So I've watched and blogged about all the Best Picture Oscar winning films and all the Best Actress Oscar winning films, and now it's time to tackle a different category. But this time I'm going to do something a little different. Before watching each winning film (in order, regardless of whether I've seen it before or not) I'm going to read (or watch) the original story - whether it's in the form of a book, a play, another film, or something else - that its screenplay was adapted from. (If it's a play, I'll read the script, if it's another film I'll watch it.) This blog will contain my thoughts on the quality of the adaptation. That way, even for the films I've already blogged about before, I'll be approaching them from a different angle, and hopefully have some fresh insight.
In my opinion, a great adaptation should capture the spirit of the original story without feeling confined by it. My favorite film adaptation of a book is the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, which is actually a TV miniseries and thus ineligible for Oscars (although interestingly, the 1995 winner of this award was also based on a Jane Austen novel). Many, if not most, of the lines in this adaptation are taken directly from the book, and it's very apparent that the people who made it were devoted to the original. But my favorite thing about it is how consistent the parts that aren't in the book are with the story. There's like one sentence in the book after Elizabeth turns Mr. Collins down about how Mrs. Bennet thought Mary might be into him; the miniseries leads us to the same conclusion by showing her light up every time he's in the room. What's so great about this is the main story can progress in the foreground while Mary's unrequited love is portrayed in the background, which is something that's very hard to do in a book without messing up the pacing. That's what a good adapted screenplay should do: use the aspects of storytelling that the medium of film is best suited for to capture the original story in a new way. I know it's much easier to adapt a novel into a 6-hour miniseries than into a 2-hour feature film (or a 4-hour film, as the case may be...looking at you, Gone with the Wind, for the third time), so I'm going to try not to hold these movies to the same standards as Pride and Prejudice, although that might be difficult for me. So I apologize in advance if some of these posts turn into angry rants. Sometimes I have trouble restraining myself. Don't get me started on the Harry Potter movies, whatever you do.
The Academy has gone back and forth on whether or not to separate original screenplays from adaptations, especially in its early years. It appears that most of the winners when there was only one category were adapted, so I'm going to count those, and just skip over the few years when there was only an original winner. I haven't gone through and made sure I could track down all the winning films or original stories, so I might have to skip a few more. This feels impure, but this project is going to take long enough as it is without frantically trying to track down lost material.
The first winner of this award was Benjamin Glazer for 7th Heaven, adapted from the play of the same name by Austin Strong, which was one of the three films Janet Gaynor won Best Actress for. So stay tuned for that, and if you're curious, you can find my thoughts about Gaynor's performance here. Thanks for reading!