Sunday, February 24, 2013

DAVID LEAN'S BRITISH LITERATURE


  
DAVID LEAN’S
BRITISH LITERATURE
A PAPER BY HENRIQUE GUERRA* 
  
INTRODUCTION   The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of the literary in David Lean’s movies. Literature – especially British – becomes motion pictures in practically every one of the 16 movies of his meaningful career as a director. It is my intention to analyze the literary liaisons that helped to make Lean’s filmography one of the richest in the history of cinema. From In Which We Serve (1942) to A Passage to India (1984), the epic moviemaker – who died in 1991 before shooting Conrad’s Nostromo – either adapted the work of or collaborated with great British writers and playwrights, such as Noel Coward, Charles Dickens, Terence Ratting, Robert Bolt, and E. M. Forster. He also turned into film a book called Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T. E. Lawrence, a compelling account of the Arab Revolt. It is no wonder that a director obsessed with telling good stories and exploring human emotions would use novels and plays as sources, but is my intention to prove that David Lean, maybe without planning to do so, built a solid portrait of what British literature is capable of.

In Which We Serve (Nosso barco, nossa alma, 1942) The very first Lean’s movie as director was written and starred by Noel Coward, a popular playwright whose literary importance, although somewhat controversial, is nowadays more and more recognized. According to John Smart, “Noel Coward depicted and embodied the moneyed and escapist world of the 1920s and 1930s.” The most notorious qualities of In Which We Serve – a well written script, a nice cutting and an economical direction – would become Lean’s trademark along his not so prolific career. Lean directed only sixteen movies throughout five decades, and only one of these movies (Madeleine, the true story of an enigmatic Scottish woman) was not either based on a literary source or written by a playwright (see Table). In Which We Serve tells in flashbacks the story of British ship HMS Torrin and its crew. One of the sailors is played by Richard Attenborough, in his screen debut. Lean manages to accomplish a war movie whose focus is not the thrill of the battles, but the human drama.



This Happy Breed (Esta nobre raça, 1944)
This adaptation of the homonymous Noel Coward play depicts the life of a working class family after the First World War and across the 1920s.
The title comes from Shakespeare’s Richard III:

This happy breed of men, this little world/
This precious stone set in the silver sea/
(…)/Against the envy of less happier lands/
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.


Sources and screenwriters of David Lean’s movies

Movie
Source
Screenwriter(s)*
In Which We Serve (1942)
True story of destroyer HMS Kelly and captain Mountbatten in Battle of Crete (1941).
Playwright Noel Coward
This Happy Breed (1944)
1939 play by Noel Coward
Noel Coward, from his own play. Adaptation: David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan
Blithe Spirit (1945)
Homonymous Noel Coward’s 1941 play
Noel Coward, from his own play. Adaptation: David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan
Brief Encounter (1945)
1936 one-act play Still Life, by Noel Coward
David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan
Great Expectations (1946)
1860-61 novel by Charles Dickens
David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Kay Walsh, Cecil McGivern
Oliver Twist (1948)
1838 novel by Charles Dickens (his second one)
David Lean and Stanley Haynes
The
Passionate Friends
(1949)
1913 H. G. Wells’s The Passionate Friends: A Novel
David Lean and Stanley Haynes
Madeleine (1950)
True story
Stanley Haynes and Nicholas Phipps
The Sound Barrier
(1952)
Loosely based on newspaper articles and real-life story of pilot Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr.
Playwright Terence Rattigan
Hobson’s Choice
(1954)
Harold Brighouse’s 1916 homonymous play
David Lean, Norman Spencer, Wynyard Browne
Summertime (1955)
Based on the 1952 play
Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents
David Lean and H.E. Bates
The Bridge
on the
River Kwai (1957)
Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai, 1952 Pierre Boulle novel, translated into English by Xan Fielding (1954).
Credited: Pierre Boulle
Actual: Michael Wilson, Carl Foreman (credited posthumously because in the fifties they were in the so-called “Hollywood blacklist”)
Lawrence of Arabia
(1962)
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1926 account of T. E. Lawrence real adventures during the Arab Revolt (1917-8)
Playwright Robert Bolt (dialogues) & Michael Wilson (storyline) (Michael Wilson received credit only in 1995).
Doctor
Zhivago
(1965)
1957 Boris Pasternak’s novel
Robert Bolt
Ryan’s
Daughter
(1970)
Loosely based on 1856 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Robert Bolt
A Passage
to India
(1984)
1924 E. M. Forster’s novel
David Lean

 *Information of this column extracted from http://davidlean.com/Filmography/filmography.html

Blithe Spirit (A mulher do outro mundo, 1945) The title – based on the homonymous play by Noel Coward – has a strong literature link: it comes from the first line of Percy Shelley’s poem called To a Skylark: Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! (1820). Here the blithe spirit is not a singing bird but the ghost of a dead wife, accidentally brought to our dimension through the work of a hilarious psychic (Margaret Rutherford). And though both the play (which after its premiere in 1941 run for a total of 1,997 performances in a row) and the movie are played for laughs, the ghost story pays homage to English tradition in fantasy literature. Writer Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) and his wife Ruth invite Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) to promote a séance in their house. But besides being a research source for his new mystery book, the session ends up opening a way for Elvira, his dead first wife, to return from the “other world”. The script takes advantage of this bizarre situation to explore the funny side of a domestic environment where two wives coexist. Even though Elvira actually cannot be seen by Ruth, poor Charles see and hear both of them perfectly, and sometimes he addresses Elvira but Ruth thinks he is addressing herself. In a way, Blithe Spirit can be considered a bit of a dark comedy, term coined by André Breton in his 1939 book Anthologie de l'humour noir, as a reference for some works of writers such as Jonathan Swift and Edgar Allan Poe. Both the movie and the play confirm what Lahr (quoted by Dietrich) wrote: “Only when Coward is frivolous does he become in any sense profound”.
Brief Encounter (Desencanto, 1945) Story of a housewife who casually meets a doctor on a tearoom by a rail station. Even though both are married to others, soon it becomes a routine their innocent meetings every Thursday. In the beginning, the most sinful thing they do together is to see sensationalist movies such as Flames of Passion from the mezzanine of the theater. As it was bound to happen, the innocence gives space for doubt and mixed feelings. In other words, love. This deep, sensitive study about guilt and betrayal raises questions about what people think is right or wrong. Brief Encounter, while remaining a classic of delicate intimism and (not so) suffocated desire, also is a good example why
Coward was a major playwright of the 1920s and early 1930s. Despite his limitations, he held up a mirror to his times reflecting the wit and gaiety of his generation and class. His plays present a glamorous wasteland with a mixture of fascination and loathing (SMART, 2001).

The partnership between David Lean and Noel Coward represents a kind of “first cycle” in Lean’s filmography. It resulted in four movies or 25% of Lean’s career. To Coward, these four movies meant a broader audience for his drama literature. Until today people can be in touch with his work through Lean’s movies. To Lean, the way was paved to his two adaptations of one of the most important British novelists: Charles Dickens.

Great Expectations (Grandes esperanças, 1946) + Oliver Twist (1948) Although some scholars dislike the liberties taken by Lean with his adaptations of Dickens’s works, some consider them as models. Regina Barreca, a feminist professor of English Literature who wrote books like Perfect Husbands (& Other Fairy Tales): Demystifying Marriage, Men & Romance and also a chapter in the book Dickens on Screen, clearly belongs to the first category, as we can notice by this excerpt:
In his 1946 Great Expectations David Lean didn't film Dickens's novel. He remade the novel into David Lean's film. Lean completely reversed the thrust of Dickens's story. In the novel (…) the male–male bonds (…) structure the protagonist's moral and social development, and completely determine the book's final third. But with Lean the most interesting relationship is not among men but between women, Estella and Miss Havisham (BARRECA, 2003).

On the other hand, David Thomson (movie critic who authored more than 20 books) has a more positive approach: “Dickens texts are adapted, but the films are vivid movies in their own right as well as the basis for decades of BBC television adaptations of classic literature” (Thomson, 2008).




The Passionate Friends (A história de uma mulher, 1948) This semester in our English course we have studied a short story by H. G. Wells, The Crystal Egg. However, the themes of Wells’ novels and stories are not limited to invisible men, wars of worlds, time machines, islands of lost souls and crystal eggs. He, as Lean, was also keen on an “intensely modern theme”, as New York Times literary critic L. M. Field put in 1913, the same year in which the book was published. This theme, of course, is “woman and sex” (Field, 1913). That this was one of Lean’s favorite topics is easily proven, not only because of his film curriculum (e. g., Brief Encounter, Summertime, The Passionate Friends, Ryan’s Daughter), but also for his own biography: as David Thomson put it, Lean was “the possessor of six wives (not at the same time)”. The Passionate Friends (both novel and film) deals about a love triangle whose main angle is Lady Mary. A key scene is well described in L. M. Field’s review: “(…) high up among the Alps, the long-parted ‘passionate friends’ meet and talk together as though their bodies were dead and gone – when, its stultifying accompaniment left behind, the real bond between them displays itself in all its beauty.” Author of an interesting article about Lean’s sexual life, George Macnab pointed out: “In The Passionate Friends (1949), Lean explores such themes as sexual jealousy and adultery with far more depth than in any of his earlier films – even Brief Encounter (1945).”

 Madeleine (As cartas de Madeleine, 1950) A forgotten cinematographic gem, Madeleine Smith’s true, sad history is told by Lean with almost painful sobriety and restraint. The pair of screenwriters – Stanley Haynes, also producer, and Nicholas Phipps – did a meticulous research of the 1857 trial and succeeded in building a portrait of a woman could be described either as manipulative and frivolous or as troubled and passionate, or these four altogether. Ann Todd – by that time, Mrs. David Lean – superbly gives life to a multifaceted character. A little before the movie premiere, Lean showed it to his friend Noel Coward, who after the private session commented that Lean should give the viewers a definite solution. But in retrospective this very fact (the “open ending”), while telling a lot about Lean’s perspective and style, also raises the artistic values of the work. Recently the case of Madeleine Smith regained a boom of attention, following the release of two books in 2007: A Scottish Murder – Rewriting the Madeleine Smith Story, by Jimmy Powdrell Campbell, and The Strange Affair of Madeleine Smith, by Douglas MacGowan.

The Sound Barrier (Sem barreira no céu, 1952) With a screenplay by Terence Rattigan, based on newspaper articles, David Lean focuses the attempts to break the sound barrier by a aircraft manufacturer, in spite of risking the lives of pilots very close to him. The playwright deserved a paragraph in An Outline of English Literature, by Thornley & Roberts (1984), who claim Rattigan is “(…) another well-known writer of traditional and successful plays” and that his work “(…) extends from light comedy, as in French Without Tears (1936) to more serious plays such as The Winslow Boy (1946)”.
 
Hobson’s Choice (Papai é do contra, 1954) The play by Harold Brighouse and the adaptation by David Lean tell the story of shoemaker Henry Hobson, a widower, and his three daughters, who help him in the workshop, along with Willie, a talented bootmaker. The daughters do not receive a penny and Willie is underpaid. The name of the protagonist, in the movie played by Charles Laughton, is a word play with the popular expression “Hobson’s choice”, whose origin allegedly is the following. A stable owner called Hobson, in order to establish a horse rotation, offered his customers, among his many horses in the stall, only one horse: the one nearest the door. So “Hobson’s choice” means something as “take or leave it”. And what will be Henry Hobson’s choice when Maggie, his older, most useful daughter ask for a wage and for a permission to marry his employee? Recently another play by Harold Brighouse, The Game, was revived by the theatrical company of actor Barrie Rutter, who wrote an article about it, whose first sentences are:

 Harold Brighouse was a star writer in his time. Today, he’s viewed as a one-play wonder. Everyone knows Hobson’s Choice, his tale of a Salford cobbler outfoxed by his daughters. A hit in New York before its London debut in 1916, the play has been studied by generations of schoolchildren and was made into a classic film by David Lean (RUTTER, 2010).

Summertime (Quando o coração floresce, 1957) “You are a hungry child to whom someone brings ravioli. ‘But I don't want ravioli, I want beefsteak!’ You are hungry, Miss Samish! Eat the ravioli!”. It’s impossible to watch this movie and forget this very Italian advice. Undoubtedly, Katharine Hepburn’s character ate the ravioli, even though the ravioli was a handsome – but married – Italian (Rossano Brazzi). The movie is an adaptation of the play The Time of the Cuckoo, by Arthur Laurents, adapted by Lean, with the help of the writer H. E. Bates. Arthur Laurents (who also wrote scripts for important movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Robert Wise’s West Side Story) studies the dilemma of a middle-aged woman who falls in love with a married Italian during a trip to Veneza. 


Lawrence of Arabia (Lawrence da Arábia,1962) “The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation – initiation – return”. The accomplishments of British officer T. E. Lawrence during the First World War Arab front comprise a good example of the formula described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Peter O’Toole’s face immortalized on screen the representation of T. E. Lawrence, whose experiences in desert wars embody Campbell’s archetypal hero. The fact that Lieutenant Lawrence adopted Arabian clothes just emphasized his initiation, and the sequence of scenes portraying his coming back to report his deeds after the conquest of Akaba and his promotion to Major surely represents an archetypal glorious return. The production of this movie started with Sam Spiegel’s purchasing of the screen rights to Seven Pillars of Wisdom from T. E. Lawrence’s brother. The book published in the 1920s, a classic of British non-fiction literature, also “one of the best books on World War I – and still full of handy hints on how to wage a guerrilla war”, became 80 years after a “best-seller among American officers in Iraq” (Suter, 2010). Film critic David Thomson alerts that “while Lawrence of Arabia is grand and beautiful, don’t expect it to know who Lawrence was, let alone what really happened in his Middle East”. The movie marked the first of three collaborations between David Lean and Robert Bolt, the playwright who penned A Man for All Seasons. Bolt would also write the screenplay of Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter.


The Bridge on the River Kwai (A ponte do rio Kwai, 1957) + Doctor Zhivago (Doutor Jivago, 1965) These movies undoubtedly helped to popularize worldwide two novels originally not written in English. As a translator myself, I must highlight this important fact. These texts were indeed translated twice: first into English by literary translators, and then into screen, by great English screenwriters. Do the resulting texts and movies contribute to British literature? Yes, if you consider translations as valuable literary works that promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, because “it is in their literature (…) that living cultures store their capital: in order to understand another culture, you have to read its books” (CEATL, 2008).  It is common that books turned into films sell more and more editions, in a “virtuous” cultural cycle. So David Lean helped Pasternak and Boulle to sell more books, even though the translators remained invisible, since

in a translated work, it is hard to identify the translator’s personal artistic contribution, and, as long as the public remains unaware of that contribution, translators have no symbolic capital with which to enter the market as ‘cultural entrepreneurs’ (CEATL, 2008).






Ryan’s Daughter (A filha de Ryan, 1970) In Ireland, during the First World War, Rosy Ryan, the wife of a schoolmaster, falls in love with an English military officer. A kind of Irish Emma Bovary, Rosy Ryan uses to talk with the priest, who all the community respects as an authoritative leader. Third movie directed by Lean with a script by Robert Bolt. According to C. D. Innes, Bolt “was initially hailed as the British Brecht”. Innes dedicated a section of his book on modern British drama to analyze Bolt’s plays: Adopting the Epic Style: Robert Bolt (1924-95). He points out that “For all the religious dimension in Bolt’s plays, his drama remains firmly on a social, not a metaphysical level.” Not surprisingly the social consequences of Rosy Ryan’s behavior are mercilessly depicted in Ryan’s Daughter, “an Ireland that exists more in melodrama than reality” (Thomson, 2010).


 A Passage to India (Passagem para a Índia, 1984) According to Thomson (2010), A Passage to India is rather bad – it doesn’t get the E.M. Forster ironies”. According to myself, is rather great – I have not read E.M. Forster and watching David Lean’s movie was an illuminating, cross-cultural, fulfilling experience. The movie is about how people can make bonds in spite of cultural misunderstanding. The empathy between Dr. Aziz and Mrs. Moore is almost instantaneous, and even after the accusations against Dr. Aziz, Mrs. Moore believes in his innocence. In a way, the movie is more optimistic than the novel, judging by what Arun Mukherjee wrote in his Oppositional Aesthetics, pretty much in the same tone used by Chinua Achebe to scorch Joseph Conrad:

 The film sweetens the imperialistic relations of the British and the Indians to mere social misunderstanding. (….) The novel admitted that power relationships cannot be transformed into friendships. The film papers over this profound statement in a most awkward and disturbing manner (MUKHERJEE, 1994).

Lean is not very much interested in political statements; he prefers to understand the characters’ motivations and feelings. In some aspects, Lean’s movie is even superior to the book. For example, if you watch the movie attentively you can never say for sure if Dr. Aziz is innocent or no. And this ambiguity, this possibility of multi-interpretation enriches the narrative, whether the Indians like or not. By the way, a scene in A Passage to India resembles a similar scene in Madeleine. Both movies depict a woman crossing an enraged crowd inside a carriage in her way to court. Madeleine, as the defendant; Adela, as the accuser.

 FINAL CONSIDERATIONS In order to write this work I watched 10 of the 16 David Lean’s movies in a couple of weeks. Throughout this process my knowledge about movies improved a lot – but also my knowledge about English Literature. Movie by movie, I showed the existence of a “two-way road” between David Lean’s filmography and British Literature. One needs just take a look on the Table of page 3 to confirm this assertion. Before ending this paper, I must thank Professor Elaine Indrusiak for screening during the English Literature course, in a two-class session, David Lean’s A Passage to India. The first session was attended by around twenty students, and the second by only six. The fact motivated me to choose the topic for my final paper. Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe not. Surely there’s no account for tastes, but maybe my colleagues failed to do what General Allenby was capable to do when he promoted T. E. Lawrence to Major. Robert Bolt’s screenplay reads:
Lawrence: You’re a clever man, sir.

General Allenby: No, but I know a good thing when I see one.

WORKS CITED

BARRECA, Regina. David Lean's Great Expectations. In: Dickens on Screen (pp. 39-44). Washington, DC: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Chapter Extract. Online. 26 Nov. 2011. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511484827.004

CAMPBELL, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004. Online. 27 Nov. 2011. Available: http://www.youblisher.com/p/193953-The-Hero-With-A-Thousand-Faces/

CEATL (Conseil Européen des Association de Traducteurs Littéraires). Literary Translation and Literary Translators. December, 2008. Online. 28 Nov. 2011. Available: www.ceatl.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/policy-uk.pdf

DIETRICH, R. F. British Drama 1890-1950: A Critical History. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1989. Online. 20 Nov. 2011. Available:  http://chuma.cas.usf.edu/~dietrich/britishdrama.htm

 FIELD, L. M. H. G. Wells: Intensely Modern Theme of His “Passionate Friends”. The New York Times. Published: November 2, 1913. Online. 26 Nov. 2011. Available:
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30E13FA355F13738DDDAB0894D9415B838DF1D3

INNES, C. D. Modern British Drama: the twentieth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

LAURENTS, Arthur. The Time of the Cuckoo: a comedy. New York: Random House, 1953. Online. 26 Nov. 2011. Available: http://books.google.com/books?hl=pt-BR&id=LBoxAAAAIAAJ&q=ravioli

MACNAB, Geoffrey. Brief encounters: How David Lean's sex life shaped his films: was the director's chaotic love life responsible for some of his greatest films? The Independent. Published: 29 Jun. 2008. Online. 26 Nov. 2011. Available:
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/brief-encounters-how-david-leans-sex-life-shaped-his-films-854957.html

MUKHERJEE, Arun. Oppositional Aesthetics: Reading from a Hyphenated Space. Chapter 5, The Third World in the Dominant Western Cinema: Responses of a Third World Viewer (pp. 39-48). Toronto: TSAR Publications, 1994.

RUTTER, Barrie. A Playwright of Two Halves: Harold Brighouse. The Northern Broadsides founder on reviving a football play. The Arts Desk. Published: 14 September 2010. Online. 27 Nov. 2011. Available:
http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/playwright-two-halves-barrie-rutter-harold-brighouse

SHAKESPEARE, William. Richard II. Act II, Scene 1. In: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Online. 26 Nov. 2011. Available:
http://shakespeare.mit.edu/richardii/richardii.2.1.html

SMART, John. Twentieth Century British Drama. Cambridge: University Press, 2001.

SUTER, Keith. Lawrence – Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Global Directions. Online. 27 Nov. 2011. Available: http://global-directions.com/Articles/Peace%20and%20Conflict/LawrenceOfArabia.pdf

 THOMSON, David. David Lean at 100: The Talent Behind the Legend. Reconsidering the high and lows of a filmmaking icon. L. A. Weekly. Published: October 15, 2008. Online. 26 Nov. 2011. Available: http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-16/film-tv/david-lean-at-100-the-talent-behind-the-legend/

 THORNLEY, G. C. & ROBERTS, Gwyneth. An Outline of English Literature. Essex: Longman Group Ltd., 1984.



* Originally written by Henrique Guerra especially for Dr. Elaine Indrusiak's course of English Literature, UFRGS,      PORTO ALEGRE, BRASIL, NOVEMBER, 2011.


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