Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Fitzgerald and Hemingway on Film: A Critical Study of the Adaptations, 1924-2013

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Fitzgerald and Hemingway on Film: A Critical Study of the Adaptations, 1924-2013

Article excerpt

Fitzgerald and Hemingway on Film: A Critical Study of the Adaptations, 1924-2013. By Candace Ursula Grissom. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2014. 252 pp. $40.00.

Candace Grissoms Preface to her detailed study of the films adapted from the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway explains her critical stance and her "systematic method of film adaptation criticism"(2). She focuses on the image of the ouroboros, a dragon-like creature that swallows its own tail, to illustrate that authors both profit from and are harmed by their celebrity status: "Like the ouroboros, both Fitzgerald and Hemingway's careers moved in an endless circle, nourished by the cult of celebrity during their early years, but destroyed by it once the authors became famous and were forced to work within the confines of personas that live on today as self-perpetuating legends" (1). She posits that the film adaptations of their works follow this circle as well, incorporating their celebrity lives along with their texts.

To evaluate the two dozen films, Grissom defines the best films as "cohesive cinema" containing a "consistent artistic vision" that produces a "harmonious ... adaptation of the original printed work" (2). She derives criteria for "cohesive cinema" from six broad questions, the basis of which is "thematic consistency between the original author and the source text as well as the filmmaker and the adaptation" (2). In her analysis, Grissom refers frequently to adaptations that adhere closely to the original text ("conversion"); that alter texts slightly ("interpretation"); or that change texts markedly ("revision"), though each of these approaches is found in successful and unsuccessful films (2-7).

In her analysis, Grissom provides a wealth of information for film aficionados with two chapters on Fitzgeralds films and two chapters on Hemingway's, both grouped chronologically. Grissom examines directors' decisions to adhere or depart from the authors' texts, authors' collaboration, back stories of actors chosen and rejected for parts and their suitability for their roles, and screenwriters' challenges (such as the censorship imposed by the Hays Code (20)). Scholars of the authors' biographies and original texts may take issue with some of Grissoms conclusions. For example, she mentions that an early film of The Great Gatsby (1949) avoids censorship because it doesn't mention Jordan Baker's "sexual liaison with Nick, which is detailed in Fitzgerald's original novel" (24). And Grissom praises Baz Luhrman's film of The Great Gatsby (2013) as "genius" for beginning with Nick Carraway's writing his account at the suggestion of his psychiatrist in the "Perkins Sanitarium" because "any audience member ... knows that both the author and his wife Zelda were under psychiatric care for significant portions of their lives" (92). She further defines this kind of therapy as "the modern-day equivalent of Catholic confession, and Fitzgerald was Catholic," thus in her opinion making Nick in the Luhrman treatment a "trustworthy" character (92).

In her chapters on Fitzgerald, Grissom explains that films from 1924-1962 produced largely "revisionist" adaptations of short stories "The Camel's Back" in the film Conductor 1492 (1924) and "Babylon Revisited" in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) in which directors changed the original texts markedly, introducing plot twists and characters not in the original works. Two novel adaptations include an "interpretative" film of The Great Gatsby (1949), "which fails ... because it strays from his central message"(25); and a faithful "conversionist" adaptation of Tender is the Night (1962), which Grissom praises as "one of the most completely consistent artistic visions in the Fitzgerald film canon"(34).

The 1974-2013 Fitzgerald adaptations include two different versions of The Great Gatsby (1974 and 2013); successful interpretations of The Last Tycoon (1976) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); and the failed revisionist version of The Beautiful and the Damned (2008). …

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