Tag Archives: film adaptation

Shouldn’t Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles Go to Television?

So Hollywood is developing a film version of Anne Rice’s “Tale of the Body Thief.”

Can we just admit that this is a bad idea? I mean, the film treatments of this series have been awful – Kirsten Dunst notwithstanding – without any real continuity, so it would just be better to reboot it.

And what better way to do that then to reboot it as a series in the vein of Game of Thrones on HBO? It’s no accident that the best adaptation of an Anne Rice novel was the miniseries of Feast of All Saints that was done about a decade ago. Television gives so much more room to dig into Rice’s dense prose.

Why has no one thought of this?

Getting the ‘Invisible Life’ Movies Right

The deal that E. Lynn Harris and Tracey Edmonds struck to make a series of feature films based on Harris' Invisible Life is historic. This is not just one feature film about gay and bisexual black gay men and black women. It's a series of films about gay and bisexual black men and black women.

It might sound hyperbolic, but there is actually no way to understate just how important these films are going to be. Gay and bisexual black men have almost always and only been portrayed in films as stereotypes and they have too infrequently appeared as the center of a film narrative (with Noah's Arc: Jumping The Broom the most prominent and most problematic, as a result). So these films represent a real opportunity to portray gay and bisexual black men and black women as the complicated, messy, three-dimensional human beings that they are.

If Edmonds and Co. are smart though they will treat the films exactly the way that Warner Bros. treated the Harry Potter films* – with a keen understanding that a world must be built and sustained over the life of the films, a world that most Americans have never seen before and will have to (at the very least) believe and appreciate, if not outright love.

Because there is real danger in these films, real danger in reinscribing harmful, narrow, representations of gay and bisexual black men, black women, and black culture. Harris was unafraid to introduce characters in melodramatic, and sometimes stereotypical, ways and then graft tremendous dimension on them in later books. As a writer juggling multiple perspectives, he understood how to balance the essential humanity of his character and the way that characters were perceived by other characters.

The filmmakers must do the same, and they have to do it earlier in the books in order for the films to work as a series**. Raymond has to be more than just self-loathing, Kyle has to be more than the life of the party, Nicole has to be more than a BAP, and, critically, Yancey and Basil have to be understood as deeply damaged people first, monsters second. The filmmakers have to resist the urge to oversimplify. The early films must be set in the 80s and the later films must reduce the bourgie name-dropping that infected the later books.

And the films have to stay true to the fact that some of the characters do horrible things to one another but for reasons that make sense to them. For instance, they have to keep in mind that John Basil Henderson emerges as the single most complex character in all of Harris' work and, perhaps, the single most fascinating and complicated portraits of a modern black male in contemporary African-American fiction.

And perhaps most importantly, the first film, Invisible Life, has to be Raymond Tyler's story, not Nicole's. Ever since Oprah inflicted JL King on America, we've been inundated with the trope of the DL black man as demon, hellbent on destroying the black community and killing black women***. That cannot happen here. The film will not succeed unless we emphathize with Raymond's inability to choose between Nicole and Quinn and understand why it is so hard for him to do so.

Anything less will be a failure and an insult to Harris, the books, and the audience.

 

*And like Warner Bros, the filmmakers should cast unknowns in all the principal roles. Though I could see an actress like Irma P. Hall readily as Mama Cee.

**When it comes to Basil and Yancey, the filmmakers should really study the way David Benioff fleshed out Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones so she felt like a real person instead of a cartoon villain as she is portrayed in the books.  In fact, the filmmakers should study everything Benioff did with GOT.

***The one exception is the cancelled-far-too-soon The DL Chronicles, in which creators Quincy LeNear and Deondray Gossett did a magnificent job exploring the many ways that sexuality is manifest in black communities.

On the Narnia Films

I suppose we should just be happy that they are even thinking of making another Narnia movie.

”We are currently discussing with both Fox and the C.S. Lewis Estate whether we will make another Narnia film,” a rep for Walden Media tells EW. Although the rep stresses “nothing is official yet,” should a new Narnia film get the greenlight, the rep says “it will be Magician’s Nephew.”

While I'm not upset about this decision – The Magician's Nephew will give us a lot of Tilda Swinton, after all – I do think it sort of confirms that Walden and Fox just aren't interested in the challenge of making Narnia work.

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Making Narnia

Hollywood has pretty much written off the Narnia movies as not very good and not really worth paying attention to. The first film was beautifully done – Georgie Henley is a magnificent Lucy Pevensie and Skandar Keynes was perfect as Edmund, and both young actors are the best thing about the series – but the filmmakers did a terrible job adapting Prince Caspian. Eliminating Caspian’s backstory may have gotten us into the story faster but destroyed our ability to give a damn.

So one hopes that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader works out spectacularly:

 

 

because the Narnia books were, followed very closely by the Wrinkle in Time books* and Walter Dean Myers books, my favorite books as a child and I’d like to see them make all the books into films.

Of course, the likelihood of the rest of the books being adapted into films depends on how well Dawn Treader does.

But, the truth is, the books only get harder to adapt at this point – the fifth book, The Horse and His Boy, is so racist it will require tremendous care to adapt it – so the studios have got to put up or shut up. They can’t be afraid of the material or the fact that the Pevensies are largely absent for the rest of the films.

If the filmmakers are smart, they’ll follow the Harry Potter film template: first couple of movies are crappy, but the studio invests in better directors and writers to ensure that the subsequent movies rock.

My guess though? They don’t have it in ’em. Dawn Treader does better than Prince Caspian, but not overly so and so they will either stop making the films or make The Silver Chair and then stop.

But I hope I’m wrong.

 

*I’m a proud heathen raised Southern Baptist/Lutheran, so I’m sure there is something interesting about books with such strong Christian themes having been – and remaining – my favorite books as a child.

…or, Maybe Not Everything Should Be A Film

Aymar Jean Christian has an intriguing piece on his site Televisual that does a really good job summing up the last year of activity since it was announced that Tyler Perry would direct a film adaptation of the seminal choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

But his central question – who should have directed For Colored Girls? – is the wrong question.

The real question is: Why would a studio think that it could impose a traditional narrative on a work like this in the first place, and think it would work?

Because, let's face it, this really isn't Tyler Perry's fault. He was set up to fail. And not just because he lacks even an ounce of talent, skill or artistry and was wrong for this work in every conceivable way imaginable. 

No, the truth is that any director* would have failed to make a great cinematic adaptation of this work by imposing a narrative on it. Because For Colored Girls' power lies in the very fact that there is no narrative. To suggest otherwise is to completely misunderstand the original work.

One has to wonder why folks so badly wanted to make For Colored Girls into a studio film. Why would you read that work, or see a good production of it and think that you need to put a traditional film narrative on it and make it into a mainstream movie? 

Is it contempt for the audience, a certain confidence that American audiences want to be spoon fed and reject difficult material or is it monumental arrogance, a fanatical belief that "we are the right studio to figure out how to turn this series of monologues into a narrative film and preserve its power" or is it that they know that black people so powerfully want to see themselves on screen that they'll plop down $10 even when they know it's some bullshit, to confirm that it's some bullshit, and thus the film is likely to be profitable?

Frankly, I think all three, with that last point probably weighing most heavily.

Some literary work should not be made into films. Or more pointedly, until studios are comfortable producing and marketing all kinds of films – films with traditional narratives, films without – they should stay away from work like For Colored Girls.

 

*Had this been done independently with a more nontraditional approach, Julie Dash and Kasi Lemmons would have been at the top of my list of people to direct this film.