BOOKCHAP’s tastes in books and films

Article published on April 26, 2016.

Way back in my youth, when I attended a Junior School, I borrowed a child’s book entitled Emil and the Detectives. Published in Germany in 1929 and written by Erich Kastner. I remember this book because, as a child, I got quite emotionally involved in the story. It is much in the vein of The Famous Five to be truthful, but a very good read and still in print today which is why I purchased a copy about three years ago purely for nostalgia’s sake. I re-read it of course, and it still held that magic I remember fondly. Then purely by chance quite recently I was able to glean a copy of a German film version. Granted it was from 1931, but it held true to the story, the character depictions were much like the original illustrations in the book. Made for the children’s market in pre-war Berlin, it has a few scenes of buildings that no longer exist due to all the bombing, but I enjoyed this film nonetheless even if the sound is totally out of sync, much like spaghetti westerns.

“Now is the winter of our discontent.” The opening words from Richard The Third, of course. Again ever since schooldays I have enjoyed a rich diet of Shakespeare plays, both the good and the boring. Richard the Third has featured quite highly in my enjoyment. The Laurence Olivier film is still a firm favourite of mine; the acting of other luminaries making it an excellent depiction. Then, later still we get the rather odd telling in the film featuring Ian McKellen as the Royal Nasty….  He also produced it, I believe sometime about 1995. This version shows Merry Olde England as a Fascist state, policed by soldiers sporting what appear to be old WW2 German uniforms; a strange dichotomy indeed. Apart from the script, precious little else is maintained fromShakespeare’s original concept. One can argue it is done to keep it fresh and current, maybe so, but I consider it a better bet to keep it fresher on the stage and not on film. Now a brilliantly portrayed film Shakespeare is The Merchant of Venice, the one starring Al Pacino. Or how about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in The Taming Of The Shrew, an excellent comedy from excellent actors.

What ever happened to the Ian Fleming books about the exploits of a certain agent James Bond? An entire cinematic empire has been created around the original few books, now we have loads of spurious stories purporting to be taken from an idea by Ian Fleming. A serious question: how many people really know where the original idea for these multiple films actually came from?  I wonder was it Dr. No or the spoof Casino Royale first?   To be honest, do any of the films follow the books seriously?

Rudyard Kipling, a splendid author of many classic books is another unfortunate loser in the filmed stakes. Who cannot forget the musical animation of Jungle Book complete with American accents and talking cartoon animals?  Then we have Jules Verne and his 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, or H.G.Wells and The Time Machine (+ remake) or War Of The Worlds (+ remake).

A more recent adaptation of a book is that of Schindlers List, the brutal; pictorial telling of the story first written by Thomas Keneally back in 1982 Schindlers Ark. I much prefer the book, it has so much more to offer, plus one gets a chance to use the imagination. Yet the film is worth a watch of course simply because it is an easy way to read the book. The film is done in Monochrome but it shows, every now and then, a little girl in a red coat. I have it on good authority that this little red coat situation is taken directly from a witness statement at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel, in 1961 if I remember correctly. We have the actual moment on a clip taken of the prosecutor pausing for a few moments because he had only just purchased a red coat for his own daughter and this witness told of the last time he had seen his daughter, in the distance, in a red coat at Auschwitz. A very sad tale, but is it right to be in a film of another story altogether? It is these little embellishments that annoy me in film depictions. Sensationalism just for the ‘Box Office’ receipts probably. We always have the Box Office takings told to us instead of any acting abilities, camera work etc, simply the money earned and spent as though this alone can qualify the film for acceptance by the public.

I may be an old curmudgeon who turned away from the cinema back in the1970’s. I have been thrice that I can recall since then; I wish I had stayed at home to be honest. Films of books mostly always seem to let me down, perhaps I am biased but at least I am honest. Having said that though, I have a rather larger than average ‘old’ film collection at home, all recorded from the electric fish tank over time and then transferred onto disc; purely for my own delectation when I choose, not when either the Box Office, striving to glean as much cash as possible before it goes the way of all things, or when the insane television programmers think it is correct to put a film on at a certain time and date. A great number of these films I own are book orientated versions; for example Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, Treasure Island, Gone With The Wind to name but a few.

The three films I witnessed since way back in time are The Silence of the Lambs, based on a book of course, and then added onto for shock value so as to fit certain criteria pertaining to other murderers.
The second film was The World’s Fastest Indian, New Zealander Bert Munro built a speed racer from a 1920s Indian Scout motorcycle. The film was a reasonably true biographical rendering, although a Hollywood-ized account of his exploits to get the bike into running at Salt Lake Flats. A real feel good film, a book was released to coincide with the film release.

The third film was a mistake; I was forcibly press-ganged into going to witness the diabolical Van Helsing. A rather conceited, arrogant character I thought, with a wide brimmed hat, a duster coat and an arsenal of weird, exotic weaponry, he was taken from the pages of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula.  The film was full of incredibly loud effects, impossible CGI imagery together with a less than believable story. Awful.
I also noticed a review of the book Down To The Sea In Ships recently. I may sound a trifle pedantic here; but a very early silent film of the same name was made, then another sound version in 1948. It told a different story I suppose but the unique sounding title is not exactly new is it?

Reg Seward
April 2016

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