A couple of weeks ago I finally saw the film Call Me By Your Name. I had been waiting for a long time for it to come out in Albany and I loved it. The film is about a precocious 18 year old named Elio and Oliver, a grad student who comes to stay with Elio’s family over the summer in Northern Italy during the 1980’s. The film kept the book’s eroticism while also doing a great job capturing the bittersweet nature of first love. Timthee Chalamet was brilliant as Elio and I’m glad he got nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. The movie wasn’t completely faithful to the book, taking out the last chapter where Elio visits a married Oliver 15 years later, but I felt the film touched on the main themes and captured the spirit of the novel very well.
This year there will be 19 adaptation of books into film, from Ready Player One and Wher’d You Go, Bernadette to the last book of the 50 Shades series. Also, classic books like Farienhiet 451 and Catch-22 are going to be turned into tv shows, so I think this would be the perfect time to talk about some of my favorite adaptations.
I , Claudius (1976)
Back when it was called Masterpiece Theatre and Alister Cooke introduced each episode, the PBS show had a lot of great adaptations of classics like The Mayor of Casterbridge with Alan Bates and Balzac’s Cousin Bette. My favorite, though was the adaptation of Robert Grave’s I, Claudius and Claudius the God. The miniseries covered Claudius’ life. He was a member of the Emporer’s family who had a stutter and a limp and was not considered to be a threat to anyone. He basically became Emporer after Caligula, just by luck, and has been remembered as a decent ruler. The series had great actors like Derek Jacobi and John Hurt at the start of their careers. I believe the Albany Public Library has a complete set.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
I remember loving this book when I read it after I graduated from college. I was obsessed with the love story of Katherine and Heathcliffe. How can you go wrong with a young Lawrence Olivier as Heathcliffe? You can’t.
Cat on the Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Tennessee William’s plays were often mangled when they were filmed. In Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche’s husband in the play was gay but in the film, he’s described as “weak”. In the play, Sweet Bird of Youth, Chance, the main male character is castrated but in the film, they just beat him up. Unfortunately, in Cat on the Hot Tin Roof, the filmmakers sidestepped the fact that Brick had romantic feelings for his former football teammate Skipper. I still love the film because the acting is amazing. I love Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie and if all you know about Burl Ives is the talking snowman in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you are in for a treat to watch his brilliant performance as Big Daddy.
Anna Karinina (2012)
Directed by Joe Wright, this is a very dramatic telling of the familiar tale of adultery. Parts of it are filmed as if you are watching a play instead. At first, I found it offsetting but if you think of it, Anna’s story is very theatrical. I also like they don’t forget Kitty and Levin, even if their story isn’t as dramatic.
I read this book by Colim Tobin before the film and loved it. I had high expectations for the film and I wasn’t disappointed. The screenplay by Nick Hornby really captured the delicate story of a young Irish girl moving to Brooklyn during the 1950’s and Sariose Ronan as a young woman who has to choose between going back to live in Ireland, a country that lacked opportunities for advancement or to make a new life in America.
The Swimmer (1968)
Finally, I am cheating a little on the last film because I never read the short story “The Swimmer ” by John Cheever but I have seen the 1968 film The Swimmer. I think it’s an underrated film about a man who spends one day swimming from pool to pool in Connecticut to swim back home. Burt Lancaster was wisely cast as a middle-aged man trying somehow to recapture his youth. The film was also the debut of Joan Rivers.
Cheever brings me back to PBS in the 70’s. The channel also aired a 3 part series based on the short stories of Cheever called 3 By Cheever in 1979. The episode I remember the best was called “The Five Forty Eight ” and starred Mary Beth Hurt as a secretary stalking her former boss that she once had an affair with. I remember that it was very intense and Mary Beth Hurt was great as the upset former secretary. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on YouTube. Hopefully, it exists on DVD. It would be sad to lose such a great adaptation to obscurity.