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8.06.2015

Everyone's a Critic (Except me. I almost failed film theory.)

Random shot of me fangirling Elvis Mitchell, w/classmate Danielle.
Obviously film school left me no time for this blog. On this the eve of my official grad school graduation, I'm scrambling to finish lots of boring paperwork (and yet still procrastinating). Perfect time to get back to it. 

Part of the paperwork I have to turn in for my thesis film (more on that later!) includes six one-page reaction papers from master class-type events I attended at school and around DC.

As I excavate these events from my email & write them up, I came across a timely one that I wanted to share. Almost a year ago at the National Book Festival, I heard E.L Doctorow speak on a panel about film adaptations. Because I started as a print journalist and aspiring novelist, and have since turned to screenwriting, this panel was special for me, especially in light of Doctorow's passing.

Me & Ann Hornaday working the 2014 AFI Film Festival
So, if you're so bored as to read about a year-old panel with some mighty fine writers (including Ann Hornaday!), I'll just leave this here for ya:

Moderated by Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, with authors E.L. Doctorow, Alice McDermott, Paul Auster, and Lisa See, who have all seen books they’ve penned become (primarily unsatisfactory) films. 
The presentation opened with a montage of great movies, projected behind the seated panelists: The Wizard of Oz in color, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mary Poppins, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Godfather, The Last Picture Show, and Gone With the Wind 
An employee from the Audio-Visual Conservation department of the Library of Congress (located in Culpepper, VA) welcomed the packed house of several hundred people. He explained that his organization contained the world’s largest collection of moving images, and that Doctorow had just been awarded LOC’s Prize for American Fiction.  
Hornaday asked the panelists to think about a beloved novel that was “absolutely betrayed by a film adaptation, and one that was well served.” Doctorow asked if he could nominate his own. He hates the film Ragtime, based on his book of the same name.   
Doctorow called MiloŇ° Forman a fine director, and he blamed the disconnect on the book’s lack of realism, and movies preserve realism. “It was mock historical, erotic naughtiness.” Yet Doctorow then named Forman’s mistake. “He had a theory about film, that it should be about one person. Some are, but not Ragtime.”  
Doctorow joked that Forman surrounded himself with writers so that writers wouldn’t get too mad at him when their book was made into a bad adaptation. He even put Norman Mailer into Ragtime 
Doctorow wrote the first Ragtime screenplay for director Robert Altman. “But he tends to ignore his scripts,” he said. And in order to preserve his story from Altman’s cuts and improvisations, Doctorow said he made the script 400 pages. But that backfired: Altman wanted to make multiple two-hour films.  Altman was fired and Forman brought on. That’s when the author also left the project.  
Doctorow had a total of five of his books made into adaptations, his least hated among the bunch is Daniel, although he still called it a failed film. But he’s not entirely put off: his latest adaptation is coming out next year, starring Bryan Cranston.  (Editor's note: I have no idea what project this might be.)
In defense of filmmakers, Doctorow said his feelings are unreasonable. At the screening of his first adaptation, he watched his beloved character walk in from the left, which made him think about how he’d envisioned the character walking in from the right. Doctorow said that was enough to make him walk out of the screening.  
The next film clip shown was from That Night, a 1995 film starring Juliette Lewis, based on Alice McDermott’s book. In the clip, Lewis, playing a pretty and wild Catholic teen in the 1950’s, coming home from a date without so much as a kiss on the cheek. Her father meets her on the walkway to the house and scares her date away. Meanwhile, the narrator, a preteen girl in the house across the street, admires Lewis through their respective upstairs bedroom windows. Lewis undresses in front of an open window, singing and dancing.  
Hornaday asks author McDermott how the clip made her feel. “Ah, Hollywood,” she replied. “At least they didn’t make her hump the dresser.” McDermott said the filmmakers turned the character into a nymphomaniac, and while the author attended the screening, she stayed away from the production entirely. That Night was her second book and she couldn’t help but be thrilled to have gotten that “first call from Hollywood.”  
I have no idea where my notes from the rest of the panel are. It was good though. You should have been there.

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