors who later on would pursue quite different cinematic paths. Thus the New Wave was something of a “school” of filmmaking rather than a collection of would-be auteurs. Perhaps surprisingly, the focus on cinematic place in the New Wave had distinct parallels to the use of landscape in the Panavision adaptations, however differently place functioned in the two modes. New Wave exploited industrial settings in a neorealist style while the Panavision adaptations operated in an almost purely pastoral mode. But if their techniques and aims were radically different, both achieved at their best a lyricism of place that could be thought of as the hallmark of British Brit-Lit adaptation in this era. Most important for our book is the fact that the New Wave reflected its era’s changing attitudes about the canon of British “literature.” In its commitment to a new sort of text and deliberate shunning of classical ones, it established for a time a distinct politics of adaptation.
Similar to the New Wave directors, other producers looked to more recent writers for source material: among the most popular choices were D. H. Lawrence: The Fox (Canada, Mark Rydell, 1967), Women in Love (UK, Ken Russell, 1969), The Virgin and the Gypsy (UK, Christopher Miles, 1970), and Winner (UK, Charles Griffin/Richard Tarrant, 1977); Evelyn Waugh: The Loved One (US, Tony Richardson, 1965), and Decline and Fall … of a Birdwatcher (UK, John Krish, 1968); John Fowles: The Collector (UK/US, William Wyler, 1965), Magus (UK, Guy Green, 1968), and The Last Chapter (UK, David Tringham, 1974); William Golding: Lord of the Flies (UK, Peter Brook, 1963); Iris Murdoch: A Severed Head (UK, Dick Lement, 1970); and Lawrence Durrell: Judith (US/UK, Daniel Mann, 1966), and Justine (US, George Cukor, 1969).
Yet other filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s did give classic texts the art-house treatment. As in all periods of film history, Shakespeare was an obvious choice given his cultural centrality and international currency. Basil Reardon’s appropriation of Othello in All Night Long (1962), for example, sets the events of the play in the cool and chaotic London jazz scene of the early 1960s. The film features some of the contemporary jazz greats like Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck playing themselves, mainly at their instruments. The entire plot, except for a few street scenes, takes place in the warehouse music pad of a wealthy jazz lover and patron. It’s an indoor drama shot in confined spaces, giving it a theatrical feel, though it retains little of Shakespeare’s language. All of the main characters are American jazz musicians, including Rex, the fictional African American version of Othello and his white muse and girlfriend, Delia. Johnny Cousin, a jazz musician played by Patrick McGoohan, struggles to find an audience and assumes the role of jealous Iago. The film explores the play’s problematic assumptions about race in a way that must have felt new in 1962, but using the relatively safe strategy of depicting American cultural problems in a British setting, where they can be observed and dissected.
Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968) operates in another mode altogether. Filmed on location in Verona in period costumes and settings, the film gives Shakespeare top billing, working from a pared-back script of the play toward achieving a naturalistic verisimilitude. Romeo and Juliet proved a remarkable success at the box office, raking in nearly 40 million dollars against its tiny budget of under one million dollars, and has remained an influential Shakespeare adaptation ever since—partly for having been the first version to cast teens in the central roles (Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey) and partly because of its immense popularity with young viewers. At the time of its release, R. Cirillo wrote that in “many ways, this film is a ‘youth movie’ of the 1960s which glorifies the young and caricatures the old, a Renaissance Graduate.” Other art-house–influenced Shakespeare adaptations included Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Tony Richardson’s Hamlet (1969), Polanski’s dark and bloody Macbeth (1971), Grigori Kozintsev’s powerful King Lear (1971), Peter Brook’s austere, hopeless King Lear of the same year, and Derek Jarman’s The Tempest (1979, discussed below on pp. 347–8).
In many ways the art-house aesthetic we have been outlining here stands in a continuum with the auteur adaptations to which we are about to turn. We would argue, however, that the auteur adaptations pursued a considerably different type of relationship with their literary source texts.
In the final section of this chapter, we examine the adaptations of filmmakers who worked self-consciously in the auteur mode and were affected by early promulgations of the theory. Our goal is to analyze auteurism as a historical phenomenon that had a powerful effect on the production and reception of film adaptations in the period. In the discussion that follows, however, we place directors roughly in order of the claims for auteur status made for them by previous film scholars, however subjective and contentious their arguments may be. In doing so, we argue that a new kind of adaptation, which we call the “auteur adaptation,” was built on a different type of relationship between the literary source texts and the filmic hypertexts. The best auteur adaptations achieve an equilibrium or peace in the battle for authority between source and adaptation: such films seek to stand on an equal or perhaps even higher ground than their inspiring source texts, and questions about the hierarchical relationship between the two tend to melt away. In general, this suspension of the source text’s authority does not occur because an auteur chooses a subliterary text with little cultural capital (Hitchcock’s usual strategy—see above, pp. 195–7) but, on the contrary, occurs in spite of the auteur’s bold appropriation of a canonical or contemporary literary text of some stature. The Brit-Lit film played a key role in the formation of the international auteur adaptation, precisely because so many of the literary sources drawn from it possessed the cultural capital to challenge or provoke the filmmaker’s vision. Different directors of course sought authority for their films through vastly different means, including thoughtful negotiation with the source text, subtle subversion of it, all-out attacks on it, or the subordination of it to an exclusively cinematic vision. As we argued in Chapter 5, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood achieves a certain authority in part by drawing deeply on the conventions of Noh theater, but principally through a powerful deployment of nature in the mise-en-scène. The stylistics of the auteur films, though as varied as the individual directors, were influenced by the reflexive cinema of the postwar art-house scene. In this final section, then, we take time to explore the individual practices of some truly accomplished directors, analyzing some of the most iconic films of the 1960s and 1970s. In making our claims about the auteur films, we urge readers to remember that our use of names like “Kubrick” and “Coppola” are in no way intended to exclude the brilliant cinematographers, designers, writers, and other collaborators with whom these directors worked.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz is probably best known for All About Eve (1950) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954), films centered on strong female characters and performances. Mankiewicz was as accomplished a writer as he was a director, and he had a serious interest in the theater, which forms the setting for All About Eve. He directed a highly regarded adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1953 and in interviews talked of his aborted plans to adapt Macbeth (starring Marlon Brando and Maggie Smith), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth Night for the movies. As we saw in Chapter 5, he also directed a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare (see above, pp. 241–2). He made a wide variety of films including the notorious financial train wreck of a historical film, Cleopatra (1963), the musical Guys and Dolls (1955), and many others. Mankiewicz was a powerful director in the dying days of the studio system. Andrew Sarris himself had no doubt that Mankiewicz bore “the signature of a genuine auteur.” Later, he wrote that “Mankiewicz has paid a high price for the literate quality of his scripts, and for disdaining subjects and genres that lent themselves to facile mythmaking. He is obsessed with that civilized realm in which characters are conscious of the roles they play and examine them with the gravest humor.” Indeed, Mankiewicz’s best films have an unmistakably pessimistic and bitter tone.
Mankiewicz’s 1958 adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American deserves special attention here since it reverses so radically the politics of Greene’s story. In fact, the film actively attempts to refute the novel—a rare example of a consciously hostile adaptation. Interestingly, Graham Greene himself correctly predicted the sorts of changes that would need to be made for a Hollywood adaptation of the novel. Though politically left-leaning and a filmmaker who had employed writers blacklisted during the Red Scare, Mankiewicz seems to have taken a dim view of what he called the “absurd Anti-Americanism” of Greene’s novel. He attempted to show how “the emotions of a man can affect his political convictions,” perhaps a euphemistic way of saying that Mankiewicz thought Greene’s emotions had affected his political views or that Fowler’s barbed dismissal of American blundering in Vietnam was motivated by mere romantic jealousy. Critics of the time believed that Mankiewicz “changed the ending to avoid angering both American exhibitors and Figaro’s financing distributor, United Artists,” but Mankiewicz denies this version of events. History has proven Greene’s critique of America’s tragically naïve intervention in Vietnam uncannily prescient—and Mankiewicz in this adaptation turned out to be largely on the wrong side of that debate, though as Cheryl Bray Lower and R. Barton Palmer point out, Pyle’s death in the film “does call into question the efficacy of an American problem-solving approach to Vietnam. … Even as rewritten, The Quiet American hardly presents American involvement in a positive light.” This film, then, should not be viewed as politically reactionary, though it is intensely oppositional.
In his rewriting of the novel, Mankiewicz set out to reverse completely Greene’s sympathies toward the two main characters—and the politics of the novel along with them—all the while following the source rather closely in both plotting and dialogue. Both film and novel revolve around two men: a middle-aged, jaded journalist, Thomas Fowler, who is covering the Viet Minh revolt against French rule, and the young American Alden Pyle, an idealistic but tragically misguided political operative in Vietnam, circa 1954. Fowler and Pyle’s political ideas couldn’t be more opposite, but the problems begin when Pyle begins to woo Fowler’s very young Vietnamese mistress, Phuong. Mankiewicz retains much of Greene’s language, particularly several of Fowler’s jaded but incisive critiques of Pyle’s naivete and also appropriates Greene’s flashback structure. Occasionally he sharpens the anti-American bite of Fowler’s language, such when he denounces Pyle’s politics as amounting to “cellophane wrapped security for the atomic future.”
Only at the end, though, does Mankiewicz engage in any wholesale rewriting. In the novel, Pyle’s childlike sense of good and evil, and his belief in “a third way,” based only on the out-of-touch political theory he has read in books, leads him to supply explosives to a dangerous rebel general, who then uses them to set off a bomb, killing many innocent bystanders. To prevent Pyle from creating more havoc and death, Fowler contributes to a string of events that leads to Pyle’s assassination. In the film, however, we learn that Pyle was framed by Chinese operatives and had nothing to do with the plot to supply the explosives. Further, Pyle claims to have absorbed his ideas for Vietnam at Princeton from a Vietnamese leader in exile, who appears to be based on Ngo Dinh Diem. Pyle himself, played by decorated war hero Audey Murphy, is transformed into a plain-dealing and chivalrous aid worker in the film (not a likely CIA agent acting under the cover of the US legation, as in the novel). And Fowler, in his desperate bitterness about losing Phuong, comes across as an older man intensely jealous of his younger rival, willing to betray him and bring about his death. In the novel, Phuong stays with Fowler, but she utterly abandons him in the film, going back to her job as a dancer. Despite these fundamental changes, it is worth recognizing that two-thirds of Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American might be called a “faithful” adaptation. The ending, though, changes everything.
In a none too subtle twist of the knife and the plot, Mankiewicz has Fowler deliver a prearranged signal to Pyle’s assassin by standing on the balcony with a book, which turns out to be a copy of Shakespeare from which he happens, at random apparently, to read out Iago’s speech to Othello about how “oft my jealousy/Shapes faults that are not.” Kenneth Geist thinks that this heavy-handed citation shows a “distinctive and irritating Mankiewicz trait in a work so audaciously heedless of commercial or popular appeal”—namely his inability to trust or give credit to the audience’s intelligence. But the device also reverses the direction of gullibility between Fowler and Pyle, since it is now Fowler who is primed to make a naïve blunder because of his insane, Othello-like jealousy. If Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American finally fails as an adaptation, we include it here because it reveals the ambitions of some auteur adaptors to challenge or even replace the literary original they have chosen to adapt.
Mankiewicz produced two other Brit-Lit adaptations near the end of his career: The Honey Pot (1964) and Sleuth (1972), adapted from Anthony Shaffer’s play. The Honey Pot, though ultimately neither a financial or critical success, is fascinating for the way it hijacks the plot of Ben Jonson’s Volpone to meditate reflexively on the difficulty of the filmmaking process. The film’s radical metacinematic turn is a hallmark of the auteur adaptation of this era in film history, but Mankiewicz gives it a uniquely bitter spin. As with The Quiet American, The Honey Pot is perhaps more notable for its ambition to master and rework its literary source text than its actual success in accomplishing that goal.
Throughout his directorial career, Polanski has shown an interest in the literary film, starting with his adaptation of The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), loosely connected to Bram Stoker’s novel, then moving into the realm of high literary adaptation with his films of Macbeth (1971), Tess (1979), and more recently, Oliver Twist (2005). Polanski’s films tend to be intensely personal and connected to the events in his chaotic and tragic personal life. His 1970s adaptations show Polanski striving for radical forms of historical authenticity. His Macbeth—which confronts rather directly the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, through the Lady Macduff massacre scene—contains horror elements that link it directly to his general exploration of evil in a string of films including Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974).
Tess (1979) has much in common with the Panavision adaptations considered above. Whether Tess should be treated here as film that constitutes an auteur adaptation of course remains open to question. An interview with Polanski in 1979, though, sheds some light on the issue, thanks in part to a telling question from Max Tessier: “My first impression is that with Tess, your personality as a director has become invisible. The story is not told as subjectively as some of your previous films, in particular The Tenant. Do you think auteurs are moving towards populist cinema while still maintaining strong personal influences over their work?” Polanski responds that, at the level of structure, Tess lacks the subjective narrator of a story like Chinatown, which is told through the eyes of Jake Gittes; in other words, the stories are basically different: “It’s the novel that actually suggests this different approach, and I felt it would have been quite silly to use a more subjective method when telling the story. … But I don’t have any reverence or religious respect for the novel in its entirety. I’m just very keen on it, maybe because [my wife] Sharon gave it to me.” Tessier’s question and Polanski’s response suggest that his approach to the film takes Hardy’s omniscient narration of the novel as its starting point. In place of the subjective camera used in some of his other films, or of objective narration, Polanski’s ambition is to make a film in which the mise-en-scène trumps everything else, including storytelling. By and large, however, Polanski rejects the self-conscious art-house style of other auteur adaptors, opting instead for an inquisitive camera that follows patiently every detail within the frame (see Figure 6.7).
Polanski’s painterly cinema is on full display when Tess sits down apart from her coworkers near a steam-driven threshing machine to eat her lunch. The golden sheaves, the workers lounging with their lunches, invoke the peasant scenes of Pieter Brughel the Elder or possibly the lush naturalism of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), released the year before. Similarly the scenes of Tess’s seduction by Alexander D’Uberville show the pair riding through a flourishing, sun-dotted forest, with leaves and branches often obstructing our view of their tense encounter. The cinematography and editing, however effectively they contribute to this pastoral lyricism, rarely call attention to themselves. One exception is the scene in which Tess discovers that her letter of confession, pushed under Angel’s door, has gone under the carpet, and that Angel has not read it. Embracing Tess’s subjectivity in that moment, the camera jerks up toward the noonday sun, washing out everything for a few seconds in blinding light.
Perhaps the best arguments for Tess as an auteur film are to be found in the patience of Polanski’s camera and its general inquisitiveness. In an early scene at the dairy, the camera pans slowly in a circular arc around the milkmaids’ quarters, drinking in the rustic tools, beds, and belongings—all bathed in a golden light streaming in from a small window. This probing, descriptive camera seems to merge the guiding vision of Polanski with the descriptive mode of the novel—making a peace between them.
We have already discussed Tony Richardson’s New Wave film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and placed it at the more radical end of the New Wave school of adaptation. It could be argued that Richardson produced the most significant and interesting body of literary adaptations of any of his peers in the period covered by this chapter. One key to Richardson’s relative freedom to make the films he wanted to make was the founding of Woodfall Film Productions in 1958, the company that made Look Back in Anger and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Richardson´s vital connections to the contemporary British stage, especially the Royal Court Theatre, arguably introduced an experimental, oppositional aesthetic into his films.
According to Robert Shail, Richardson almost immediately abandoned the realist and naturalist style of filmmaking associated with the New Wave for a more ironic cinematic style. His next Brit-Lit adaptation was his most famous, the one for which he is still known: Tom Jones (1963), the tale of the bastard foundling and his various lusts, loves, and adventures. Though set in eighteenth-century England, the film engaged directly the sexual and cultural revolutions of the 1960s. The tavern scene in which Tom and a chambermaid orgiastically devour a variety of increasingly sexualized foods is justly famous (see Figure 6.8).
Tom Jones is of course far from a reverent adaptation of a high classic. In the credit sequence, for example, screenwriter John Osborne gets a much larger font than Henry Fielding himself, announcing the film’s prioritization of cinema over literature. It is, in fact, more of a cheeky, slapstick comedy than a lofty adaptation. Richardson begins with a wonderfully confusing mishmash of modern and silent film techniques. Though a harpsichord starts in an eighteenth-century style, it quickly jerks into the music hall mode used to accompany silent films. The frame rate is faster than normal in this opening sequence, and title cards announce the main characters and plot lines with a slapstick-like irreverence, shifting to spoken dialogue with voice-over narration after the credits. Richardson also employs a stunning variety of vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and iris wipes from an earlier era of film practice throughout the movie. Other contemporary techniques clash with these historical ones: Richardson uses long freeze frames at key moments to disrupt the narrative and call attention to the filmic medium, and Tom Jones is made in vibrant colors with many scenes filmed in a cinema vérité style with handheld cameras.
So from the beginning, Richardson appeals, tongue in cheek, not to literary history but to film history, playfully combining the techniques of different eras. Calling this a meditation on film history might be going too far, but in referring to the history of cinematic styles and forms, Tom Jones does seem to appropriate Fielding’s own comic meditations on the history of literary forms such as epic, romance, history, and the novel itself. See, for one of many examples, the first chapter of Book 5, “Of the SERIOUS in writing, and for what purpose it was intended,” where Fielding considers satirically the unities of time and place, and gives a potted history of the harlequin in English comedy. Richardson’s seemingly effortless transposition of literary to cinematic reflexivity is remarkably effective and authoritative.
Richardson’s other Brit-Lit adaptations of the era reveal a constant reengagement with issues of adaptation, film history, and stage practice. These include The Loved One (1965), an uneven adaptation of a minor novel by Evelyn Waugh; The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), an antiwar film related tangentially to Tennyson’s poem; Hamlet (1969), a restrained and consciously theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play; and Joseph Andrews (1977), a likable adaptation of yet another Fielding novel. In this same period he also adapted films from literary sources as diverse as Marguerite Duras, Vladimir Nabokov, and Edward Albee. On the whole, Richardson’s body of Brit-Lit films is an impressive one, showing a serious and evolving interest in the problems of adaptation.
If directors like Mankiewicz, Polanski, and Richardson operated somewhere between the art-house and auteur modes, the following group of directors—Pasolini, Welles, Kurosawa, Kubrick, and Coppola—were recognized in their own times as auteurs and often embraced this identity. Their films stand as some of the most original and audacious Brit-Lit adaptations in the entire span of film history.
Pasolini’s lone Brit-Lit adaptation, The Canterbury Tales (1972), stands alongside his reworkings of other classic medieval tale collections, The Decameron (1971) and The Arabian Nights (1972), which many commentators prefer to view as parts of a trilogy. In each of these films Pasolini boldly hijacks the source material with the confidence and authority of an auteur. In the case of The Canterbury Tales, he employs several techniques to undermine the priority of Chaucer’s classic Brit-Lit text. First of all is selection—he chooses only the fabliau, the bawdiest of Chaucer’s tales. In this film, the naked body lusting or being lusted after, queer or straight, commands the ultimate authority. Pasolini’s inclusion of the “Pardoner’s Tale” near the end of the collection might seem to veer away from this principle toward a higher seriousness, but his depiction of the revelers as drunken whoremasters, one of whom pees on the inhabitants of the tavern, steers the tale back to the body, the unavoidable site of all drama in Pasolini’s film. He also dispenses largely with the storytelling frame; the host announces it, but the tales are not “told” and generally transition from one to the next with no structural cues that a new tale has begun.
Second, Pasolini shows that he is adapting far more than a single canonical text by citing a number of other “texts” from literature, art history, and cinema within the frame of the film. In a mischievous scene, he shows Chaucer himself at his desk in a skullcap furtively reading a tattered copy of The Decameron. When the poet hears someone coming, he hides this volume among a huge pile of other books, but not before his shocked wife (we presume) shouts scoldingly, “Geoffrey Chaucer!” The Canterbury Tales is, Pasolini implies, already subordinate to another text, The Decameron, from which Chaucer takes his inspiration. The fact that Pasolini himself plays the part of Chaucer blurs the lines of authorship and authority in the film even further: the auteur and author here merge (see Figure 6.9). Pasolini also makes The Canterbury Tales over into an Italian classic. In this, he projects not just the title of Boccaccio’s work onto the film, but much of its spirit and aesthetics as well. Chaucer scholars still argue today about how well he knew Boccaccio’s great tale collection, and Pasolini’s playful scene also appropriates Chaucer’s own ironically humble statements about being a mere compiler of other writers’ material.
In another scene, Chaucer, apparently struggling to find anything to write about and with his bare feet on his desk in a narrow alcove, dreams up a series of sexual encounters—blowjobs, S&M whippings, and copulations that lead to the “Pardoner’s Tale”. Here, Chaucer with his bare feet becomes just another lusting body with no special authority, just like all the other characters in the film.
Pasolini cites other “texts” as well. Famously, he makes over the “Cook’s Tale” into a homage to Charlie Chaplin slapstick comedy. His randy, happy, yodeling, and strangely cherubic Perkins (based on Chaucer’s Perkin the reveler) has a leather hat that looks just like a bowler and carries a cane. We first see him being chased away by a merchant—“Get out of here you ugly little sod!” At this point, the film speeds up as he races away, suggesting the faster frame rates of silent film. Two anachronistic looking policemen with leather hats suspiciously resembling the helmets of bobbies or turn-of-the-century American policemen, discover Perkins devouring the donut of a child in gigantic, joyful gulps. Like Keystone cops, they chase him through the narrow streets to a quay, but misjudge the descent and careen into the river while Perkins escapes. Later on, quite deliciously, Perkins gets the job of egg polisher, ideal work for a slapstick tramp. This citation of early silent comedy sits side by side with the material actually derived from the “Cook’s Tale”.
Finally, in the last sequence, based on Chaucer’s “Summoner’s Tale”, Pasolini brings to life the filthy anti-fraternal joke found in the tale’s epilogue. In a vision, a friar is given a tour of hell and is impressed that there are no friars to be found there. His guide laughs and asks Satan, a Dantean figure on the floor of hell, to lift up his tail. From his anus erupts a swarm of friars in a massive fart; they fly around hell before flying right back into the devil’s arse. For this sequence, Pasolini gleefully quotes Hieronymous Bosch’s visions of hell in The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Last Judgment, demons, red and green, a devil penetrating with a pitchfork a man on a bed. Pasolini again subordinates Chaucer’s text by inserting it into a chain of references and citations. In another scene, actors in friars’ habits explode from a gigantic prop of the devils red buttocks, dropping like brown shit onto the ground. In spite of such scatalogical imagery, or perhaps because of it, Pasolini’s hell is a space that mainly provokes laughter and pleasure. The demons of hell are clearly “naked men painted in red and wearing fake horns,” celebrating a kind of anal eroticism.
These citations—the master citation of Chaucer’s text, but also the quotations from Boccaccio, Chaplin, and Bosch, among others—serve to collapse hierarchies and suggest that Chaucer is merely one in a massive chain of signifiers that the director is commandeering in a story about the politics of bodies.
Welles’s brilliant but flawed Brit-Lit adaptations of Macbeth (1948) and Othello (1952) belong to an earlier period of film history (see above, pp. 261–2), but his last Shakespeare adaptation Falstaff—Chimes at Midnight (1965) has all the hallmarks of a mature auteur adaptation. Welles more or less creates a new Shakespearean tragicomedy by weaving together the Falstaff material from 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V. He doesn’t merely stitch together the Falstaff scenes from surviving plays but shapes the whole into a complete narrative of Falstaff’s friendship with Prince Hal, which could have been titled the Rise and Fall of Falstaff. That meant leaving to the side the broader Falstaffian comedy of The Merry Wives of Windsor and employing Holinshed’s Chronicles, read in voice-over by Ralph Richardson, to help glue the parts together into a convincing whole.
Welles was clearly attracted to the dramatic power associated with great characters from classic Brit-Lit, having himself played Rochester in Jane Eyre (1943), as well as the title roles in Macbeth and Othello, Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1965), and Shylock in a TV adaptation of The Merchant of Venice (1969)—not to mention his numerous stage roles as both actor and director. It is easy to imagine how the enormous emotional and physical size of Falstaff’s character would draw him to the project as an older man.
As a director, Welles brought a mastery of mise-en-scène to Chimes at Midnight. He always had a talent for creating surreal psychological spaces: famously he staged the closing of Othello by showing the vertiginously twirling Othello as he cradled the dead Desdemona in his arms. He looks up suddenly to see a round hatch in the very top of the ceiling open, through which witnesses, perhaps surrogates for the film’s audience, peer down at him from a great height as he begs them to set down his story. The sequence ends as this surreal hatch is closed from above with an echoing crash, transforming the space where the events of the drama just took place into something like an underground crypt. Welles manipulated space even more dramatically in his great adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial (1962). The lived spaces he created for this film verged on the allegorical due to their psychological weight. Joseph K’s rooms at the beginning of the film, for example, have such a radically low ceiling that they produce a feeling of dread and claustrophobia, while the nightmarish home of the Advocate, played by Welles himself, is a nightmarish blend of public office, private Victorian bedroom, and industrial work space.
The spaces in Chimes at Midnight have an equally symbolic, nearly allegorical function. The court, presided over by King Henry IV, is filmed in a cold, angular cathedral of stone with stark shafts of light and dark cavernous rooms. By contrast, the tavern where Falstaff and friends carouse is made almost entirely of wood. One of its passageways is comically small compared to the enormous girth of Falstaff, but the main space is large and well lit, and Welles’s trademark deep focus reveals the deep sociality of the place. In the scene in which Falstaff boasts about his having defeated an ever-growing number of assailants during the robbery single-handedly (when we and Hal know he ran away), women look on from a distant window in the very back of the room, participating in the story (see Figure 6.10). Welles’s cinematic spaces, thus, have an intensely self-conscious feel—they call attention to themselves and prevent any narrative immersion.
The third space of the film is nature, woods, and fields, the site of the robbery of the friars and the climactic battle of Shrewsbury. Semenza notes that Welles employed in this battle sequence “a relentlessly fast-paced montage style, stringing together hundreds of glaringly non-contiguous shots … and manipulating drastically both sound and the classic 24-frames-per-second pacing” in a way that is “fiercely intertextual … [an] homage to Eisenstein’s great battle scene in Alexander Nevsky.” The scene is indeed exemplary of Welles’s intensely reflexive cinema of adaptation. In his manipulation of the story and all its elements—from his construction of the narrative from fragments, to montage, and the creation of potent cinematic spaces—Welles produces an auteur adaptation that shows off his control over every plastic cinematic element. Like other auteur adaptors, he puts the medium of film in direct competition with the authority of the literary text he is adapting.
Kurosawa, along with Antonioni, Truffaut, Hitchcock, Bergman, Kubrick, and Fellini, is not just a director whose auteur status was debated in the period covered by this chapter; his cinema was actually used to construct what was meant by the “auteur” per se. Thus, a perilous circularity comes into play when thinking of Kurosawa as an auteur adaptor, especially the way that his films can be read through a theory which, in its emphasis on a kind of formalism, cuts them off from their context in the history of postwar Japanese cinema. We are, of course, interested in Kurosawa’s Brit-Lit adaptations, specifically his transformations of Shakespeare.
Though sometimes criticized in Japan for exhibiting the West’s influence on his movies, Kurosawa’s talent and authority as a filmmaker allowed him to commandeer Shakespeare and translate him within the traditions of Japanese theater and cinema (see above, pp. 262–4), all the while exploring human relationships so elemental that they seemingly erase cultural boundaries. These talents parallel Shakespeare’s own, since he too took his narrative raw material from various other literatures and translated them in the cultural terms of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. Kurosawa’s iconic Shakespeare adaptations Kumonosu-jô [Nest of Spiders], or Throne of Blood (1957), and Ran (1985) fall outside the scope of this chapter, but his bold rewriting of Hamlet in Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemru [The Bad Guy Sleeps Well Enough], or The Bad Sleep Well (1960), deserves some attention here. Tetsuo Kishi writes that “because Westerners thought of Kurosawa’s Shakespeare … as a kind of ‘samurai Shakespeare,’ they took a remarkably long time to notice how Kurosawa’s next excursion into Shakespearean territory came in the fiercely contemporary and much underrated film,” The Bad Sleep Well.
The Bad Sleep Well is set in a world of corporate and government corruption about ten years after the end of the American Occupation in 1951, at the beginning of a remarkable economic boom. The film spotlights the murderous politics of the “Public Corporation for the Development of Unused Land,” a government entity charged with building public infrastructure, and its corrupt relationships with construction companies and private corporations. In the course of building its headquarters, it forces one of its employees to commit suicide to cover up its pattern of bribes and dirty bidding practices. This act sets the events of the film in motion. The son of this dead man soon begins to wreak revenge on the officers of the corporation who killed his father. Kurosawa’s meditation on contemporary corporate politics surely offered a model for Michael Almereyda’s more merely atmospheric transformation of Denmark into the Denmark Corporation in his 2000 adaptation of Hamlet (see below, pp. 369–70).
The Bad Sleep Well is not an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in any conventional sense, though, but rather a basic reimagining of the story in terms relevant to contemporary Japan. Kurosawa essentially takes the Hamlet narrative apart, piece by piece, examines it carefully, and puts it back together by radically inverting the main pressure points in character and plot. Kishi notes that the connection to Hamlet is intentionally obscured in the first half of the film but reveals itself “in an astonishing, rapidly multiplying series of reversals and inversions.”
At a wedding of the vice president’s daughter to his lieutenant Nishi, who is rapidly rising in the corporation, reporters gather on the news of an arrest. In one of the more awkward weddings ever to appear on screen, the officers of the corporation squirm as some invisible hand orchestrates their humiliation before the press, culminating in the wheeling in of an enormous cake in the shape of their corporate headquarters, with a red flag indicating the window from which their employee jumped to his death. Kurosawa in general makes little use of the text of Shakespeare’s plays in his adaptations, but one might be tempted to think that the line describing the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude at the beginning of act one receives a visual embodiment here: “The funeral baked meats/did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” (Hamlet 1.2.180–81).
It slowly emerges that it is the groom, Nishi, who is orchestrating these events, and we eventually discover too that the dead employee was his father. As Kishi points out, the powerful vice president of the corporation is the Claudius figure and the antagonist whom Nishi attacks by going after his immediate underlings. In the first of many striking inversions, it becomes clear that Nishi is, unlike Hamlet, completely uninhibited in his pursuit of revenge, carrying it out methodically and ruthlessly. Only when he falls in love with his wife, a version of Ophelia, whom he married as part of his plot for revenge, does he develop the scruples that lead to his fall.
These few remarks on Kurosawa’s rewriting of plot and characters of Hamlet may give some sense of the fundamental nature of his appropriation of Shakespeare, but it must be said too that the cinematic spaces he creates rival Welles’s in their symbolic function. In one of the more startling sequences, Wada stumbles past a huge sign, “Public Corporation’s Site #3,” onto a blasted, volcanic mountain, to commit suicide for his bosses. The black soil, rising steam, the absence of any growing or living thing transforms this place into a kind of hell (see Figure 6.11). As he grovels abjectly near the peak, ready to throw himself down, Nishi towers over him, preventing his leap with a violent slap. However much the corporation would project itself into spaces like the luxury hotel of the opening scenes or into its lavish corporate headquarters, this barren, horrible landscape is its real home. Later on, the bombed out shell of a factory where Nishi starves Shirai into submission is pressed into an allegorical function, showing the moral devastation the seemingly prosperous corporation is capable of creating.
In his creative reworking of the characters and plot of Hamlet, his thorough transfer of the play’s context to the corporate world of 1960s Japan, and his masterful and reflexive use of place, Kurosawa created a film that puts Shakespeare to use in the service of his own artistic goals.
Of all the filmmakers associated with auteurism in the 1960s and 1970s, Stanley Kubrick’s body of Brit-Lit adaptations are perhaps the most revolutionary and startling of the period. He made three such films, all of which could be called auteur adaptations: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), based on Arthur C. Clarke’s short stories; A Clockwork Orange (1971), adapted from Anthony Burgess’s controversial novel; and Barry Lyndon (1975), based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844). Though we will focus on A Clockwork Orange as the prototype of the auteur adaptation, it is worth mentioning that 2001: A Space Odyssey operates fully in the art-house mode, an aesthetic Kubrick used to transform the relatively straightforward science fiction stories on which it is based. With Barry Lyndon, made immediately after A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick turned to a much more traditional style of literary adaptation, one directly related to the Panavision adaptations surveyed above—yet one that also flaunted its own virtuoso exploitation of the cinematic medium.
A Clockwork Orange remains one of the most disturbing and controversial Brit-Lit adaptations in the history of cinema, and we believe that it exemplifies as completely as any other film in this chapter the auteur adaptation we have been defining and exploring. Its amoral, even gleeful depiction of the ultraviolent rampages of Alex and his droogs in a near future dystopian Britain is filled with images of graphic sex and violence so unsettling that the film received a number of scathing reviews equating it with pornography and accusing Kubrick of nihilism, sadism, or worse. Its distributor Warner Brothers, stopped its release in Britain, where it has never been officially released. The film represents a frontal attack on almost every institution in Britain of the time: the family, leftist politics, the welfare state, the middle class, social engineering, consumer culture, the penal system, high art, et cetera. The film and novel both suggest to different degrees that the society that produced Alex is on the whole more horrific and dead on the inside than he himself is. As adaptations go, the film tracks the novel fairly closely but Kubrick adjusts details subtly to make Alex more sympathetic (omitting for example his lust for ten-year-old girls) and renders his victims less human (the “cat lady”, for example, who in the book lives with dozens of cats amid antique art and valuables, is an elderly woman. In the film, however, she is transformed into a cold, middle-aged health nut with a severely upper-class accent, who collects sexually charged, avant-garde art.). Kubrick does introduce one significant change: he omits the final chapter of the British edition of the novel, in which Alex decides to turn away from violence and rape to get married and start a family and become a functioning member of society. Many critics think he was right to do so, but Burgess objected strenuously to this omission, arguing that it altered not only the genre of the piece from novel to fable, but wrecked the central point of the narrative.
According to Krin Gabbard and Shailja Sharma, Kubrick’s desire to provoke and shock was part of the modernism he adopted as an auteur. They see A Clockwork Orange as a turning point in the art-house cinema of its time. Though the “most admired films of Bergman, Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut, and the rest took large helpings of inspiration from the Realist novel of the nineteenth century,” A Clockwork Orange turns to a style of literary modernism created by Joyce and Beckett and later inherited by writers like Burgess. “The sensation of shock, so important to the avant-garde and modernism from Surrealism to the Nouveau Roman—both in cinema and in the other arts—is an integral part of Kubrick’s project, even as he foregrounds the music of High Romanticism.” In fact, the juxtaposition of the beauty and joy of the music (Beethoven and Rossini mainly at their lightest and airiest) and the horrific deeds that Alex and his gang inflict on their victims has the very unsettling effect of aestheticizing the violence. Kubrick introduces a clash between classical music and violence as a dissonant subjective element which forces the audience to identify with Alex’s inner life, his pleasure, and even aesthetic enjoyment of violent thuggery.
In the scene of Alex’s home invasion of the novelist and his wife, music plays perhaps the most disturbing role. It opens with a glimpse of the novelist at his desk, writing on an intensely red typewriter, with books behind him. The set suggests a sleek futuristic minimalism which is shot through with eye-scalding colors of reds and oranges. The camera tracks to the next room where the novelist’s wife, in a red jump suit, is reading in a futuristic chair made of shiny white plastic. The doorbell rings, ominously chiming the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Alex pleads through the chained door to be allowed to use the telephone to call an ambulance for his friend, dying in the road, but the novelist’s wife is reluctant and suspicious. Her husband calls in from the next room and asks what the matter is, and he languidly says, “I suppose you better let them in.” The film rather remarkably manages to render this couple, otherwise completely innocent, starkly unsympathetic in their affluence, their aesthetics, and perhaps their lack of knowledge of the world; this is accomplished mainly through the mise-en-scène. The attack which proceeds is disturbing to say the least: the victims are tied, gagged with balls, and beaten to the rhythm of “Singin’ in the Rain,” which Alex gleefully mouths during the attack. This is choreographed, aestheticized violence, and the line “I’ve a smile on my face” is probably the operative text for the scene. The music embodies Alex’s pure joy in his heinous act. He cuts away the clothes of the wife to the song, and forces the husband, filmed in a distorted close-up, to watch as Alex takes down his trousers ready to rape this utterly naked and terrified woman. Music plays a similar role in the attack on the “cat lady,” where this time Rossini’s happy overture to “The Thieving Magpie” swells as Alex menaces her with a large white sculpture of a penis and testicles, part of her massive collection of sexually explicit contemporary art. Significantly, she picks up a bust of Beethoven with which to attack him.
Like other auteurs, Kubrick puts cinema itself at the heart of the film—Alex’s reformation in prison under an experimental program known as the Ludivico technique is essentially a commentary on the cinema itself (see Figure 6.12). When Alex asks how the process works, the doctor tells him “we’re just going to show you some films.” He answers incredulously, “You mean like going to the pictures?” She then fixes him with a slow stare, “Something like that.” The films that Alex watches are mirrors of his own life—groups of young thugs, beating, killing, and raping. Other citations of films include the reference to Singin’ in the Rain, mentioned above, and the clear display of the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, among a set of albums in a record shop. At least in the dystopic culture of the film, the cinema and other forms of high art like classical music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and theater are shown to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, suggesting that they may even encourage decadence and violence.
Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange has more or less eclipsed its source text, mainly through the power of its mise-en-scène, its ironic and disturbing deployment of classical music in the score, and its reflexive focus on cinema, which is presented as the most powerful and subversive of all the arts depicted in the film.
Given its enormous budget and the spectacular choreography of its battle sequences, Apocalypse Now (1979) clearly exhibits many key elements of the 1970s blockbuster, while at the same time functioning self-consciously as an auteur adaptation. For this reason, to step back and consider Apocalypse Now mainly as a Brit-Lit adaptation might seem perverse, perhaps because by speaking so powerfully to the politics of the Vietnam War, it seems to have freed itself fully from any subservience to its primary source. Jamie Sherry writes that Apocalypse Now surpassed the “cultural presence” of Conrad’s story, while at the same time remaining “indelibly linked to Conrad’s source text in a culturally more profound way than many adaptations that foreground their adaptive status.” In its quest to become one of the first films really to engage the horrors of the Vietnam War, it may be surprising that Apocalypse Now first turned to a constellation of Brit-Lit sources. Its plot and characters, even its mode of narration, are built around a surprisingly close reading of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, supplemented by the modernist poetry of T. S. Eliot, specifically “The Hollow Men,” and The Waste Land. Coppola preserves Conrad’s mode of narration by having Willard, in his voice-over narration, take over the function of Conrad’s narrator, Marlow. Both Willard and Marlow go searching for the shadowy Kurtz, and both attempt to understand the man through others’ speculations, documentary evidence, and finally, face-to-face encounters. Though Apocalypse Now quotes both “The Hollow Men” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” directly, it evokes The Waste Land more subtly. And when the camera pans across Kurtz’s small library of books, we see Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and Frazer’s The Golden Bough, important inspirations for The Waste Land (see Figure 6.13).
John Milius wrote the original script as an adaptation of Conrad’s novella, and according to his biographer Gene Phillips, Coppola considered changing the title of the film to Heart of Darkness. The script had a long gestation period, with contributions by George Lucas, and Coppola himself. As Phillips writes, Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness is in the spine of Apocalypse Now.” Most of Coppola’s revisions to Milius’s script intensify the connections to Conrad by, for example, adding the insane photojournalist (played by Dennis Hopper), based on the Russian sailor and disciple of Kurtz from the novel. Coppola’s ending returns to the revulsion felt by Marlow for Kurtz (Milius has them fighting side by side against the Viet Cong.) Given the history of the screenplay, however, it is an ironic fact that Conrad’s novella does not appear as a source in the credits.
In its critique of Western, specifically American imperialism, Apocalypse Now exudes a raw antiestablishment politics. Though it depicts the Asian people of Vietnam and Cambodia mainly as unknowable others (with the exception of a few scenes such as the devastating attack on the sampan), it does acknowledge how the obscene violence of the war fell heaviest on the young and African American soldiers like Clean and Chief Phillips. With a few notable exceptions, Brit-Lit adaptations of the 1960s and 1970s, even those made by auteurs, rarely addressed so openly issues of race, colonization, or imperialism. Coppola’s film links the crudest form of European colonialism directly to the American project in Vietnam. Only Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade and perhaps Ridley Scott’s The Duellists could be said to engage in anything like a similar critique of America’s war in Vietnam, though those films are much less direct than Apocalypse Now. Brit-Lit up to this point had rarely been deployed for such a full-frontal critique either of British imperialism or of the US imperialism that evolved in part from it. Though the imperial films of the 1930s (see above, pp. 201–5) sometimes contained subtle moments of doubt about the imperial project, for the most part they celebrated the order and military might of the British Empire while underscoring the barbarity of native populations.
In following Conrad’s logic so closely in the last third of the film, Apocalypse Now becomes even more disturbing in its critique of US colonial ambition and its expose of military insanity than Milius could ever have envisioned. After Willard’s boat crosses into Cambodia and arrives at Kurtz’s camp, the landscape of the film becomes a surreal “native” one, dominated by fog, the ruins of an ancient temple, dismembered and executed bodies, gruesome heads on sticks. Like Marlow, Willard discovers Kurtz’s manifesto or report. In Heart of Darkness Kurtz writes his report, “Suppression of Savage Customs,” arguing that Westerners must exercise their seeming godlike powers for greatly benevolent ends. In his madness, Kurtz scrawls “Exterminate the Brutes!” at the end of the last page. In Apocalypse Now, Kurtz’s report, “The Role of the Developed [World] in the Underdeveloped World,” commissioned by the “Center for Democratic Studies, Santa Barbara California,” has “DROP THE BOMB EXTERMINATE THEM ALL!” scrawled on an interior page in crude red lettering. Colonel Kurtz, then, like Mr Kurtz, goes “native,” embracing in his madness the savagery of the underdeveloped world, or at least the West’s fantasy of that savagery.
Ultimately, the brilliance of Apocalypse Now as an auteur adaptation is most apparent in the paradoxical manner in which it radically appropriates and transposes Conrad’s story while, at the same time, adhering so closely to its basic themes, plot, and structure. Like other auteur adaptations we’ve seen, Apocalypse Now is a film that manages to clarify its source text precisely by transforming and even disfiguring it.
As a group, the auteur adaptations we’ve considered represent an incredibly diverse range of films. Some of them, like Tess and Barry Lyndon fetishize the landscapes of a barely industrialized England. Others, like Welles’s Chimes at Midnight or The Bad Sleep Well, create cinematic places so potent that they take on quasi-allegorical significance. Still others, like Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales and Richardson’s Tom Jones, place film history in direct competition with literary history. Finally, films like A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now appropriate Brit-Lit texts to wrestle with the most difficult of contemporary issues. Each auteur adaptation worthy of the title invents its own methods and procedures of adaptation—the very reason we have devoted so much space to examining so many individual films.
It seems appropriate to close this chapter as we have with a discussion of Apocalypse Now. As David Cook reminds us, “Budgeted at $12 million and shot on location in the Philippines, the production was plagued by illness, natural disasters, and other logistical problems which nearly tripled its costs (to $32.5 million) and resulted in a flawed if brilliant film. … Widely viewed as an act of hubristic folly, the film permanently damaged Coppola’s position within the industry,” even though it more than earned back its costs in the long run. Despite the film’s brilliance, then, Apocalypse Now needs to be regarded as one of several big-budget auteur films that contributed directly to the end of the New Hollywood era, an event punctuated by the Heaven’s Gate debacle. Though the directors had enjoyed their brief moment, one which gave rise to some of the most memorable and innovative adaptations in movie history, it would be the legacy of Jaws more than that of Kubrick or Kurosawa, that would determine the course of moviemaking in the 1980s and beyond.
 Asterisks indicate films that were nominated and won the Best Picture category.
 James Tweedie, The Age of New Waves: Art Cinema and the Staging of Globalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 45–82.
 Paul Newland, “Introduction,” in Don’t Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s, ed. Paul Newland (Bristol: Intellect, 2010), 11.
 See Bill Osgerby, “Youth Culture,” in A Companion to Contemporary Britain 1939-2000, edited by Paul Addison and Harriet Jones (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 127–46.
 Amy Sargeant, British Cinema: A Critical History (London: British Film Institute, 2005), 240.
 Sargeant, British Cinema, 235.
 See B. F. Taylor, The British New Wave (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 1–36.
 Margaret Dickinson and Sarah Street, Cinema and State: The Film Industry and the Government 1927-84 (London: British Film Institute, 1985), 240 and ff.
 The following account relies on Paul Newland, “Introduction: Don’t Look Now,” in Don’t Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s, ed. Paul Newland (Bristol: Intellect, 2010), 9–19.
 Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 240.
 Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 227 and ff.
 Linda Wood, British Films 1971–1981 (London: British Film Institute, 1983), 143.
 See Stuart Laing, “The Politics of Culture: Institutional Change in the 1970s,” in The Arts in the 1970s: Culture Closure? (London: Routledge), 29–56, 28–30.
 Robert Shail, “Introduction: Cinema in the Era of ‘Trouble and Strife,’” in Seventies British Cinema, ed. Robert Shail (London: British Film Institute, 2008), xi–xix, xviii.
 Sargeant, British Cinema, 277 ff.
 This is Sargeant’s phrase. British Cinema, 266.
 Andrew Higson, “A Diversity of Film Practices: Renewing British Cinema in the 1970s,” in The Arts in 1970s: Cultural Closure?, ed. Bart Moore-Gilbert (London: Routledge, 1994), 217.
 Monaco, The Sixties, 24.
 Patrick Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 15 and ff.
 Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 15.
 See Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (New York: Penguin Press, 2008), 7–19.
 Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 408–39.
 David A. Cook, Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam 1970-79, History of the American Cinema, 9 (New York: Scribner and Sons, 2000), 40 and ff.
 Not all of the films that we gather under this heading were made with the Panavision process, but they all use widescreen formats.
 See, for example a description of Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1971): “it’s a sweeping, lush, almost voluptuous evocation of an entire era.” New York Magazine, July 19, 1982, p. 74.
 See Lev, The Fifties: Transforming the Screen 1950-1959, 112–25.
 Shareen Blair Brysac and Karl E. Meyer, Kingmakers: Invention of the Modern Middle East (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009), 220 ff.
 See Gene D. Phillip’s discussion of Lean’s status as auteur in Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 445 and ff.
 Stephen Charles Caton, Lawrence of Arabia: A Film’s Anthropology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 114.
 Ian Buruma, Conversations with John Schlesinger: The Director of ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ and ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ on his Life, Loves, and his Films (New York: Random House, 2006), 96.
 Schlesinger believes that “we were too much in awe of Hardy, and we should have taken more liberties with the screenplay.” (Buruma, Conversations with John Schlesinger, p. 96.)
 Joseph Conrad, “The Duel,” in A Set of Six (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1920), 233.
 William B. Parrill notes that Scott based key scenes directly on nineteenth-century paintings. Ridley Scott: A Critical Filmography (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 35.
 Pamela Demory, “Jane Austen and the Chick Flick in the Twenty-First Century,” in Adaptation Studies: New Approaches, ed. Christa Albrecht-Crane and Dennis Ray Cutchins (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2010), 121–49, 132.
 Raymond Knapp, The American Musical and the Performances of Personal Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 284.
 Michael Newton, “‘Til I’m Grown’: Reading Children’s Films; Reading Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book,” Turning the Page: Children’s Literature in Performance and the Media (Bern: Peter Lang, 2004), 17–39, 31–2.
 Glancy, When Hollywood Loved Britain, 5.
 See Patricia Erens, The Jew in American Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 300.
 See Lev, The Fifties: Transforming the Screen 1950-1959, 112–25.
 Cook, Lost Illusions, 133–4.
 See Jimmy Sangster, Inside Hammer: Behind the Scenes at the House of Horror (Richmond: Reynolds and Hearn, 2001), 27.
 Sinclair McKay, Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films (London: Aurum Press), 19.
 McKay, Thing of Unspeakable Horror, 16.
 Michael Hearn and Alan Barnes, The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films (London: Titan Books, 1997), 50.
 Peter Hutchings, Hammer and Beyond: The British Horror Film (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1993), 23, n. 28.
 Cook, Lost Illusions, 126.
 Ian Cooper, “Manson, Drugs and Black Power: The Countercultural Vampire,” in Screening the Undead: Vampires and Zombies in Film and Television, ed. Leon Hunt, Sharon Lockyer, and Milly Williamson (London: I.B. Tauris, 2014), 23.
 Harry Benshoff, “Blaxploitation Horror Films: Generic Reappropriation or Reinscription?” in The Cult Film Reader, ed. Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik (Maidenhead: McGraw Hill for Open University Press, 2008), 219–20.
 The film is based also in part on Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (uncredited).
 For an analysis of The Quiet American as an adaptation, see pp. 298–300.
 James Chapman, License to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Film (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 55.
 Casino Royale was the one book that Fleming did not option to Broccoli and Saltzman. See Chapman, License to Thrill, 5.
 Chapman, License to Thrill, 56.
 James Chapman, “Bond and Britishness,” in Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007, ed. Edward P. Comentale, Stephen Witt, and Skip Willman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 136.
 Monaco, The Sixties, 194.
 David Bordwell, “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Practice,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 7th edn (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 649.
 Bordwell writes that “art cinema foregrounds the author as a structure in the film’s system. Not that the author is represented as a biographical individual … but rather the author becomes a formal component, the overriding intelligence organizing the film for our comprehension” (“The Art of Cinema as a Mode of Practice,” p. 652).
 See Robert Stam, “Adaptation and the French New Wave: A Study in Ambivalence,” Interfaces 34 (2012–13): 177–97.
 B. F. Taylor, The British New Wave (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 1.
 Sargeant, British Cinema, 217.
 Robert Shail, Tony Richardson, British Film Makers (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), 26–8.
 The film actually won the awards for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
 See Sargeant, British Cinema, 218.
 Sargeant, British Cinema, 212–14; Higson, “Space, Place, Spectacle,” 137.
 This criticism was also leveled at Italian Neorealist films: see Alessia Ricciardi, “The Italian Redemption of Cinema: Neorealism from Bazin to Godard,” Romanic Review 97 (2006): 485.
 Hill, Sex, Class and Realism, 131.
 Andrew Higson, “Space, Place, Spectacle: Landscape and Townscape in the ‘Kitchen Sink’ Film,” in Dissolving Views: Key Writings on British Cinema, ed. Andrew Higson (London: Cassell, 1996), 148–9.
 R. Cirillo, “The Art of Franco Zeffirelli and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,” Triquarterly 16 (1969): 78.
 Kenneth L. Giest, Pictures will Talk: The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz (New York: Charles Scibner’s Sons, 1978), 163.
 Brian Dauth, ed., Joseph L. Mankiewicz Interviews (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2008), 139.
 Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (New York: Dutton, 1968), 161.
 Andrew Sarris, “Mankiewicz of the Movies,” in Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Interviews, 37.
 David Parkinson, ed., The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews & Film Stories (New York: Applause, 1994), 569–70.
 From a 1973 interview with Michel Ciment in Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Interviews, 141.
 Kenneth L. Geist, The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1968), 268.
 Cheryl Bray Lower and R. Barton Palmer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Critical Essays with an Annotated Bibliography and a Filmography (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001), 160, 162.
 Geist, The Life and Films of Joseph L Mankiewicz, 275. Geist writes, “We now know that this leader ‘discovered’ at Princeton by John Foster Dulles and installed as a puppet president was none other than Ngo Dinh Diem, who just happened to be in office while The Quiet American was being shot in South Vietnam” (275).
 Geist, The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 277.
 Christopher Sandford, Polanski: A Biography (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), 177.
 Paul Cronin, ed., Roman Polanski: Interviews (Jackson, MI: University of Mississippi Press, 2005), 81, 82.
 Patrick Rumble, “Stylistic Contamination in the Triologia della vita: The Case of the Il fiore delle mille e una notte,” in Pier Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Patrick Allen Rumble and Bart Testa (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 211.
 Carol Falvo Heffernan, Comedy in Chaucer and Boccaccio (Cambridge: Brewer, 2009), 55.
 Before the “Miller’s Tale” begins, Chaucer characteristically disavows any responsibility for the tale—which belongs to the churlish Miller, not him: “M’ athynketh that I shal reherce it heere./ And therfore every gentil wight I preye,/ For Goddes love, demeth nat that I seye/ Of yvel entente, but for I moot reherce/ Hir tales alle, be they bettre or werse,/ Or elles falsen som of my mateere” (Fragment I, ll. 3170–75). Larry D. Benson, ed., The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd rev. edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
 Armando Maggi, The Resurrection of the Body: Pier Paolo Pasolini from Saint Paul to Sade (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 49.
 Some critics saw these quotations as indulgent distractions: In Allegories of Contamination: Pier Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), Patrick Allen Rumble summarizes such critiques: “The citational nature of the film, often divorced from narrative motivation, is perceived as destabilizing moments of pure excess,” 54.
 In her study Pasolini, Chaucer and Boccaccio: Two Medieval Texts and their Translation to Film (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006), Agnés Blandeau suggests that Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales critics the bourgeois reduction of the human body into a commodified product, “meant for joyless mechanical consumption,” 30.
 See Russell Jackson, “From Play-Script to Screenplay,” in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 18.
 Gregory Semenza, “Radical Reflexivity in Cinematic Adaptation: Second Thoughts on Reality, Originality, and Authority,” Literature/Film Quarterly 41, no. 2 (2013): 146.
 Mark Thornton Burnett, “Akira Kurosawa,” in Welles, Kurosawa, Kozintsev, Zeffirelli: Great Shakespeareans, Vol. 17, ed. Courtney Lehmann, Marguerite Rippy, Mark Thornton Burnett, and Ramona Wray (London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2013), 89.
 Tetsuo Kishi, Shakespeare in Japan (London: Continuum, 2005), 136.
 Kishi, Shakespeare in Japan, 136.
 Vincent LoBrutto, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Da Capo Press, 1999), 259 and ff.
 Krin Gabbard and Shailja Sharma, “Stanley Kubrick and the Art Cinema,” in Stanley Kubrick’s The Clockwork Orange, ed. Stuart Y. McDougal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 85.
 Jamie Sherry, “Paratextual Adaptation: Heart of Darkness as Hearts of Darkness via Apocalypse Now,” in A Companion to Literature, Film, and Adaptation, ed. Deborah Cartmell and Kamilla Elliott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 377.
 Gene D. Phillips, Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2004), 147.
 Some critics like Cook believe that the last third of the film is deeply flawed: the “first two-thirds may be one of the greatest war/antiwar films ever made, but whose conclusion bogs down in a morass of pomposity and metaphysics,” Lost Ilusions, 137.
 Cook, Lost Illusions, 137.