domenica, gennaio 18, 2009

Novella crimes

Sean Penn looks like a penis. I know an awful lot of people like him, so I guess some directors are better at exploiting that than others, but one director who did a really crap job exploiting that was Philip Haas, he of the vastly superior but still not that great Angels and Insects. And one movie that was an honest to goodness sack of crap was Up at the Villa.  

Angels and Insects was, as I've gone on about before, the film version of A. S. Byatt's Morpho Eugenia, and much worse was it too. That's only to be expected because Morpho Eugenia was a very beautiful and complex novella. Not in the story - that's quite a direct stream of events and emotions that got transcribed accurately to the screen. Rather in the construction, with Byatt putting in layers of scientific and philosophical-scientific musings through epistolary devices, etc. It's a smashing novella, one of the best, and it would have been impossible to translate its smashingness to the screen, not without taking hours and millions of dollars, not without getting David Attenborough in to narrate. Angels and Insects was a good effort. 

But. Philip Haas utterly buggering Up at the Villa is beyond explanation or excuse. I liked the novella well enough, though relative to other Somerset Maugham books like The Moon and Sixpence and Of Human Bondage it's very fluffy. It's also very simple, in the sense of being a rather good yarn where people talk about all the emotions that they actually have, and translating it to film should have been a walk in the park. The casting was also really promising - Kristin Scott Thomas was perfect for that gold-skinned lead, and Sean Penn - okay, I don't get it, but I saw flashes of how with a decent script and a heavier-handed director, he could have been good as the male lead. 

But the scripting process buggered the whole thing up. It over-complicated, artificially extended and stretched a plot that was already a perfect, self-contained unit. It bizarrely airlifted Derek Jacobi in to play a disreputable queen without allowing him to be comic relief or in any way relevant to the events portrayed. It gave Anne Bancroft way too much time and too little to do with it. In short, it over-complicated a simple novella - a much greater sin than over-simplifying a complex novella, like Morpho Eugenia. And it didn't deal with the crisis/opportunity of Sean Penn looking like a penis. 

Anyways. What that peice of shit did do is remind me that I have the complete works of Somerset Maugham sitting around waiting to be read, so after my mum left I started dipping into Cosmopolitans, a bunch of short sketches he wrote for a magazine that would fit on to one or two pages. Hit and miss but much more hit, in that nice terse language that makes Ernest Hemingway seem like a gushing auntie. He's not fashionable anymore, I guess, but I'm getting quite fond of Somerset Maugham.  

2 commenti:

Baywatch ha detto...

"...Sean Penn looking like a penis." You make that sound like a bad thing.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

I like men to look like men, and penises to look like penises. But what you can't do is ignore the fact a man looks like a penis. That's a situation and it needs to be handled. Much like a penis, in fact.