Posted by greg on August 31, 1997 at 15:34:26:
In reply to Adapting Emma posted by Kali on August 31, 1997 at 05:20:25
] Oops! I'm new to the board, and I inadvertantly clicked on "submit" before posting. Sorry!
] Welcome. You're not alone in the "new people mucking up the scripts" department.
] The feature film version of Emma was a *big* disappointment to me.
] This isn't anything new, either.
] What I'd like to know is if there are any other lovers of the novel out there, who agree with me that it really doesn't lend itself to film adaptation?
] I've said as early as November of '96 that Emma adaptations are often so unsatisfying because the original novel fails to lend itself to chronological dramatization in the same way that Pride and Prejudice does. In addition, both recent adaptations weren't given the time necessary to create the same definitive quality P&P2 seems to have. Feature films rarely exceed 2 1/2 hours, which essentially cuts Emma2 from perfection before it begins. The Emma3 team is guilty of coattailing their own masterpiece, P&P2, with what appears to be a slap-dab, knee-jerk reaction to McGrath's incarnation. Emma is a good deal longer than P&P, yet the Birtwistle/Davies crew gives it half the screen time.
] Has anyone here seen the films first, then gone back and read the book? I'd be interested in your impressions. My feeling is that you'd be in for a rude shock, especially the Emma 2 lovers.
] Being a fan of the novel for some five years at least, I can't say that the tone of the Paltrow version struck me as anything but keeping very WELL with the spirit of the novel. Emma is a very funny book, namely because Emma so often takes herself and her life too seriously.
] Someone posted that this is one of the most dialogue-dense of Austen's novels,
] but my feeling is that most of the book really takes place *in Emma's thoughts*. This is very hard to show onscreen. McGrath's version barely attempted it, and Emma 3 used a rather bizarre dream motif to get around it. So neither one was really able to get to the heart of the character. As a result, they sell the novel short.
] I've said before that most of the book - everything, really, save the early conversation between Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley, and then later, Mr. Knightley's apprehensions re: Frank and Jane - is presented through Emma's eyes. The details of the world are revealed as they are relevant to Emma's understanding. However, Emma's thoughts are not the only relevant cues in the story. In fact, I'd have to point out evidence to the contrary. I must point out the ironic little clues subtley buried in the narration and dialog which direct us suspiciously toward Mr. Knightley's love for Emma, Frank Churchill's involvement with Jane Fairfax, and Mr. Elton's "smallness." The dialog - and action - apart from Emma's thoughts are incredibly relevant - more relevant, in fact, than what's generally going through Emma's mind at any given time. I'd even go so far as to argue that Emma herself is NO help in understanding what's going on. And no matter whether you portray Emma's character as a witchy queen bee or a naive little meddler, it's the fact that she's always WRONG - and comes to realize it - that's most important.
] This is so much more than a comedy of marriages. The "book" Emma is misguided by her arrogance in ways that cause real pain, real harm, well beyond her loss of favor in Knightley's eyes. She is shamed - and she should be. Paltrow's Emma gets off with a mere slap on the wrist, and suffers very little; the focus is all on *her* feelings toward Knightley, and not nearly enough on her humbling with respect to Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates. This typifies the whole of Emma 2, which to me, has all the moral and dramatic heft of a paperback Regency romance.
] I can agree with you that the novel is more than a comedy of marriages or manners. To me, it tracks a young woman's growing awareness of herself, those around her, the structure of human communities, and her place as one person in a community. I cannot agree with your statement that Paltrow's Emma gets off without truly suffering under realizations other than that of potentially losing Mr. Knightley. In fact, she is turned away from the Bates house the morning after Box Hill in a state of shame and mortification, which is more than can be said of the equivalent scenes Emma3 or the novel itself. It can also be argued that in the novel itself, her regard for Mr. Knightley and his views of her conduct are most central to the story. He is the catalyst for Emma's introspection and epiphany as well as the main inducement for her transformation. Mr. Knightley is the personification - and, as her father figure, the root - of her essential, if often subconscious, moral code. In a metaphorical way, she cannot make the jump to true perception and maturity until she acknowledges her love for him, and marries him.
] It's also evident to me that despite the potential for disaster present throughout the story, the real crises are evident only in Emma's newly-awakened, sharply-overreacctive mind. As always, depend upon Emma to skew a situation to extremes, even though the truth suggests otherwise. Jane Austen is hardly a moral propapgandist, and Emma - a beautifully-balanced ode to a bored rich girl and her stupid friends - is hardly an ethics textbook. It's a slice of life relevant to the lives of most intelligent, maturing young people and transforming delusionals.
] One reason Emma 2 lacked dramatic tension was that the whole Churchill/Fairfax subplot got such short shrift.
] I think this may have a great deal to do with how you view the character of Frank Churchill. While I agree that this subplot is an integral part of Austen's intended fake-out schemes regarding truth, I doubt that Frank was meant to be the dangerous user so many people make him out to be. As far as Jane's impending doom in the governess trade, even there I can't really chalk up any added dramatic tension. As this part of the story is unfurled through the filter of Emma's self-centered perception, it is really little more than someone else's problem.
] As I've said before, Emma is supposed to be a very funny story. Emma, the girl who really needs nothing, must go about blindly and humorously avoiding acknowledgmeent of the universal truth that a single woman of good fortune must eventually grow up and marry a good guy.
] If I hadn't read the book, I doubt I would have understood completely just what had gone on [in Emma2].
] I agree with you here. Especially when it comes to John Knightley. We don't get a sense of exactly who he is. When you get to the part where Emma is confiding her frustrations re: Mr. Knightley to Mrs. Weston, nonreaders are like, "Wait, who's John?"
] Yet that part of the story displays everything that's wrong with Emma, and without it, her moral awakening becomes rather meaningless. Paltrow's Emma is just a silly misguided girl; the real Emma is a genuine mischief-maker. Did McGrath hesitate to make his heroine look too bad?
] OOOOO, no. That subplot assists in underscoring Emma's poor perception and presumption, but I daresay it is not the ONLY source of examples in Emma's "bad" department. If a heroine can be allowed to be bad, of course. I think it is very important to show that Emma is really a good girl at heart - helping the poor, for example, which is in the book as well. I'll even say that Emma IS little more than a silly, misguided girl. After all, what is an innocent mischiefmaker if not silly and misguided? If Emma were truly bad, we wouldn't rejoice at her epiphany and transformation. And Mr. Knigthley wouldn't love her.
] A final Emma 2 query: Did anyone *not* see the eventual union between Emma and Knightley coming, almost from their first scenes together? The way it dawned upon me while reading was one of the most delightful surprises the book had to offer. Moviegoers, you were robbed!
] ...in the sense that anyone who sees a film adaptation before reading the novel is robbed of the unique experience of the original work. I myself, in first reading the novel, saw the fact that Emma and Mr. Knightley were indeed meant for eachother very early on. Certainly, your earlier statement that the subtleties in the novel are hard to express in cinema is correct - visual media are by definition conveyors of clarity, discriminating less in their presentations of characters, actions, and dialog than the novelist. Jane Austen can pop in quiet but pointed references to action and thought without shoving it into your face. She can even more effectively obscure significant bits by presenting them side-by-side with attention-grabbing dialog which misleads or overpowers. But if all adaptations of the novel are at the same disadvantage, and if we all agree that the book is the best version anyway (who wouldn't?), why is this important? I think McGrath's take was extremely valid, as it brings to light early on the ironic humor of the situation - a poignant lightness readers often miss.
] In all, I liked all three adaptations, and I agree with Greg that some "lightening up" may be required. Each adaptation had some valid takes, each one had some apparent problems and inconsistencies. SOme of this is attributable to time constraints, and some to the perceptions of the filmmakers and readers/viewers. I believe that Emma's themes and lessons are largely matters of personal perception, and as a result, even those adaptations that follow the plot to a "T" will always add to or detract from one's view of the essence of the story.
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