Looking at Film
Novel to Screen
Turning a novel into a screenplay is not as easy as pulling dialogue from the pages of a book. Ask students to consider an example: Open to a page from any novel. How much of the text is dialogue? How much is narration? If you were to cut out the narration from the page in front of you, what would be lost? What does the narration show you about character, setting, and action that dialogue alone cannot?
In the writing of Tolstoy, we come to know his characters best not through what they say, but through what is said about them in the narration. What happens when the narrator disappears? Dialogue cannot do it all; the director, cast, and crew must use all the elements of film to transfer to the screen what a narrator provides on the page: setting, tone, point of view, and unspoken thoughts and emotions.
Study the adaptation process through the three selections in the Novel to Screen section, discussed below. Copy and distribute the text from the novel and then the corresponding script. Finally, view the video clip from the film.
Point of View: The Ball
Novel: Whose point of view does the narrator give? (Kitty's) What does she observe? Why do you think Tolstoy wrote the scene this way?
Script: Compare the script with the novel. What dialogue has been added or cut? Identify content in the script (dialogue or direction) that comes from the narration in the novel.
Film: Film: Describe the camera work in this scene. How did the director show us the ball from Kitty's point of view? How do the characters on the screen communicate the thoughts and feelings found in Tolstoy's narration? What parts of the narration did not make it from text to screen?
Action and Gesture: The Race
Novel: How does Tolstoy show you what Anna and Karenin are feeling during the race?
Script: What pieces of dialogue and direction come directly from the novel? Was any dialogue cut?
Film: What do the actors communicate to the viewer and to each other through gestures and expressions? Are their actions and reactions drawn from the novel? Cite specific lines.
Editing: In the novel, the steeplechase is narrated in two separate chapters: one from the spectator's point of view in the stands (Part II, Chapter 28), the other from Vronsky's point of view on the back of the horse (Part II, Chapter 25). How did the filmmakers fold the two perspectives together? Was it done effectively?
Thoughts and Feelings: Levin's Doubts
Novel: How does Levin's thinking lead him to doubt Kitty's love for him?
Script: What changes has the screenwriter made in these scenes? Why do you think he has Levin discussing freedom and marriage with Stiva? How are Levin's thoughts translated onto the screen? Find lines of dialogue in the script that are drawn from narration in the novel.
Film: What is the effect of the "drunken camera work" in the club scene? Does Douglas Henshall, who plays Levin, manage to convey the character's feelings of confusion, doubt, and reassurance?
In the 1935 version of Anna Karenina starring Greta Garbo, the screenwriters dropped the Levin and Kitty story line, choosing to focus on Anna's story alone (Levin appears only briefly as a minor character). The movie's running time may not have been the only consideration: the connection between the two plot lines has not always been well understood or applauded.
After the novel's publication, Tolstoy defended his use of a double story line: "Your opinion about Anna Karenina seems wrong to me," he wrote to a critical friend, S.A. Rachinsky. "On the contrary, I take pride in the architectonics. . . . The unity in the structure is created not by action and not by relationships between the characters, but by an inner continuity."
The Masterpiece Theatre version leaves the two story lines intact. Analyze this adaptation defending or critiquing the double-plot structure. How do the two story lines relate to one another? Where is the "inner continuity"? Does the juggling of story lines work, or do the story lines seem as if they're from separate movies? To help you form an opinion, imagine the film without the Levin and Kitty story, or rent the 1935 version and compare the two. (To help your students write and evaluate your essays, you may wish to distribute the instructional rubric.)
Technique and Technical Effects
Replay a scene from the film that is at least two minutes in length, or assign students to view the film clips in the Novel to Screen section.
Lighting: Observe carefully how the shots in the selection are lit. What is the source of the light? How bright or intense is it? Does the lighting highlight or obscure the set and costume details and the actors' expressions? How does the lighting contribute to the mood or spirit of the scene?
Soundtrack: Close your eyes and listen to the film clip as it plays. What do you hear besides dialogue? As you listen, draw a line graph tracking the volume or intensity of the music and sound effects.
Look at your graph. What can you guess about the action or emotions in the scene?
Now turn off the sound and view silent film. Make another line graph showing the intensity of the action based on visual cues. Compare the two graphs and watch the scene with the sound turned back on. What do the sound and music contribute to the effect of the scene? Do the sound track and the filmed action work well together? What can a filmmaker use sound and music to do?
Camera work: What do you notice about the camera work in the clip? What different angles are used (the position of the camera relative to the subject)? Where are the shots focused (foreground, background)? How tight are the shots (wide angle, close-up)? Is the camera steady or in motion? Examine two shots in detail. Why do you think the director and cinematographer made the choices they did? How can camera work help tell a story?
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