Friday, April 26, 2013

Multi-Media, April 26, 2013

Really! It's Tennessee Williams!

The Play's the Thing?
Theatre and cinema - not always a match made in Heaven
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

This week we're going to have a bit of fun. We all like theatre. Most of us like film. But do the two work together? How about when it's made for TV? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes you see a movie—like Boys in The Band, say—and think, "This must have been a play because it pretty much still is." Other times you see movies that have little or nothing to do with their theatrical source material (was Othello more interesting when it became O...or worse?). And then there is the Goldilocks moment: source and medium are juuuuuuuust right. Here are three (highly personal) lists I tried once before that were lengthened both by more recent films and input by readers. They go all over the place because, as usual, we want you to discuss.

Worst adaptations of plays
- Equus (Richard Burton is his nasal-voiced dramatic self, the film is a mess)
- Chorus Line (If you like the show, you will hate the film)
- Phantom of the Opera (The show, at least, was theatrical - the movie: ick)
- Boom! (High camp with Liz and Dick adapted by Tennessee Williams from his own The Milktrain Doesn't Stop Here Anymore)
- The Wiz (Diana Ross and Michael Jackson easing painfully down the road)
- Nine (From Fellini to Tommy Tune to this lifeless adaptation)
- Godspell (Faux-hippy but real-dippy)

Adaptations better than the plays
- Cabaret (The only film on this list where the director - Bob Fosse - elevated the source. The rest? It's all about the actors)
- Doubt (Streep chews scenery)
- Wit (Right into Emma Thompson's face, makes the story more intimate)
- Odd Couple (Lemmon and Matthau - brill!)
- Sunshine Boys (Matthau and Burns - rise from the wreckage of a play)
- Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison opens up the musical to the revolution, the beauty of the land and sunsets that fill every song)

Adaptions just right
- Streetcar Named Desire (Not as dirty as the source, but Brando makes it sexy)
- Angels in America (Perfect)
- Arsenic and Old Lace (No one does double-takes like Cary Grant)
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Liz and Dick - sometimes a little too real)
- Tea and Sympathy (Deborah Kerr makes the sissy a man and whispers into your head)
- Glengarry Glen Ross (One of the best casts of any movie with Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey ripping guts and hearts out)
- Chicago (all the glitz is still there)
- Sleuth (not the recent version, but the Laurence Olivier/Michael Caine gem)

Where would you put these?
- Les Misérables
- Rock of Ages 
- Sweeney Todd
- Carnage

(Additional material from Keir Cutler, Joel Fishbane and David Allan King)


  1. Cary and Lemmon in your final section. ;)

    Interesting that many of your worst adaptations are musicals. Do they just not translate from stage to page well?

  2. Thanks for the corrections. Meanwhile, Joel Fishbane wrote and excellent piece on the dilemma of musical to film.


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