Saturday, August 02, 2008

Brideshead Eviscerated

How dare they.

No, I mean really, how DARE they?! Imagine if someone did a new adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and it ended up savagely racist? That's what they've done here. A profoundly Catholic novel, in this "adaptation", Brideshead Revisited is viciously anti-Catholic. They turned a movie about God and the soul, into a lurid love triangle between a homosexual, his sister and a hapless hunk. It's lame. It's bad.

I will have much more to say about why I think this happened, and what the failings of the movie are even setting aside it's gutting of its source material's core themes. But I wanted to put this out there fast now, so that faithful fans of the novel like me who might be planning on spending $12.00 a piece to see the movie this weekend, should stay home. The filmmakers here have done a hatchet job on this book and their effort deserves outrage and not any kind of box-office rewards.

I'm going to Mass to pray for them.


Okay, I'm back now and want to flesh out my initial warning off of Julian Jarrold's new adaptation of Brideshead Revisited

Where to start? Hmmmm.... How about here.

(from the London Telegraph, 7/19/2008)

But now a new film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited will out Sebastian Flyte as a homosexual and even feature a gay kiss between him and Charles.

In one controversial scene in the new £10 million film, which has its world premiere in New York on Tuesday, a love struck Sebastian attempts to kiss Charles on the mouth before his amorous advances are resisted.

The scene has been welcomed by some gay rights campaigners who have already dubbed the film “the most overtly” gay Brideshead ever...

Andrew Davies, the Bafta winning dramatist who co-wrote the film’s script said: “I think it will probably upset the purists.

“But one thing we wanted to make clear was that Sebastian was gay and that Charles although terribly fond of him is heading in another direction sexually."

... The film’s director, Julian Jarrold however admitted that things weren’t so clear cut in the book.

“There is a level of ambiguity in the relationship between Charles and Sebastian in the book. Sebastian needs and wants Charles but it is veiled...

"Veiled?" Only if you are an idiot, or willfully imposing an agenda on the text. The nature of the relationship between Charles and Sebastian is quite thoroughly discussed in the book. And Sebastian is repeatedly set off from the group Evelyn Waugh dubs "the sodomites" who are led by Antony Blanche - who in the book is THE homosexual in the story AND whose role in the story is to articulate the point-of-view of well, Satan. The key discussion of the relationship between Charles and Sebastian comes through the analysis of the Italian mistress, Kara. She speaks of "these romantic male friendships that you British have," which occur in youth and are a precursor for adult love. Her warning about the relationship has to do with the fact that chumming around getting sloshed and being feckless with your buddies is something children do, and that growing up will mean letting the idyllic, wistful summers of childhood go. And she thinks Sebastian is going to struggle to accept adulthood.

AND THIS is what Brideshead Revisited is about. The invitation of grace to "grow-up" and assume responsibility for our lives (which invitation, Dostoevsky refers to in his Brothers Karamazov in his words (paraphrase) "The greatest temptation to human nature is to give over one's responsibility for one's own life.") Sebastian isn't a drunk because he wants to be gay and the Church has filled him with guilt about it. He is drunk because he doesn't want to accept the limits and urgency and intensity of adult Christianity.

Good grief!

The ethical question that is here to be discussed is this: In adapting someone else's work, do you owe any fealty at all to the original author's intentions? Would it be a problem, for example, to do a Christian Mein Kempf, you know, and actually make it a lovely, inspirational piece about the power of the human spirit? Do I, as a writer, have a right to take something that has come out of someone else's brain and heart, and using it's name for notoriety and marketing, gut out its heart?

Obviously, it is one thing to violate source material because you are too stupid to understand the heart that you are gutting. This diminishes moral culpability, although it seems to me you could still end up in hell for having the hubris not to step aside when a task is so far above your skills and experience. (I would call this obama-ishness.) It is quite another problem morally, to hate the heart you are about to gut, and then willfully subvert it.

In the case of this new version of Brideshead both of the above are coming into play to render the project a mess. The task was above the intelligence, insight and skills of the adapters, AND they hate what the book is really about: "that Catholic thing."

I could cite probably twenty examples of the film's anti-Catholicism. But let me just use one of the most egregious. In the book, the Flyte family basically opposes Julia's engagement to Rex. In fact, the catchesis of the moral pygmy Rex Motram, who as a purely materialist capitalist is in Julia's words, "half a man", takes up the whole mid-point of the book. The family is seriously worried about Rex's lack of "spiritual curiosity," but Lady Marchmain respects her daughter's freedom too much to interfere in her daughter's marriage. Then, when it is discovered that Rex had been previously married and divorced, the Flyte family vigorously opposes the marriage and eventually Julia is cut off for leaving her faith to marry a divorced man.

In the movie, when Charles asks Julia why she married Rex she basically says that her mother forced her to do it because Rex was a rich Catholic.

Ya see what I mean?

I have to be frank and say that it is difficult for me to analyze the aesthetic flaws in this new movie. I was so distracted during the screening by the way that every scene in the movie had the settings from the book, but with a twisted heart, that I had to force myself to focus on the movie as movie. After the first fifteen minutes when it was clear that Jarrold and writer Davies were going to tell a completely different story than what was in Waugh's novel, I started saying to myself, "Okay, ignore what you know from the book and just see what they are doing here."

But it was nearly a futile enterprise. I really know and am in awe of this book much too much to completely separate myself. So, I did bring a friend of mine who is an astute and highly sought after Hollywood script doctor. She hadn't read the novel, and I wanted her there to help me just look at the movie for itself. And she said, 'I would not ever revisit this Brideshead."

My friend's main notes had to do with the utter lack of sympathy with which all of the characters in the film were drawn. The audience is supposed to believe that Charles Ryder has fallen in love with the Flytes. (In the book, evil Antony warns Charles to be careful of the Flyte "charm" - which for Waugh is a code word for the sacramental sensibility of "matter is good and delightful" and also "frank seeing life in the face and naming it truthfully" which is predicable of the Flytes who are Roman Catholics, albeit tortured ones.) In the movie, the Flytes have no charm at all. Sebastian is flamingly effeminate, narcissistic and contradictory. Julia is reduced here to just a babe, and a mean one. Cordelia has only two or three lines in the movie. Bridey is a blinking-eyed, officious idiot. And Lady Marchmain is a one-note, bitter fundamentalist who is intent on destroying her children's lives by saving their souls, and then wonders in her last days, "Why do they hate me?"

There is no "charm" in any of the characters. It's been stripped right out in the filmmakers' efforts to unmask the Flytes as victims of the ravaging effects of religious dogmatism and specifically Catholicism. For a Catholic not to be offended by this piece is inscrutable. "Do you not have eyes to see?"

It's not an accident that the movie is hostile to the Church. Here are a few choice quips from the screenwriter, Andrew Davies:

I must confess that as a vicar's son, I am only too familiar with the sinuous arguments that inflict themselves on adolescent Christians...

On the one hand, you have Charles, the outsider, desperately cramming on the laws and customs of these privileged peacocks, in the vain hope of acceptance. On the other, you have Sebastian and Julia, experts in the intricacies of their own caste systems, choking on their own religious guilt.

It gets so bad that you want to scream at them to run and never look back.

With this in mind, the role of Charles Ryder leapt out at me. Here is a young man on a thoroughly modern journey of self-discovery that embraces tolerance of the spiritual with a more contemporary, individualistic search for meaning in this life.

...Contrary to some reports, God is not the villain of our adaptation. The villain is man-made theology; the emotional and moral contortions forced on to individuals by their adherence to a particular set of codes and practices. Inevitably, as in Waugh's novel, the film debates the merits and demerits of such belief systems in people's lives.

As for the sex, I've always believed there's a visceral relationship between a yearning for spiritual bliss and sexual ecstasy. Look no further than Bernini's The Ecstasy of St Teresa. Like laughing and crying, sex and religion are twins. The film will not shy away from that. (More of the interview here)

Here's the writer further revealing his anti-Christian bias in press for his earlier film, the highly panned, anti-Christian hit piece Driving Lessons:

"My [vicar] father was an intelligent and articulate advocate for old-fashioned notions of kindness and liberalism, but in the end I just did not feel that loving him was a justification for believing in a whole theocratic system. Religion in certain circles has become increasingly exclusive and aggressive. Fundamentalist attitudes pervade, and that, in its most extreme form, means you can kill anybody you want to because they’re an unbeliever." (Jeremy Brock interviewed by Sheila Johnson in the [London] Telegraph.)

At a Sept. 2006 Los Angeles screening, Jeremy Brock explained that "if you do the Evangelical thing to that extent, you’ll invite chaos."

The guys a fire-breathing Christian-hater. What a shock that his Brideshead gets us so wrong. The only question is, why would producers choose a writer who so completely despises the core themes of the source material to adapt them for the screen?

I dunno. I think it is probably more evidence for Satanic interference in human affairs. Just doesn't make any sense from any purely human reasoning standpoint.

Another objection to the piece is how desperately clunky it is. Especially the dialogue. And this is particularly egregious because the dialogue in the source material by Waugh is so fabulously elegant. Why would you depart from it? As a screenwriter, I would consider the dialogue in Brideshead as an embarrassment of riches. Writer Davies refusal to use Waugh's words in scene after scene is also revealing of his ideological agenda. He can't use Waugh's dialogue, can he? Because he doesn't agree with what Waugh wants to say. So, in scene after scene he substitutes his own on the nose, agenda-driven hackiness, without the subtlety, magic and layeredness that makes Waugh's work so wonderful.

Also terribly clunky is the structure. Starts at the middle. Moves to the end. Juts back to the beginning and then skips through time madly trying to fit in set pieces. It had clearly been edited to death trying to create some kind of pacing, but alas. No suspense. Barely coherent story.

Just bleckkkkkkk. Bad, bad job, screenwriter. Offensively, bad.

Ooops. Gotta run. Will continue this later.....

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