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theatre vs. film

Darrel Manson

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There are of course some films that are better as plays (I think most of Mamet is better on stage than on film) and some that make the transition very well.

I haven't seen Driving Miss Daisy on stage, but I find it hard to believe I'd like the stage version better than the film. Agnes of God, on the other hand, is obviously a stage play (even when you watch it on film). One of the reasons I never did get to Chicago was that I had seen it on stage and assumed that it would not live up to the stage version.

Any others have favorite examples?

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film

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I think we'd find that stage-to-screen adaptations were far less successful a few decades ago for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it took a long while for filmmakers to get the knack of making a stage play truly cinematic, ie. unlike simply a filmed play. One early exception would be Brief Encounter (Lean, 1945), which transforms Noel Coward's one-act stage play into a brilliantly filmic drama.

Secondly, censorship meant that you could get away with controversial stuff in the theatre that you couldn't put on the screen. Richard Brooks's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) is an eminently watchable film with some excellent performances, but it is so heavily bowdlerized from Williams's stage play, ie. the film all but ditches the play's central homosexual themes, that it loses most of its original meaning.

Drop by The Grace Pages, a rest-stop for fellow pilgrims.

-- Dave aka Alvy

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OOh, ooh. More talk aout the hardwoods!

I disagree with Alan that there be any standard preferrable media. Each medium has its advantages and I believe that good subject matter is adapted to fit its medium. Here are some examples:

The Big Kahuna / The Hopsitality Sweet - While I love this film, the author changed very little from the stage version. They've added the dream sequences, of which I am not particularly fond, but otherwise, its a play on film. And having seen it staged, I perferred the stage version (allowing for the fact that the film had better actors).

On Golden Pond In truth, I'm not sure which came first the stage or screen version. But the film has a certain strength to it, that the stage version does not. Film, like literature, has more freedom with issues of mise en scene, and a story so inexorably tied to its evironmental beauty is really limited onstage.

Lost in Yonkers Arguably Neil Simon's most serious work the film is good, strong cast and all, but the very nature of the story is clausterphobic. Trapped in grandma's stuffy apartment, told through the eyes of a twelve year old. The impact of Uncle Louie's entrance, the stir craziness of those months, and the enticing candy shop downstairs (which is never actually seen) is diminished with the camera's freedom to journey out of the house, and even roam amidst the jars of candy.

So, what I'm saying is this... the story and themes dictate the perfect medium. If you want to tell the story in a new way, using a different medium, that's fine, but rediscovery and re-inventing needs to happen. Lord of the Rings is a great film, and the book is a literary classic, but they are utltimately different works of art.

some other plays/films that should inform our discussion:

Glengerry Glen Ross - both film and play outstanding, but little adaptation is made for the screen and so I pick stage.

The Elephant Man - Play and film signifcantly adapted to their respective media.

Tape - Now here's a film, that I don't believe is a play, but is written like one, and should be one.

Wit - There is something beautiful about this play's imaginative devices. (the main character jumps in and out of flashbacks in intriguing ways) The film makes it a no brainer. - not the movie just the device

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I disagree with Alan that there be any standard preferrable media.

You're right--"preferable" is not the right word. Perhaps I should say "most demanding" or "most rewarding." I'm not sure. I'm trying to write while watching Magnolia on IFC, and I forgot how much I like this controversial film. It's a great example of doing something with movies that you couldn't and probably shouldn't try to do with theater or literature.

Yeah, I daresay all of PTA's stuff is that way. He, like Andrew Niccol, Peter Weir, Baz Luhrman, Spike Jonez and many others have imaginations that are geared toward the screen.

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Glengerry Glen Ross - both film and play outstanding, but little adaptation is made for the screen and so I pick stage.

I will always prefer the film version of Glen Garry because of the opening scene with Alec Baldwin. He rocked that scene, and it's some of the best drama I've seen on screen. Also there could never be a cast more powerful and impressive as the one in the film.

Exagerate the essential. Leave the obvious vague. ---Vincent Van Gogh

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  • 2 months later...
  • 2 years later...

Ooh... diggin' up an old thread... ::blush::

My several cents worth:

Glengarry. Clearly the addition of the scene with Alec Baldwin is a device that makes the position of desperation much more palpable in the film version, but the way the stage version is laid out - the three separate scenes that make up act one (they're intercut in the film) I find more compelling. Clearly there's subtlety of performance in that film (surely, with some of the all-time greats in there) that is hard to compete with on stage. I just last night re-watched the film of American Buffalo (with Hoffman and Franz) - I had seen it on stage at Atlantic with WHMacy and Philip Baker Hall a couple of years ago. The film is more subtle, but I have to say that Macy did a better job of making me fear Teach when it was on stage.

A big argument can be had about ACTING in film or on stage - subtlety of performance - but I think that writing for the stage is generally stronger dialogue, and when on stage can often utilize devices or interesting elements that get lost on film. The film Noises Off is funnier than the 3 stage versions I've seen - including the broadway revival a few years back - simply because it's subtler.

On Golden Pond. It was a stage play converted to film before it ever made it on stage.

Tape is a play.

One stage-ly written film that isn't a play was Two Girls and A Guy (Downey jr is brilliant in it) - and on the commentary track of the DVD, writer director James Toback is vehement that it couldn't be a stage play. from what i gleaned, his biggest deal seemed to be about the subtlety of performance - which again isn't related to the writing in my mind.

Certainly, Closer is a great play-film. haven't seen Proof yet.

Any others out there in the past few years since this thread last made the rounds?

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The most obvious that come to mind for me are the musicals. Man of La Mancha was totally destroyed on film, because the filmmakers decided to suspend the suspension of disbelief, and make it REAL, which missed the whole point.

Chorus Line just is a theatre piece. About doing theatre. Period.

...and of course, RENT. If you saw it on Broadway, especially with the original cast (6/8ths of whom did the movie ten years later as Old People playing gypsies), the movie would not hold a candle. If you never saw it on stage, you became entranced and mesmerized and enchanted by the film.

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