Stage-Bound: Feature Film Adaptations of Canadian and Québécois Drama
Barton, Bruce, Canadian Journal of Film Studies
STAGE-BOUND: FEATURE FILM ADAPTATIONS OF CANADIAN AND QUÉBÉCOIS DRAMA André Loiselle Montreal & Kingston, ON: McCill-Queen's University Press, 2003, 260 pp.
André Loiselle's Stage-Bound: Feature Film Maptations of Canadian and Québécois Drama is an ambitious, near-comprehensive, and meticulously analyzed study. Beginning with Melburn E. Turner's treatment of Hilda Mary Hooke's Here Will I Nest (play, 1938; film, 1942) and concluding with JeanPhilippe Duval's version of Alexis Martin's Matroni et moi (play, 1995; film, 1999), Loiselle offers an extensive survey of English- and French-language film adaptations of original stage plays in Canada. Through the application of a wide and eclectic array of theoretical approaches, he constructs an elaborate and persuasive (if, at times, overly restrictive) analytical frame, discovering a high degree of commonality amongst the works discussed, in terms of both preoccupation and strategy. If Loiselle's analysis occasionally strains beneath the strong determination of the book's global thesis, the results are nonetheless consistently insightful, evocative, and illuminating.
Loiselle's study is divided into chronological sections, beginning with "Stage-Bound since 1942," which lays out the structure for the rest of book. This section also provides the theoretical basis upon which Loiselle builds the comparative analysis that follows, and, despite my considerable admiration for the accomplishments of Stage-Bound, I feel compelled to note two reservations about the author's approach to his material. Relying on a century of solid, but distinctly essentialist media theory, Loiselle proposes a "fundamental distinction between drama, which centres on a confined locus dramaticus closed off from the reality that it reproduces, and film, which can capture the wide vistas of actual landscapes...." Loiselle draws on Neil Sinyard's contention that "in some ways, the two forms are antithetical: theatre is artificial lighting and illusion, and cinema is open-air and realism; theatre is verbal, cinema visual; theatre is stasis, cinema is movement." By extension, Loiselle argues, "[T]he plays best corresponding to the demands of the hybrid medium that cinematized drama constitutes are those presenting a dialectical composition that pits coercive, centripetal pressures against explosive, centrifugal forces."
The essentialist constraints of such an argument-manifested in the concept of "cinematized drama"-are clear here, and they occasionally lead Loiselle into apparent assumptions of "fundamental" properties, media characteristics, and related issues of aesthetic convention. For example, Loiselle contends,
[A]lthough Being At Home with Claude and Possible Worlds are not as conspicuous in their references to theatricality, both films are intensely dramatic in their reliance on dialogue rather than on more ostentatiously cinematic effects. Beyond the prologue in the former and a few external scenes in the last section of the latter, both films remain anchored to the stage in their focus on character and dialogue rather than on the natural environment.
Arguably, however, a "focus on character and dialogue" does not exclude (or even discourage) equal attention to "the natural environment," and neither of these conventional preferences are necessarily inherent to one or another medium. Loiselle's study is extremely valuable as an index to the specific conventions of recent Canadian dramatic works that have proven particularly conducive and/or susceptible to cinematic translation. But the grounds for the assertion of fixed and unquestionable ontological media distinctions are not to be discovered here.
A related point of complication is also to be found in the quotation cited above. Within a single sentence the terms "theatricality" and "dramatic" are presented as being virtually synonymous. And, indeed, perhaps in pursuit of the relative degree of signifying stability afforded by cinematic texts (the analysis of which Loiselle navigates with agility), a large proportion of the author's references to original stage works are textual rather than being based on performances. …