Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Page To Screen #1: The Outsiders, OITNB and Carrie

It wasn't on purpose that the last three books I've read have been adapted to film or television - it just worked out that way, but from this coincidence was born an idea for a new blog column. Introducing: Page To Screen, in which I discuss the sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle differences between book and film. This week, I am discussing S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and the Francis Ford Coppola adaptation; also, Netflix's revamping of Piper Kerman's 2010 memoir Orange Is The New Black and I'll also be touching on the first film version of Stephen King's Carrie, the 1976 one starring Sissy Spacek.

When S.E. Hinton wrote her debut novel The Outsiders, she was a mere 16 years old. And also, a girl. Nonetheless, she managed to create believable, relatable male characters who are solid, three-dimensional figures.

There is the introspective Ponyboy and the innocent Johnny, who just wants to be strong, but also wants to be cared for. There is the delinquent with a heart of gold, Dallas. And, of course, there is the pretty, preppy Cherry, over who the main conflict of the book sort of gets its start.

On the one hand, you have the book -- a sweet, heartbreaking read about a bunch of boys who really are better than where they came from. The movie version, on the other hand, is lacking in a lot of the impact the book has. I think part of my issue with the film is that it's missing any sufficient evidence of the intense emotion that Ponyboy, his brothers and their friends express in the book. Perhaps it's the problem that I often have with movies based on books in which a character - in this case, Ponyboy - lives mostly in his head. But I also think that the best directing of adaptations like this would allow for more depth to the characters - long moments where expressions play on the actors' faces so that we know what they're thinking, etc. I think the problem with this film is that it glosses over the things that added depth to the characters in the book. The audience briefly sees the attributes of each relationship but there isn't a lot of context, nothing is very layered, and it basically made me feel like, had I not read the book, I would have missed a lot.

Between the Netflix original series of OITNB and the novel it sprang from, there are A LOT of differences. This is one of those rare cases for me where I found the adaptation far more compelling than the memoir. Part of the problem is, I'll admit, because I kind of hated Piper Kerman (whereas I actually really liked her on-screen alter ego, Piper Chapman, even if she was occasionally still naive and bratty).

The book is...interesting. However, the show actually added much more depth to the characters, where the novel is really all about Kerman. Which is sort of disappointing, because I found her to be completely grating. Perhaps it's just the way she writes, but she goes back and forth between being really judgmental of her fellow inmates and trying to defend her judgments, sometimes claiming she doesn't feel that way anymore just before jumping back to saying something else that is further riddled with judgment. In the book, despite her white girl privilege and the fact that she's clearly not someone who has ever done time before, the other inmates welcome her with open arms and are actually much nicer to her than they are in the series. Her relationships with the people back home - her fiance, Larry, for instance - aren't piled with nearly as much drama; there is no organic bath products business with her close friend that she's trying to keep afloat from the inside. But these are small differences; it's the fleshing out of so many of the book's minor characters (and almost all of them are minor in comparison to Kerman herself, which is another reason that I find the memoir so irksome) that is the biggest difference. Pennsatucky, for example, is not nearly as much of a nutcase Jesus freak in the book, and she and Piper are actually friends. Kerman's former lesbian lover does not spend major time in prison with her, though they do meet again later in the book. There are no residual romantic feelings there, however. Too bad. There are, in fact, no sexual scenarios, no major abuses, and much less dangerously sticky situations in Kerman's memoir than in the show. The book ends with what seems like your basic, cliché, Larry & Piper living happily-ever-after finale, and we have little idea what happens to anyone, Kerman included, after her release.

Finally, I haven't finished re-watching Carrie, but I was surprised by how much I liked the book. I'm not actually someone who has read a lot of Stephen King, though what I have read has been excellent. He wrote one of my top 5 writerly advice books of all time, On Writing and I was just telling a co-worker recently how he's one of those authors I think it would be really cool to meet and be friends with. King just seems like a cool guy; I used to read his entertainment articles and, like me, he seems to enjoy movies and music almost as much as he loves books and writing.

But what I really want to do is watch all three adaptations of Carrie before I write a comparison. I already know that the 1976 film is likely the best and for me, Sissy Spacek IS Carrie. But there are things from the book that I know weren't included in the film, and I'd like to see how the other versions treated those things. So expect that write-up in the coming month.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for the next installment of Turn To You, a week from Thursday!

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