Friday, June 17, 2005

East of Eden (or, Of Adaptations and Men)

I went to see a screening of "East of Eden" last night at Film Forum. I was really excited, because 1) I was getting to see it on a big screen, and 2) I loved the book and was very curious as to how it was adapted.
Kazan and I are no longer on speaking terms.
The movie, in and of itself, was merely OK. But what really upset me was the fact that the screenwriter, as well as Kazan, seemed to miss much of the point that the book was trying to make. In the film, Cal and Aron are very much black and white, good and bad. While in the book, it wasn't nearly so outwardly clear. Cal was the only character I feel like the film got right - and James Dean was amazing in the part. Jo Van Fleet, as Cal and Aron's prostitute mother, Kate, was also dead-on. Everyone else, however was all wrong, both in how they were directed, and how they performed the roles. Adam Trask in the book was never as harsh on Cal as he is in this movie. Abra was never as sickeningly sweet, and Aron was never as stupid and psychotic.
But the biggest sin the movie committed was omitting the lynchpin of the Trask household - Lee, the Chinese manservant. Once I realized that character wasn't in the movie, I was thisclose to walking out. It's because of Lee's biblical studies and studies in Hebrew that we arrive at the main theme of the book: Timshel - the Hebrew word that means "thou mayest", as in "thou mayest prevail against sin." One has a choice. The issue of choice is touched upon in the movie, but almost as an afterthought, a throwaway. Kazan was so busy creating black and white stock characters that he omitted the all-important shades of grey. Melodrama aside, I was very disappointed in how the whole thing was handled. All of the Hamilton family was dismissed, save for Will Hamilton in a tiny capacity...I think it was a mistake to not include any of Cal and Aron's early childhood....wrong, wrong, wrong.....
Maybe I'll just have to direct a remake. That's it. That's just what I'll have to do. And I wouldn't sell out any communists, either! :)


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