Wisker analyzes a few of Du Maurier’s short stories, including Don’t Look Now. Instead of solely focusing on the short story, Wisker explores themes and images in the film adaptation as well. The most important aspect of her analysis of Don’t Look Now is her explanation as to why John Baxter follows the murderer (to his demise). No other criticism or analysis of the film or short story, that I have read, offers a reasonable explanation as to John’s actions. Wisker explains that it is John’s “protective paternalism” (28) that causes him to try to help what he thinks is a young girl, because she reminds him of the daughter that he could not help. The film better illuminates this theme by making a visual connection between Christine’s red raincoat and the murderer’s red jacket. Wisker explains that, “John’s own suppressed torment at the loss of his daughter transfers into a desire to see this child safe” (28). John has no illusions that the hooded stranger he is following is the ghost of Christine, but he does think it is a little girl. John’s actions are explained as the actions of a man trying to redeem himself in his own eyes, by saving someone who reminds him of his daughter.
Wisker’s connection between the two sisters and the Fates, figures of Ancient Greek mythology, is another insightful analysis. The Fates were three sisters who controlled the lives of mortals by cutting their ‘life threads.’ Wisker writes, “We can read the twins as the fates with the thread cutting sister missing, appearing at the end in the pixie-hooded murderous dwarf” (28). Roeg expounds this theme in the film. First of all, he makes the dwarf a woman, whereas the gender of the dwarf is never explicitly mentioned in the short story. Secondly, the woman he gets to play the dwarf resembles the two sisters; she is stocky like Wendy and has a vulture-like visage like Heather. She could very well be their long-lost sister (who happens to be a dwarf). Finally, the way in which she kills John...
Harrison, Stephanie. Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.
Harrison’s book neither deals directly with Roeg’s film, nor with du Maurier’s short story that inspired it, but it is essential to any analysis of Don’t Look Now. The process by which a director adapts a short story into film is important, because a short story is just that, short. A director must take something that rarely lasts over fifty pages and turn in into a film that usually lasts over two hours. A director must take the story and ‘run with it;’ in some ways making the story his own. Harrison analyzes 35 short stories and the films they spawned. She separates the films and analyses into sections based mainly on genre (Horror, Western, etc.). Don’t Look Now is a hybrid film, so it would not snugly fit in any of the genres that Harrison chooses, but it does have horror, drama, erotica, and auteur elements to it. Harrison describes four different auteurs (Altman, Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Kazan) and their individual styles of adaptation. She calls Altman, for instance, the “translator” (3), because he attempted to stay as true as possible to the original story. There is little to no literature written about Nicholas Roeg, so it is impossible to know whether or not he would fit in with any of the different auteurs.
One point I found very interesting in Harrison’s analysis is her idea that audiences are less hard on films based on short stories for being true to their source material, because “few short stories are embedded in the public’s consciousness in a way that popular novels are” (xvi). In the case of Don’t Look Now, both the story and the film seem to have been lost from the public consciousness (due, in part, to the success of The Exorcist, which was released the same year as Roeg’s film). Harrison’s book, as I said above, never mentions Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, but by looking at the process by which other writers have adapted short stories, we can get a sense of the different approaches to it and how Roeg many have gone about doing it. Roeg took a fifty-four page short story about a man’s blindness to his abilities and his fate and refashioned it into an unsettling drama/thriller about a married couple and ...
Hutchinson, Tom. Horror & Fantasy in the Movies. New York: Crescent Books, 1974: 13-36.
Hutchinson goes beyond merely mapping out the history of horror cinema, and dedicates the first chapter of his book to revealing the deeper meanings beyond certain horror films. Behind the blood and monsters, Hutchinson sees social commentary and much more, which the average viewer is completely unaware of. He events of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and concludes that its underlying message is, “that we ought to co-operate or else” (23). Hutchinson writes that Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), another 1950s sci-fi film, “carries a warning about loss of identity, an all-too-grim idea in a world where individuality is ironed out into uniform characteristics of thought and yes-saying” (23).
Hutchinson begins his analysis with the birth of cinema and the fantasy shorts of George Meliès. He moves into German Expressionist films, such as Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) (19-21). He also refers to Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942) as further examples of horror films with social messages (23). Hutchinson argues though, that one cannot simply voice these messages, or warnings, to the audience directly. As he says, they must be “wrapped up in trappings of tinsel before they will be accepted” (28).
Don’t Look Now (1972) is one of those films whose meaning is “wrapped in trappings of tinsel” (28). Hutchinson explains that, “[Donald] Sutherland here carries the seeds of his own destruction within himself, but will never know it” (29). Reflexively, we are placed in the same position as Sutherland, because we are also unable to interpret the signs to recognize the future (e.g. our doom). Hutchinson’s argument is that, “[Sutherland] is time-trapped in the way that we all are, unable to move beyond his three-dimensional context” (29). Hutchinson ties into a theme explored in other sources I have encountered, that of time and space (in Don’t Look Now). He, unfortunately, does not give the theme an adequate explication (quickly moving to the next film), but he does place the film in relation to other horror films that do more than just scare. One is easier able to understand Don’t Look Now, when placed in the context of other horror films...
Wilson, Kristi. “Time, Space, and Vision: Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.” Screen 40(3) (1999): 277-94.
Wilson is a feminist film critic (she lets the reader know from the start), so her analysis of Don’t Look Now comes from a completely different perspective than other available analyses. She argues that the film represents “failed masculinity” (294), embodied by John Baxter and his failure to prevent his death. John’s failure comes from his inability to interpret space. The first hard evidence of this that Wilson brings up is the book John has written, Fragile Geometry (Laura is reading it in the opening sequence). Wilson argues that the title of the book reflects John’s own failure at understand the “fragile geometry” of time and space. Roeg’s montage, with its questionable linearity, visually represents this “fragile geometry.” Roeg blurs the lines between the real and the unreal and the past, present, and future. Wilson refers to the effect of Roeg’s montage as “slippage,” because Roeg moves between real and unreal, for example, so fluidly, that the audience rarely picks up on it. She articulates the effect of this “slippage” on the audience, when she explains:
All that seems solid where the film is concerned, whether we are referring to Roeg’s visually unconventional presentation of the narrative, or his character’s sense of architectural/geographical control, proves to be illusory. (294)
She argues that the sequence, in which blood appears on John’s slide, “provides a literal example of physical slippage between background and foreground” (290). Wilson sees John as a synecdoche for all men, in his inability to recognize “slippage” (i.e. recognize omens and portents), because all of the women in the film are attuned to the “slippage” and recognize when the unreal world (e.g. the spirit world) enters the real world. I disagree with this assumption, because I don’t see all the women as recognizing the “slippage.” Heather does, because she has the gift of ‘second sight;’ the other women merely believe that she can see the “slippage”...
This is not the only point in which Wilson makes reference to the film he is writing. While Wilson’s notes are often simple descriptions of the themes in Lawrence’s life, at some times Wilson tries to figure out how best to make these themes work in a film. In the final ‘section’ of the article, Wilson comments in depth on the character S.A., who was very important to Lawrence, both as a friend and confidant, but whose identity remains a mystery. Wilson wrestles with this character’s imagined personality and how he should fit S.A. into the script, eventually decided that, “if it can be said that S.A. stands at Lawrence’s left hand, then our story requires a British character who stands at his right.” In this imaginary British character, we get an amazing look at the way in which Hollywood rewrites history in order to sell a film. Wilson notes, “Our British officer will inevitably be a composite character, with perhaps certain attributes not found in any of the actual men (Young, Newcombe, Joyce, etc.).” This character that Wilson wants to create is not a historical figure and is written in to serve as a foil for Lawrence. Wilson doesn’t describe why exactly he needs a British man to sit at Lawrence’s side, since he already has (an Arab) one in S.A., but perhaps Wilson has an assumption concerning the audience’s reaction to having an Arab as Lawrence’s sole confidant. Wilson further imagines the character to be “a man who (like our audience, we hope) would be baffled and intrigued by his mercurial companion-in-arms and through him we would try to fathom the enigma.” Wilson creates this imaginary, composite character is order to give the audience someone to relate to, subtly insinuating that the audience will not be able to relate to the Arab S.A. He may be correct in his assumption (we are dealing with early 1960’s America after all), but the film itself has no such character, so we will never know how audiences would have reacted.
Hodson dedicates much of the chapter on the film adaptation of T.E. Lawrence’s life, Chapter 7, to describing the effect of the blacklist on the film. Sam Spiegel, the producer, originally chose Michael Wilson, a blacklisted writer, to write a film adaptation of the life of T.E. Lawrence. Spiegel had won an Oscar for On the Waterfront, a pro-blacklist film, while Wilson, although living in exile in France, had managed to keep writing films, even though he was blacklisted. In hindsight, it is ludicrously ironic that Spiegel, who made a film shunning ‘unfriendly witnesses,’ like Michael Wilson, would hire him and actively try to convince Hollywood executives to let Wilson write the script. Wilson wrote a few versions of the screenplay, but director David Lean, a Brit, believed Wilson’s script to be “”too American,” and failed to capture the complex character of Lawrence.” Lean found another writer, Robert Bolt, to write the screenplay, which eventually became Lawrence of Arabia. As it turns out, Bolt borrowed a lot from Wilson’s screenplay is crafting his screenplay, even though he denied it. Despite the fact that Bolt’s screenplay was basically co-written by Wilson, “his name was not listed in the screen credits for Lawrence of Arabia, presumably because he refused to sign a statement recanting his radical past.” The blacklist has an interesting relationship to the film, but Lawrence’s own history proved to be the most dubious element in the film’s production.
Hodson recounts the battle between Spiegel and Lawrence’s brother, A.W. Lawrence, over the film’s representation of T.E. Lawrence, which adds a new dimension to the film’s rewriting of history. Even though the film was based on T.E. Lawrence’s own autobiography, his brother still wanted to rewrite history and make Lawrence even more of a hero. Another problem with the film’s historical value comes from the information that was available. As Hodson describes, “England had not yet lifted an embargo on various government records pertaining to [T.E. Lawrence].” Lawrence’s story was altered, not only, by Hollywood, but by his own brother and the British government, so there was really no way that the film was going to have much historical accuracy.
Hodson further chronicles the film’s “license with history,” as well as its reception, but my favorite part of Hodson’s book is his description of the film’s manifestations in pop culture. The parallels this book shows, between 1960s America and today’s America, are uncanny, especially when it comes to the film’s marketing. As Hodson explains, “Fashion was another angle Columbia Pictures and American retailers worked in promoting “Lawrence mania” in the United States.” Product tie-ins are something I think of in relation to today’s idea of corporate synergy, but apparently the idea was alive in the 1960’s as well.
Lawrence’s life, as Crowdus explains, is still the subject of debate, so much of the ‘history,’ that the film is based on, may in fact be falsehood. Crowdus’s explanation for this is that, “Lawrence […] provided conflicting, ambiguous, or half-truthful accounts of the same incidents to biographers and friends.” As a result of this, Robert Bolt, who wrote the second (and final) screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia, “base[d] his screenplay solely on Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” Lawrence’s autobiography, “despite being convinced that the book contained considerable exaggeration and not a few outright lies.” This revelation serves to remove much of the blame for the film’s rewriting of history on Bolt, because Lawrence himself rewrote it.
The Hollywood system takes its toll on historical fact, because, “Many […] incidents have […] been dramatically simplified to comply with the genre requirements of big screen spectacle.” Although it was T.E. Lawrence who began the rewriting of his own history, the restrictions imposed by Hollywood further erode the validity of much of the story. Crowdus also singles out the casting as another reason for the film’s historical ‘falseness,’ explaining that the casting of (the tall and handsome) Peter O’Toole “immediately eliminates a key motive for the overcompensatory physical efforts of a pocket Hercules like the real life Lawrence.” There are other problems that Crowdus has with the film’s representation of history, but he does have some good words for the film.
The film gets some things right in its depiction of Lawrence, such as Lawrence’s “sado-masochistic [sic] tendencies,” which Lawrence discusses in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. O’Toole’s performance, especially in the torture scene, captures this side of Lawrence. The inclusion of this darker side of Lawrence is noteworthy, because it shows that although Sam Spiegel, the film’s producer, was intent on making a Hollywood ‘blockbuster,’ the film did have uncomfortable elements that certainly would not have appealled to every moviegoer. By including some historical facts, the film not only keeps true to history, but it takes risks that are uncharacteristic of a major Hollywood film.
Crowdus ends his analysis of the film, by critiquing the film’s depiction of Arabs. He uses the scene of the meeting between the Bedouin leaders in Damascus, as a key example of the film’s racist undertones and its colonial implications. The film has strengths and flaws, as noted by Crowdus, but in the early, praiseful paragraphs of the article, we see Crowdus’s true views on the film. Although Crowdus has many problems with the film’s rewriting of history, there is still a reason that it is one of the most beloved and respected Hollywood films.