Much has been written over the years on the seemingly primordial relationship between Dickens and the cinema. It has been said that he wrote in a style that anticipated the cinema and there has certainly been some very important scholarship in this area. Indeed, as the saying goes, it ain’t for nuthin that a cinematic god like Sergei Eisenstein recognized and wrote about these connections.
And then there is the question of adaptation. Why are there so many? And why do they just keep coming? And why are they always so interesting? And what makes Dickens so adaptable in the first place?
When my book came out, I was grateful that my thoughts on some of these delightfully interconnected issues were well received. However, for a truly definitive introduction to this complex theoretical/historical web, you must check out Grahame Smith’s Dickens and the dream of cinema.
Like all good scholarly books it is both substantial and authoritative. However, unlike many such books, but in keeping with its subject matter, it is also a great deal of fun. Nuthin wrong with that!
More conventionally academic, but also highly recommended, is Dickens on Screen edited by John Glavin.
And I agree with those who feel that, if the movies had been invented a century earlier, Dickens would have adapted his own works for the screen. And that he probably would have written original screenplays as well.
I also think it goes without saying that he would have been a big fan of simply going to the movies. He would have loved the escape and the sheer enjoyment and wonder of it all.
And in my best of all possible worlds, I can envision an older Dickens writing a memoir of his cinematic adventures with much the same enthusiasm, taste and exquisite judgment that Edward Wagenknecht brought to bear on the writing of The Movies in the Age of Innocence.
And by extension, it is also interesting to speculate about what his reaction to television might have been. I certainly don’t see him as a couch potato type. However, it is no secret that he loved all forms of popular entertainment. And just as he enjoyed (probably more frequently than the handful of references might suggest) magic lantern shows in the home, I think he would have found an appropriate use for television. Primarily, I’m willing to bet, for watching movies.
I’m sure that I will have much more to say on these issues in future articles. I don’t promise that my thoughts will be particularly intelligent or insightful. I only promise that they are coming.
In any event, for me, the most tantalizing area is the question of what kind of movies Dickens would have enjoyed. To begin with, while television, once again, would have a place in his life, I think the communal experience of movies on a big screen in a theatre would definitely have been his preference.
And as someone who spent countless hours of his formative years alone in the dark in New Haven’s sorely missed Lincoln Theatre, it is fun to imagine Dickens as a fellow movie nut and theatre-going companion. Can you imagine his boundlessly energetic and scintillatingly opinionated reaction to a screening of Casablanca or Citizen Kane? (Of course, in those days, my primary goal in life was to find a female movie nut to share a bag of popcorn with. But that’s a sad story for another day.)
So what kind of movies would Dickens have liked? I’m not sure although some impressions are starting to form. What do you think?
It’s a question that I hope to have some fun trying to answer. And for me it seems to be arising out of a personal cinematic renaissance. Last year for some reason – probably the impending Dickens bicentenary – I came out of a funk that I was stuck in for several years in which I had lost much of my enthusiasm for movies.
Or maybe it’s just that the past eighteen months or so have featured the release of some unexpectedly wonderful films. For example, as I have noted in a couple of previous articles, who expected an absolute masterpiece like Hugo? And, as a serious silent film buff, I was absolutely blown away by The Artist. I really liked Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris too.
And I had a welcome opportunity to catch up with the recent restoration of Children of Paradise. The story, needless to say, just gets better and better with each viewing. But I was positively stunned by the visual quality of this new version. It pains me to even think this, but have we actually reached the point where only a physicist can tell the difference between digital and 35mm projection?
And less than six months into 2012, I’ve already hit a few cinematic home runs. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was an absolute delight; an Ealing comedy for the 21st century. And The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was also delightful – and poignant without ever losing its elegantly delicate lightness of touch.
I also liked John Carter. Of course, since I’d been waiting for Hollywood to visit Barsoom since I was about ten years old, I wanted to like it! (I also liked the original, uncut Heaven’s Gate over thirty years ago…)
And then there is Turn Me On, Dammit!, a film that damn well deserves a lifetime achievement Oscar for being the most hysterically funny and achingly real film that I’ve seen in about a hundred years. Don’t miss it!
So even though the Lincoln Theatre (at least in its art house incarnation) may be long gone, things are definitely looking up for this particular Dickens & movie nut. It is, after all, the year 2012; the Dickens bicentenary. A great year to be alive. And to be in love with Dickens. And could there be a better time in which to rediscover one’s love affair with the movies?