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About this book

Since the 1990s, the expropriation of canonical works of cinema has been a fundamental dimension of art-film exploration. Rainer Werner Fassbinder provides an early model of open adaptation of film classics, followed ever more boldly by the Coen Brothers, Chantal Akerman, Alex Carax, Todd Haynes, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Baz Luhrmann, and Olivier Assayas. This book devotes chapters to each of these directors to examine how their films redeploy landmark precursors such as City Lights (1931), Citizen Kane (1941), Rome Open City (1945), All About Eve (1950), and Vertigo (1958) in order to probe our psychological, philosophical, and historical situations in a postmodern société du spectacle. In broadly diverse ways, each of these directors complicates received notions of the past and its representation, while probing the transformative media evolution and dislocation of the present, in film art and in society.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
This book examines a subset of art films and filmmakers with an ambivalent relationship to the past and to the history of theatrical cinema. Historically, definitions of the art film depend on a basket of characteristics such as deviation from the mainstream through formal experimentation, provocative content, and “foreignness” with respect to local conditions and expectations and through insistence on authorship. The cinephile audiences of art cinema additionally assure viewer awareness of precursor texts, such that art-film auteurs are enabled to activate intertextual reference as part of the fundamental rhetoric of their films. This is especially true in the era of postmodernism, with an increased circulation of texts because of new technologies and changes in the media environment. Collectively these circumstances lead to a strain of the art film, sometimes elegiac in tone, that memorializes the past as it defines the present, with varying degrees of anxiety about the future.
William H. Mooney

Adapting a Classic Film

Frontmatter

Chapter 2. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk: Recreation of All That Heaven Allows as Angst essen Seele auf (1974)

Abstract
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s All that Heaven Allows (1955) as Angst Essen Seele Auf (Fear Eats the Soul, 1974) updates Douglas Sirk’s story of a middle-class widow who falls in love with her gardener, translating it to urban Munich in the 1970s. Influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague and avant-garde theater, in 1971 Fassbinder developed a new directness of style in response to Sirk’s melodramas. In Fear Eats the Soul, he specifically employs Sirk’s film as a template for illuminating the relationship between a Gastarbeiter and a working-class German woman. In doing so, he provides a prime example of auteurist film-to-film adaptation, opening the way to the more radical recycling of canonical film texts by subsequent art film directors in the postmodern era.
William H. Mooney

Chapter 3. Far from Heaven (2002)

Abstract
In Far From Heaven (2002), Todd Haynes adapts Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955) through a retrospective lens that fully takes into account Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul (1974). Transforming the narrative of Cary Scott and Ron Kirby, Haynes splits the character played by Rock Hudson into two, reflecting on the one hand Fassbinder’s interest in otherness based on ethnicity and on the other the 1980s revelation of Hudson’s closeted homosexuality. Haynes’s imitation of Sirk’s style creates a sense of the uncanny, altering cultural memories that seemed definitively fixed. In a way typical of art film adaptation in the postmodern era, Haynes differentiates himself from Fassbinder by reactivating Sirk’s canonical work as an essential part of the rhetoric of Far From Heaven.
William H. Mooney

Film(s) to Film

Frontmatter

Chapter 4. Les amants du Pont-Neuf (1991) and City Lights (1931)

Abstract
Leos Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge updates Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. The physicality of his star and alter ego, Denis Lavant, along with admiration for the imagery of silent cinema, turned Carax’s attention to Chaplin’s Tramp. Lovers, like City Lights, is an allegory of class difference, recast because of the sixty-year temporal distance between the films. Cynicism replaces Chaplin’s naïve embrace of human goodness, and the media environment of human society has greatly changed. Lovers on the Bridge especially reflects the expanded range of stylistic options over the long arc of cinema history: Carax’s narrative no longer contains its characters and ideas but rather is roiled from within, moving beyond any definition of realism in the relationship among story, characters, events, and their representation.
William H. Mooney

Chapter 5. Rewriting Roma città aperta (1945) as Das Leben der Anderen (2006)

Abstract
The Nazi era and Holocaust dominate discourse about German identity, reanimated by the 1989 fall of the Wall, one reason to link The Lives of Others (2006) with Rome Open City (1945). German oppression and a spectrum of collaboration and resistance are the subjects of both films. Donnersmarck develops as his centerpiece Rossellini’s narrative of an actress who betrays her lover, and the dominant metaphor of an extended Roman family is mirrored in reverse in Lives, which emphasizes enforced isolation of characters whose lives are frozen under Stasi surveillance. While citation of Rome Open City in The Lives of Others is oblique and partial, a consistent pattern of response to Rossellini’s ideas encourages us to read Donnersmarck’s film as a rewriting of Rome Open City.
William H. Mooney

Chapter 6. From All About Eve (1950) to Clouds of Sils Maria (2014): Adapting a Classic Paradigm

Abstract
In Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), Olivier Assayas develops a film about an “aging” actress according to the paradigm set by Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950). In Sils Maria, a stage and screen star (Juliette Binoche) are cast in the play that first made her famous in her youth, though she now plays an older character, lover of her younger self. As she rehearses with her assistant (Kristen Stewart), she suffers an identity crisis that is further aggravated by a shifting media landscape in which her celluloid-based star persona is fading. Assayas’s film tracks closely its unacknowledged model, with Binoche, like Bette Davis, creating a performance that similarly explores the existential question of where an actor’s performance ends and her authentic self begins.
William H. Mooney

Book/Film/Film Multiplicities

Frontmatter

Chapter 7. Chantal Akerman, Marcel Proust, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

Abstract
Chantal Akerman’s filmmaking is often described as “opaque,” relying on long takes and confining or empty spaces to promote an existential anxiety. So she faces a particular challenge in adapting Marcel Proust’s La Prisonnière, a volume of In Search of Lost Time that is intertwined with the longer novel and equally dependent on its narrator’s voice and verbal sophistication. Ackerman’s primary strategy is to concentrate on the relationship between Marcel and Albertine, renamed Simon and Ariane, conveying their way of being through the mise en scene. To further articulate the complex relationships of Proust’s couple and her own, however, she cites Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo extensively, thus invoking the fraught relationship of Scottie with Judy/Madeline as a key to deciphering the sadomasochistic tragedy of La Captive.
William H. Mooney

Chapter 8. From Dashiell Hammett to the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990)

Abstract
The Coen brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990) builds on prior Dashiell Hammett texts, especially his novel The Glass Key, to produce a work that, while less affectively powerful than a hard-boiled detective thriller or gangster film, offers intellectual and aesthetic pleasures at least as rewarding. Hammett’s novel sets out a story of the political fixer as detective in a context of the Tammany Hall style government of cities overwhelmed by immigrant populations following the industrial revolution. From the perspective of a half century later, the Coens pastiche Hammett’s world and reverse Hollywood’s repression in two early adaptations, foregrounding ethnic and sexual conflict, as well as introducing Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) as an additional lens through which to judge their allegory of gangsters and assimilation.
William H. Mooney

Chapter 9. Citizen Kane (1941) and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013)

Abstract
Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain trilogy of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet, and Moulin Rouge! progressively reduces narrative in favor of recounting already known stories, emphasizing performance and spectacle, and deploying music to stimulate “participation.” For The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann deploys Leonardo DiCaprio’s star person—constructed from roles as a troubled youth, an idealistic lover, a con artist, and a man of mystery—as a short hand in presenting Fitzgerald’s protagonist. DiCapro especially evokes Howard Hughes from Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, which in turn references Citizen Kane. Amalgamating Jay Gatsby, directly and indirectly, with DiCaprio, Hughes, Charles Foster Kane, William Randolph Hearst, and Orsen Welles clarifies and mythologizes the already simplified outline of Fitzgerald’s hero for Luhrmann’s operatic and ritualistic mode of cinema.
William H. Mooney

Backmatter

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