Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Post - Ellen Wernecke - Book Adaptations from AFI's top 100

Today, I'm pleased to welcome a guest post from pen pal and valuable member of my writing support circle Ellen Wernecke. Wernecke, a New York-based writer, is a book critic who writes for Soda Pop Journal, Publisher's Weekly and the AV Club. The AV Club is the Onion's sister publication which means she has the awesome perk of having her name appear in every single hard copy of the Onion (in fine print) in the credits. In fact, Ellen has been known to tear the newspapers out of New Yorkers hands when they're reading the Onion to show them that she's in the credits (oh wait, that would be me if I ever got into the Onion or AV Club)

In the interim, you should check out Ellen's blog next week where I will be writing a guest post later this week in which I will opine about film adaptations from the Modern Library list of the 100 greatest books ever written. You should also check out Ellen's blog if you are into books or if you were curious to know what would happen to a white girl from Wisconsin if she suddenly started thinking she was a rapper.

Ellen is going to opine on five films from AFI's list of top 100 films from which she already read the book:

"Criteria: Each movie had to be based on a book (eliminated: "Citizen Kane") which I had to have read (eliminated: "The Godfather," "The Grapes of Wrath," etc.) as well as seen the movie (eliminated: "Apocalypse Now") and are ranked in descending order of where they appear on the AFI List:

"Gone With The Wind" (1939) -- Margaret Mitchell's Depression-era bestseller, considered by some to be far too sympathetic to the antebellum South (and point taken), became a bloated, splashy old-Hollywood movie that is yet impossible to forget. Vivien Leigh's splashy outfits (the curtains!) and Clark Gable's parlor sneer bring to life the book that a 2008 poll found was America's second-favorite book, after the Bible. You might lose feeling in your extremities after its nearly four hours are up, but frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

"The Wizard Of Oz" (1939) -- Because even in this era of big-budget special effects, I bet you can all remember the first time you caught your first glimpse of Oz in Technicolor. One of the few books where it's okay for me that book and movie are inextricably linked and I can't imagine one without the other. Ebook supremacists be damned, I can still remember the gilt lines on my hardcover copy of THE WIZARD OF OZ, wide-eyed in wonder at this crazy world L. Frank Baum conjured up out of flat Kansas, and I felt the rush of early book lust upon learning about the many sequels he wrote to his most famous work.

Schindler's List" (1993) -- If "Gone With The Wind" represents old-Hollywood excess, "Schindler's List" represents its reincarnation as the late '80s/ early '90s Oscar prestige pic. While Keneally's novel-based-on-true-events is a clear and suspenseful narrative of Holocaust heroism, it feels impossibly dry and disconnected from real life compared to the movie Stephen Spielberg famously turned in to finish his film degree. And yet, I won't say it's too much. The mismatch of print and text reflect differing approaches to the material, neither of them wrong.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" (1962) -- I arrived late to this Gregory Peck-starring domestic and courtroom drama, but for all that what I like about the movie is the same as what I like about the book: Both capture the texture and the darkness created when things happen around children that they don't understand, but want to, and the struggle for adults near them between protecting and teaching them. The flight of Scout is so funny and terrifying at the same time. (Credit where credit's due, Mary Badham also gives one of the least muggy, most natural kid performances of that era.)

"All The President's Men" (1976) -- This is a complete nostalgia pick for me because of fond memories watching it with my dad when I was 10 or 11. No matter how many times I watch this movie my stomach knots up in tension during the second half, and I already know how it ends. I knew how it ended before we even sat down to watch! It gets me every time. This is probably the closest adaptation on this list because the journalists profiled more or less wrote themselves (and, hopefully, were thrilled to be played by the dream team of Hoffman and Redford)."

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