Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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Cinema '62: Best Adapted Screenplay

All five Best Picture nominees were adaptations, yet the Adapted Screenplay category is a better side-by-side match with Best Director. The only exception is Divorce Italian Style, an original screenplay, which we'll discuss later. Otherwise, all the best-directed films also appear to be among the best-written, with Lolita in the fifth slot.

"How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?" That was the original ad copy, and it was a fair question - this was, after all, the controversial novel about a middle-aged pedophile defending his lust for his stepdaughter. The discerning reader can see Nabakov's disdain for his subject, as well as his distress at the elements that enable their exploitation. And he does it all with a dark, sly sense of humor - Stanley Kubrick proved a perfect match for that sensibility.

Anyway, the nominees:

David and Lisa
Eleanor Perry
from Lisa and David by Theodore Isaac Rubin
first and only nomination

Considering what it has to balance, between Lisa's rhyming schtick, therapy sessions, and David's own arc of independence and baby-steps mental wellness, it's amazing that this has aged as well as it has. It's concerned with the people as much as it is the clinical, relying more on empathy than the shock of modern psychiatry for its drama.

Lawrence of Arabia
Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson
from Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
Bolt's first of three nominations, past two-time winner Wilson's fifth and final nomination; BAFTA Awards winner for Best British Screenplay

The first act is one mission, the battle of Aqaba, culminating in Lawrence's triumphant return from it; the second act is the fallout, as Lawrence cultivates a cult of personality while the British use his successes to their empirical advantage. Oh, how these individuals with their own agendas shape the way of the world! For me, it's the gold standard of writing: for epics, for biopics, for entertainment, for character study. Memorable dialogue, dynamic characters, beautifully crafted storytelling.

Vladimir Nabokov
from his novel
first and only nomination

Nabokov may be the sole credited author, but Kubrick and James B. Harris did some liberal uncredited rewriting, especially when it came to the continued presence of Clare Quilty. The essence is the same, and it's marvelous that everyone involved knows that this is not a love story, not an erotic drama of forbidden desire, but a social satire where deliberately clueless adults repeatedly throw their children to the wolves in their attempts to be "with it" socially and intellectually - or, indeed, in their own confidence that they know a trustworthy person when they see one, and isn't a degree or celebrity the same thing? 

The Miracle Worker
William Gibson
from his play and teleplay, adapted from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
first and only nomination; WGA Awards nominee for Best Written American Drama

A marvelous work of adaptation. While the play is more from the Keller family's POV, the film is about Annie and Helen together - it is in the film that we get the marvelous day-to-day lessons, Annie repeatedly teaching Helen "it has a name," a new Creation story that opens the world to Helen and gives the audience a new appreciation for the world around them. A new moment that, for me, is the whole movie.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Horton Foote
from the novel by Harper Lee
first of three nominations; WGA Awards winner for Best Written American Drama

Pretty straightforward adaptation of the novel. I admire the way it delineates important information through casual dialogue - there's no exposition, per se, about who Boo Radley is or what's going on with Tom Robinson, but just, you know, conversation. Gradually lets the story of Atticus Finch take over. Great job economizing action and cast. 


The vote went to Horton Foote's screenplay for To Kill a MockingbirdMy vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Score: FreudLawrence of Arabia, Mutiny on the Bounty, Taras Bulba, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

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