Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Love, Friendship, and Eavesdropping

What I personally found most interesting about this film was that it was an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, specifically how the story has evolved into an entirely new entity as it shifts mediums. As an English major/Film minor, the adaptation of books to movies is something that I love, as it blends these two disciplines. I think film adaptations are so interesting because although the book serves as a foundation, the director of the film is allowed their own creative freedom and is not restricted to the words on the page alone. Directors clearly choose which aspects of the novel they want to focus on in the film; what can be expanded upon and what can be cut while still maintaining a resemblance to the original novel. An interesting point that director Stillman made was that Lady Susan was an epistolary novel, consisting of a long exchange of letters. This reading of letters alone may work in print but would hardly make for an interesting movie. Director Stillman discussed his choice to include servants into the film and to give them a rather important role in that they were at times the audience’s way of listening into conversations between characters. The servants were on the fringes of Lady Susan’s world, listening in on her conversations but not being able to interact in much the same way that a reader of the novel can read the letters that are exchanged but we cannot engage with the characters ourselves. In the medium of film, the servants act a means to which we the audience can voyeuristically “read” the exchanges between Lady Susan and the other characters. This past semester I read some of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, another epistolary novel, in which the titular Pamela exchanges letters with her parents. While this interaction was interesting enough to read, I couldn’t imagine watching a film which consisted primarily of two or three characters simply reading letters aloud to one another (and God forbid it was nothing but voiceovers…). The inclusion of the servants, then, I think allowed for a more natural way of portraying the conversations that the characters on screen would have had through their letters. It forces a recognition that these conversations are not private; they are being shared not only with the servants, but the audience as well. Therefore, I thought the inclusion and significance of the servants was a clever decision on director Stillman’s part to reflect in film what the audience experiences through the novel. 

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