I vividly remember when the movie Clueless came out. I was 11, and had recently moved to a new town, and was going to summer camp with most of the other girls in town. One early social outing was for a big group of us to go see Clueless, a film that had certainly been well marketed as “super-cool” for the pre-teen set. I was very excited to be included, and it was the first time I went to the movies with friends, and without adults. The movie lived up to everyone’s expectations of humor and glamour. The following year I was able to cajole two friends into seeing Emma with me, and I at least, enjoyed seeing the parallels between the two movies.
Fast-forward a few years, to when I finally read Emma, and it becomes my favorite novel. I was then also able to better understand the nuances of two of my favorite movies. When I got to college and was studying Austen, one surprise was that while most of my professors and teaching fellows decried Austen movie adaptations, they universally admired Clueless. For my 19th Century Novel class, our professor even sponsored a movie viewing after we read Emma. One highlight was my TF extolling the virtues of getting to see the physical embodiment of Emma in Alicia Silverstone. Seeing the film as I got older (and many times since) my appreciation for it has deepened. In each new viewing, I uncover a new example of director Amy Heckerling’s trenchant wit and I marvel at how she was able to so supplely adapt the novel to a very different modern setting.
What do you think of Clueless? How about all the Austen and other ‘trendy’ literary adaptations and updates that followed its success? Do you have any favorite going-to-the-movies stories?
I heartily enjoy Jane Austen’s six novels (though I find Persuasion divine, and Sense and Sensibility merely good) and I also usually enjoy the manifold film and television representations of her stories. So I was quite excited for PBS’s new Masterpiece Theater season opening with The Complete Jane Austen—broadcasting adaptations of her six novels, along with a Jane Austen biopic. So far new ITV (a British channel) productions of Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and
If I love a book, I usually enjoy seeing an adaptation, even if I think it fails to fully capture the original. And one thing that I am frustrated by is how other ‘fans’ can often become a critical mob, eager to find faults, and unwilling to appreciate the unexpected or something that deviates slightly from their own vision. With these recent Austen adaptations I am a bit perplexed. I’ve read that they’ve trimmed down these versions to fit into a 90 minute running time. I know all the stories well, but I feel like if I didn’t I’d be quite confused. These seem less like complete stories than illustrated Cliffsnotes.
However, I don’t want to become too wacky of a fan. I studied English in college, and the late 18th century/early 19th century in particular, so I always felt a bit self-conscious about the zaniness of Austen-maniacs. In addition to film and television, there’s a whole cottage industry of spin-off books.
What do you think about Austen adaptations? How about the PBS series? And do you ever feel chagrin when you see your fellow fans (whatever your topic of interest might be)?
The earliest silent films often used books as their source material, from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation taken from Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman. Gearing up for Oscar season, late fall and winter releases seem to regularly adapt popular or acclaimed literature. Beowulf, The Kite Runner, I Am Legend, Love in the Time of Cholera, Atonement, The Golden Compass, No Country for Old Men, Persepolis, and P.S. I Love You are all adapted from novels or short stories. Of those, I’ve only seen Atonement so far. I enjoyed it and would recommend it, but I certainly didn’t think it measured up to Ian McEwan’s novel (which I loved). But at the same time, if I love a story enough, I’m happy to see it in almost any version.
What adaptations are you most eager to see this winter? Which book do you think would make a great movie? (Who would you cast?) And are there any movies which you think have blasphemed the books they were based on?