Friday, February 1, 2013

Multi-Media, February 1, 2013

Scare Tactics
The Woman in Black makes the journey from novel (to stage) to screen
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

While preparing to write this review I went on a Google spree - where one link-item is fascinating enough to lead to others and then others and until you are on a looooong journey. I found out so much stuff!

The source material for The Woman in Black (on DVD, Blu-ray and in rotation on movie channels) is not the Stephen Mallatratt play but the original novel by Susan Hill. However, one wonders, would the movie have been made had not the play been a massive world-wide theatrical hit? It is still playing in London's West End after 24 years, it has received over a dozen professional and amateur productions across Canada and hundreds around the world. 

I also read that some productions of the play actually scare the living hell out of audiences. 

I also did not know that the novel was, apparently, one of those everyone's-read-it like Jillian Flynn's Gone Girl is now. And it didn't take long for the novel to jump to the stage - four years - and then to the screen! (Yes, there is a TV version broadcasted in 1989.) I also read that some productions of the play actually scare the living hell out of audiences. 

This last discovery was the most interesting. My verdict of the production I reviewed two decades ago was, "I was shaken, not stirred." When I saw the movie I thought back to that opinion and would say now, about both play and movie, "Shaken, not stirred, but a little angered."

What is missing from both play and movie is what maddens me about the whole franchise - its cheapening of tragedy. In the same way that the film of Lovely Bones did not "get" the novel, Woman doesn't "get" the story - not the novel (which I haven't read) but its centre, the darkness of its proposal. Simply, the vengeful ghost of a mother whose child died, coaxes other children into suicide. I'm not talking teens...children. The children self-immolate, drown themselves, throw themselves from windows. Everytime a person - any person - sees The Woman, a child dies hideously. 

Now perhaps I'm a little febrile after Sandy Hook, but the deaths of children requires profound seriousness when it comes to artistic treatments. I would never say this should never be depicted, but the very weight of it requires a tone that is absent from both play and film. Especially absent when we are talking about the suicide of children. Yes, you can scare (which both did to some extent) but you also have to lead the spectator into the shadows, otherwise it all becomes exploitation of the coarsest kind.

The one thing that redeems the film is the lead actor. Daniel Radcliffe is not only becoming one of the finest young talents in the world, he also possesses a thing that cannot, in this context, be ignored: haunting beauty. I am not talking about the young actor's sexiness (though, I freely admit, I find him to be that too) - I am talking about the eyes, skin colour, dark hair and slightness that gives heart to his projects: Oliver Twist on TV, Harry Potter, and this film. Cinematographers have all discovered that Radcliffe is like a Pre-Raphaelite portrait brought to life. Even in the famed Tim Hailand series of photos - where it seems to be a lot about the actor's nudity in the production of Equus - the photog is utterly seduced by Radcliffe's face.

And that, my friends, is what The Woman in Black is about. If you're looking for more depth, you won't find it here.

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