Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
From Fidelity to History

From Fidelity to History: Film Adaptations as Cultural Events in the Twentieth Century

Anne-Marie Scholz
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 230
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    From Fidelity to History
    Book Description:

    Scholarly approaches to the relationship between literature and film, ranging from the traditional focus upon fidelity to more recent issues of intertextuality, all contain a significant blind spot: a lack of theoretical and methodological attention to adaptation as an historical and transnational phenomenon. This book argues for a historically informed approach to American popular culture that reconfigures the classically defined adaptation phenomenon as a form of transnational reception. Focusing on several case studies- including the filmsSense and Sensibility(1995) andThe Portrait of a Lady(1997), and the classicsThe Third Man(1949) andThe Bridge on the River Kwai(1957)-the author demonstrates the ways adapted literary works function as social and cultural events in history and how these become important sites of cultural negotiation and struggle.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-732-5
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Introduction. Adaptation as Reception: How Film Historians Can Contribute to the Literature to Film Debates
    (pp. 1-18)

    A certain popular self-consciousness and cynicism has developed about the many adaptations of both “classic” and bestselling novels that have been released on film and television over the last few decades. “So why anotherJane Eyre,” critic Charles McGrath complained inThe New York Times,in response to the most recent adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel by the Japanese-American director Cary Fukunaga, “with so many perfectly serviceable ones already available on DVD and download?” Of course, the list could be extended: why another version ofPride and Prejudice? OfSense and Sensibility? Why anotherHarry Potter? Indeed, why focus...

  6. Part I. Post-Cold War Readings of the Receptions of Blockbuster Adaptations in Cold War West Germany 1950–1963

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 19-27)

      Central to the politics of the three adaptations I will explore in the context of West Germany in the 1950s—Carol Reed’sThe Third Man(1949) based upon the story by Graham Greene, David Lean’sThe Bridge on the River Kwai(1957) based upon the best-selling novel by Pierre Boulle, and Orson Welles’sThe Trial(1962) based upon the novel of the same name by Franz Kafka—was the phenomenon of the Cold War following the military defeat of Germany and the end of World War II. As a political and ideological showdown between the state socialism of the former...

    • Chapter One “Eine Revolution des Films”: The Third Man, The Cold War, and Alternatives to Nationalism and Coca-Colonization in Europe
      (pp. 28-53)

      “Shelved and safe” as a twentieth-century film classic, it is probably difficult for most filmgoers today to imagine the hope and enthusiasm that greeted the 1949 release of Carol Reed’sThe Third Manin Europe. Based upon a short novel by Graham Greene,The Third Man—set in a postwar ally-occupied Vienna—tells the story of the naive American writer, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), who discovers the corrupt activities of his allegedly murdered American friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), and reluctantly helps the British police officers, Calloway and Paine (Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee) apprehend him. A romantic subplot focuses upon...

    • Chapter Two The Bridge on the River Kwai Revisited: Combat Cinema, American Culture, and the German Past
      (pp. 54-92)

      Inundated with awards in 1958, including seven Academy Awards and three New York Film Critics Circle Awards,The Bridge on the River Kwai, produced by the noted Jewish/Austrian/American producer Sam Spiegel for Columbia pictures and directed by the British director David Lean, tells the story of the construction of the Singapor-Bangkok railway by British POWs (prisoners of war) for the Japanese during World War II. It is based upon the bestselling novel by the Frenchman Pierre Boulle. In the film, a captured British troop led by Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) marches into a Japanese prisoner of war camp and is...

    • Chapter Three “Josef K. von 1963”: Orson Welles’s Americanized Version of The Trial and the Changing Functions of the Kafkaesque in Postwar West Germany
      (pp. 93-116)

      The American auteur and actor Orson Welles’s lifelong interest in a critique of fascism was evident in his 1962 adaptation of Franz Kafka’sThe Trialas well as in the ways he modified the story for his purposes. Welles’s reading of Kafka as a “prophet of fascism,” whose Josef K. actively resists his oppressors—even if to no apparent avail—sought to shift the story’s focus from Josef K.’s anonymous, personal torment to the larger institutional and political structures of the postwar period, totalitarianism, fascism, state communism, and Cold War angst. Within these structures, Welles suggests that Josef K.’s irrational...

  7. Part II. Postfeminist Relations between Classic Texts and Hollywood Film Adaptations in the U.S. in the 1990s

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 117-122)

      Barbara Klinger has made a case for developing and improving the field of reception study of film by paying closer attention to: 1) public combat over film meaning rather than unities, 2) historicizing inquiry beyond industrial practices, and 3) pursuing diachronic and synchronic meanings.¹ Implicit in her three points is a framework for an understanding of “the historical” in relationship to film studies and adaptation studies to which I subscribe: that a focus upon conflict rather than consensus can tell us more about relations between audiences and films in the past; that knowledge of the past should be sought beyond...

    • Chapter Four Jane-Mania: The Jane Austen Film Boom in the 1990s
      (pp. 123-147)

      Throughout 1995 and 1996, a series of film adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels were released to audiences around the world. Beginning, as one critic put it, “almost subliminally” withClueless—a loose adaptation ofEmmaset in a contemporary Beverly Hills high school—written and directed by Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), the trend continued withPersuasion, a British production adapted for the screen by Nick Dear and directed by Roger Michell,Sense and Sensibility, adapted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee,Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langton for British...

    • Chapter Five Thelma and Sense and Louise and Sensibility: Challenging Dichotomies in Women’s History through Film and Literature
      (pp. 148-163)

      While filmmakers were engaged in postfeminist explorations of identity issues in their adaptations of Jane Austen’s works, the critical reception of the films tended to frame the “Austen boom” as a conservative response to postmodern liberation. However, the feminist playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s review ofSense and Sensibilitystood out by linking the Austen films to questions of contemporary Hollywood depictions of female character: “Precisely 200 years ago, Jane Austen was writing great parts for women. She didn’t have to meet with a creative executive with a post–Thelma and Louiseagenda or a Hollywood agent with a client list of...

    • Chapter Six Jamesian Proportions: The Henry James Film Boom in the 1990s
      (pp. 164-191)

      Close on the heels of the Jane Austen dramatizations came a series of adaptations of novels by the Anglo-American novelist Henry James:The Portrait of a Lady, directed by Jane Campion,Washington Square, directed by Agnieszka Holland, andThe Wings of the Dove, directed by Iain Softley.¹ Whereas all of the Austen dramatizations had been directed by men, two of the three James adaptations were directed by women, a fact that sparked commentary from several critics, emphasizing the extent to which they as “foreign” (non-U.S.) directors might be overly intimidated by so illustrious a modernist as James.² However, the release...

  8. Conclusion. A Case for the Case Study: The Future of Adaptation Studies as a Branch of Transnational Film History
    (pp. 192-201)

    When Orson Welles, discussing his adaptation of Kafka’sThe Trialin an interview with Hollywood director Peter Bogdanovich, told him “to read the book sometime, it’s short,” he may have been playing with the pretentions of high culture in order to scold Bogdanovich for his lack of preparation, but he was not advocating the fidelity model of film adaptation. Likewise, when Emma Thompson was asked in an interview what she would ask Jane Austen today (1996) and she replied, jokingly, “what percentage she wants of the gross” ofSense and Sensibility,she was invoking Austen as a best-selling and successful...

  9. Appendix 1. Mediating Apparent and Latent Content
    (pp. 202-203)
  10. Appendix 2. Model of Adaptation as a Process of Reception
    (pp. 204-204)
  11. Filmography
    (pp. 205-205)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 206-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-227)