Adapting ‘Eat, Pray, Love’: Erasing the Moral Complexity of Individual Philanthropy

Last summer I decided to indulge in some non-academic reading after a year of intense graduate film study. The endeavor involved several Joyce Carol Oates tomes, the Hunger Games series, and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. While all of these books were indeed escapist indulgences, and more than one had by then already been adapted for the screen, I found myself particularly engaged in a complex web of attraction/repulsion with EPL. While I appreciated the book’s frank portrayal of its protagonist’s struggles with depression, I also had serious problems with it.

I’m not the first to read Ms. Gilbert’s book from a critically detached perspective. Indeed, as I read, I became increasingly flippant and dismissive of Ms. Gilbert and what I saw as a lack of self-awareness on her part in writing a book about self-discovery through a kind of touristic imperialism, establishing a binary that posits non-America as an array of exotic locales rife with “authenticity” in which a white, privileged, upper-class, slender, heterosexual person can “find herself.” Many critics have already pointed out the same issues—inherent to her colonialist, globetrotting, and rather essentializing “journey.” Numerous articles, blog posts, and online forums have delved into these issues admirably, and Wendy Molyneux’s comedic parody “Brag, Build, Banana” in The Rumpus’s “Funny Women” series manages to embody them hilariously. Sandip Roy’s Salon article “The New Colonialism of Eat, Pray, Love” also does an excellent job of highlighting some of the most overt and problematic issues and contradictions in the film. Continue reading “Adapting ‘Eat, Pray, Love’: Erasing the Moral Complexity of Individual Philanthropy” »

The Crank: ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’ Program Notes (2/21/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.

As the 1970s came to a close, Robert Altman, the critics’ darling and occasional box office success, found himself on rocky ground. Fox had refused to give his films A Perfect Couple (1979) and Health (1980) legitimate theatrical releases, while Altman’s other work, including Popeye (1980), had not fared well critically. Altman left Hollywood in disgust, saying, “They’re in the bottom-line, money-making business and they cannot endure. I’m going to be working, profitably and productively, when they’re no longer working.”

In the following years, Altman found work directing in the theater and occasionally filming the stage plays for television. During this time, he discovered Ed Graczyk’s play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in an Off-Off-Broadway performance and directed it himself on Broadway. Although the show closed early and was critically panned, entertainment conglomerate Viacom left open its offer to finance filming it to use as original content for its cable television subsidiary Showtime. Unlike his other stage adaptations, Altman used his $800,000 budget to create a dynamic feature film, rather than recording a live performance. Altman shot the film in 19 days on Super 16mm film for an inexpensive blow-up to a 35mm print. Subverting the original intention to create television content, Altman submitted the film to various festivals; it won the Chicago International Film Festival’s top prize, which helped eventually secure limited theatrical distribution. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’ Program Notes (2/21/13 Screening)” »

Box Office Race: Refiguring Asian Villains in ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

The Mandarin, ‘Iron Man 3’

Spoiler alert: This post details plot twists for both movies

Two of this summer’s studio tentpoles, Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, feature dramatic twists concerning their central villains. In particular, the trailers for both of these films served to misdirect audiences about the identities of Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin and Benedict Cumberbatch’s mysterious John Harrison. Marvel’s trailers suggested that the Mandarin was the film’s primary villain, while Paramount tricked audiences about who exactly was gunning down the USS Enterprise. But most interestingly, the spoiler-phobic marketing and discourse surrounding both of these movies negotiated issues of race.

Historically, the Mandarin, possibly Iron Man’s most formidable enemy, has perpetuated the stereotype of the inscrutable, maniacal Fu Manchu. The marketing of the latest Star Trek film carefully concealed the true identify of Cumberbatch’s character: Khan Noonien Singh, first seen in the franchise’s original TV series but best known from 1982’s Star Trek II. Notoriously, Ricardo Montalban played the character of Indian descent, suggesting the interchangeability of minority actors across race and ethnicity. The filmmakers of Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness rewrote these characters, perhaps out of a fear of offending Asian or liberally-minded viewers, but, interestingly, the two films take radically different approaches. While Iron Man 3 critically foregrounds the very issue of Othering inherent in the Mandarin, Star Trek Into Darkness avoids the issue altogether by employing a white actor. Continue reading “Box Office Race: Refiguring Asian Villains in ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’” »

Interview: Anne Marie Murphy, President of Eastern Script Inc.

Anne Marie Murphy is the president and founder of Eastern Script Inc., an Ontario-based company that has been active in the business of script clearance and research for 20 years. She’s also a graduate of UCLA’s master’s program in critical studies (now known as cinema and media studies). She first contacted me in November 2012 after she read my initial Mediascape post introducing what remains an ongoing research project of mine into the world of script clearance and research. In the months since, we have corresponded frequently, and she has graciously allowed me to present her answers to my emails here. —Michael Kmet

Michael Kmet: Your biography indicates you held a number of positions in the film industry before getting involved in script clearance. You managed theaters, worked as a film booker, and were the office manager at a production company. In addition to that work, you earned a master’s degree in cinema and media studies at UCLA. Given that diverse background, how did you get involved in script clearance?

Anne Marie Murphy: I had finished my Master’s degree at UCLA in the Critical Studies program in September 1990 and looked at and applied for various jobs that popped up. The first one that seemed a perfect match for my skills was at Marshall/Plumb Research in Burbank which was, at that time, one of only three script clearance companies that existed. The job combined reading, writing, and research—three of my strengths and interests. It also involved tight deadlines (which I like) and constantly changing project work (which I like—no routines, no getting stale from boredom). There is also a certain amount of creativity involved in coming up with names of items as varied as you can imagine—not just character names, but fictional project names for items as varied as breakfast cereals, browser software, lipsticks…you name it, I have probably had to come up with a fictional name for it that “cleared” through a long gauntlet of sources. Continue reading “Interview: Anne Marie Murphy, President of Eastern Script Inc.” »

Social Media and the Summer of Gatsby

Currently, Hollywood studios seem to be developing major literary adaptations with a single-minded strategy for maximum capital: cut the movie in half to ensure ultra-fidelity to the source. From Harry Potter to The Hobbit to The Hunger Games, studios are catering to fans by making Parts 1 and 2 (and more) of their hottest literary properties. The Great Gatsby feels fresh for a number of reasons, not least of which is its ability to fit F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short novel into one viewing period. Yet like those other films mentioned above, it is an adaptation that has been updated and marketed to the same youth demographics, whose familiarity with the novel may come primarily from a high school reading assignment.

Warner Bros.’s The Great Gatsby has become the first truly divisive movie of the summer, netting a better-than-expected $51 million in its domestic bow despite an array of heavily mixed reviews from film and literary critics. Personally, I thought this Gatsby was a great adaptation—both in its respectful evocations of the words and spirit of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and in its measured aesthetic inventions. Without wading into the murky waters of whether a Lana Del Rey song is an appropriate love theme, I think it may be more pertinent to discuss aspects of Gatsby’s marketing campaign that suggest Warner Bros. may be missing the point, encouraging audiences to similarly misinterpret director Baz Luhrmann’s approach. Continue reading “Social Media and the Summer of Gatsby” »