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No_Box_Chocolates

No_Box_Chocolates

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Published by dlavery

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Published by: dlavery on Apr 14, 2011
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04/14/2011

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“NoBoxofChocolates”:TheAdaptationof
ForrestGump
LikeChancetheGardenerin
BeingThere
,Forrestisthecreationofhisaudience,aNowhereManpositionedatthecenterofanhistoricaltableau,thegooeynougatattheheartofavideosampler.Ironically,thefictionalscenariowhichthat1979filmsoskillfullysatirized,inwhichamentallyincompetentmanrisestopopularacclaim,becamethepoliticalrealityof1994,theYearofGump.Thatthispicaresquetaleofanidiothasbeentakenstraight(picaroshavetraditionallybeensatiricalfigures)tellsusallweneedtoknowaboutthedeathofironyinourculture.Fromjivingparticipant,tomesmerizedspectator,toreconfiguredpixels:isthatwhat'smeantby"GumpHappens"?AllisonGraham,“ContractingAmerica:TheGumpificationofHistory”[T]hemoviesattheirbesthaveremindedus,forcefully,thatthingsshouldbeotherwise—whichiswhyadvertisingurgesustolaughthemoff,to“seerightthroughthem.”Thosemovieshavetobesuppressed,revised,theirpowerforgotten,becausetheydon’tjustbedazzleuswithablurred,promissoryvisionofutopiabutactuallyenableustosee,throughthem,therealworkingsoftheverysystemthatproducedthem,andthatisnowdegradingthemandus.MarkCrispinMiller,“HollywoodtheAd”Everyonewhohasgonetoseeafilmbasedonafavoritebook(andfilmproducerscountonthepublic’sdesiretodopreciselythat,sinceadaptationofabestsellervirtuallyguaranteesasizeableseedaudience)hasplayedthegameofcomparisonandcontrast.Walkingtothecar,sittingintherestaurantorthebar,pillowtalking,wenotehowthecharactershavechanged(sometimesinpersonality,
 
The Collected Works of David Lavery 2
ofteninappearance),howtheplothaschanged(sometimesresultinginahappyending),howthesetting,orthetheme,orthetonehasbeenaltered,forgoodorforill.Wearedisappointedwhenourfavoriteminorsceneisnowheretobefoundin,say,StevenSpielberg’sadaptationofAliceWalker’s
ColorPurple
(1985).BrianDePalma’s
BonfiresoftheVanities
(1990)transformsallthecharactersofTomWolfe’snovelintorankcaricatures,forreasonsthatarebeyondourken.Weareconfused,too,bySidneyPollack’sintentionsinalteringJohnGrisham’sendingto
TheFirm
(1993)
.
WefindClintEastwood’sRobertKincaidnotquiteaswehadimaginedRobertJamesWaller’s
NationalGeographic
photographerwhilepage‐turningourwaythrough
TheBridgesofMadisonCounty
(1995)
.
WeobservehowDemiMoore’s
ScarletLetter
(1995)differsslightlyfromHawthorne’s.(WhenaskedwhatpeoplewouldthinkoftheveryunHawthornishhappyendingofRolandJaffe’sfilm,shemakeslightoftheunfaithfulnessbecause,shesays,noonehasreadthebookanyway.)WeawaitwithsometrepidationJaffe’sin‐progressversionof
Moby‐Dick.
Sometimes,however,wenoteevenstrangertransformationsofbookintofilm—changeswhichtakeusintotherealmofnarrativeontology.Becausewehavereadthecopiouslyfootnotedneurologicalcasebookwhichservedasitsinspiration,wearestartledtoreadinthecreditsofPennyMarshall’s
Awakenings
(1990)thatthebookisbased“onthe
novel 
byOliverSacks.”WearesurprisedwhenthecreditsofJimSheridan’s
MyLeftFoot
(1989)again
informusthatitisanadaptationofa“novel,”thistimeChristyBrown’s
autobiography 
MyLeftFoot 
,andevenmoreshockedwhen,asthatverybook’snon‐fiction“strangetext”comesalivein
 
The Collected Works of David Lavery 3
mindscreen,readonscreenbyBrown’snurse,itcontainssceneswhichnotonlyarenotincludedinthebookbutwhichtotallyaltersomeofitscentralthemes.
1
Themetamorphosisof
ForrestGump
thenovelinto
ForrestGump
thefilm(1994)doesnotquitebelongwiththelattergroup:itrequiresnometaphysicstounderstand.Butitdoesnotquitefitwiththefirstgroupeither.ForthequestionsraisedbythisfilminwhichcommentatorsasdifferentasPresidentialcandidatePatrickJ.Buchanan[ontheright](whosawitasatestamenttoRepublicanvaluesandvirtues)andMichaelJ.Lerner[ontheleft](whobelievesitspeakstotherealneedfora“politicsofmeaning”)havefoundgenuineculturalimport,arecertainlynottheusual,colloquialleaving‐the‐movie‐theatreones.Theyareneverthelesscentraltonotonlyanunderstandingofthefilm’stremendouspopularitybuttoanyassessmentofthecurrentstate‐of‐the‐artandgorighttotheheartofourpostmodernera.InaninterviewbroadcastonCNN,novelistWinstonGroomhasinsistedthathewasnottroubledbythechangesscreenwriterEricRothmadeinadaptingthebookof
ForrestGump
forthescreen.Hewouldnothesitate,heinsisted,tohaveanotherofhisbooksadaptedbyHollywood.Certainlysomeofthechangesareunderstandableandlogical.Obviouslyitwasnotpossible,withTomHankscastinthecentralrole,tomakeForrestGump6ft,6inchestallandweighing245pounds.Andthelogicof
 
1
See my “The Strange Text of 
My Left Foot” 
in
Literature/FilmQuarterly.
 

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