Mixed Media: From Scarlett to Madonna

by Ella Taylor

Our first Arts & Entertainment Poll asked the question “What is the most successful dramatization of a novel or short story you have ever seen?”

“No book I like should be dramatized,” a reader from Ann Arbor declared flatly in response to our poll, while Amir Rezaizadeh of Toronto asked rhetorically: “Should we compare The Ten Commandments to the Bible?” Even readers who shared these reservations in principle cited favorite adaptations anyway. The results show a preference for regional history writ large. Gone With the Wind was the handsdown winner ("We are not avant-garde in Minnesota,” writes one who cast a vote for GWTW), followed by American classics To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes ofWrath, and champions of British angst The Jewel in the Crown and Brideshead Revisited. A sizable minority of readers chose John Huston’s exquisite 1987 dramatization of James Joyce’s The Dead. Dickens popped up frequently, as did the Russian greats; but Shakespeare and the Bible remained conspicuously absent. My own favorites, distinguished more for their cathartic potential than for their superior aesthetic: Snow White, from which, at age seven, I had to be forcibly removed because my sobs were bothering the other children; Dr. Zhivago, which I saw on a rainy evening in Jerusalem and decided I was Lara; and the 1967 Russian War and Peace, which I saw in two blissful four-hour sittings on a rainy weekend in Glasgow, Scotland, and decided I was Pierre Bezuhov instead.

Our second A & E Poll asked “Is there a film or documentary that you have been searching for on video and have been unable to find?”

The reader who professed having “no time for video, the dump of the arts” was alone in the crowd. The size of the response to our call for films that are hard to find on video was matched by the sheer range and enjoyable idiosyncracy of the works cited. Among the more creative responses were “the film that shows Bush and/or North handing over our tax dollars to the contras”; “a collection of JFK-assassination-conspiracy documentaries”; a “late-’60s documentary on bullfighting narrated by Ricardo Montalban”; and “a guide to the interpretation of imagery in Madonna videos.”A substantial number of the titles cited are, in fact, available on video (such as The Children of Paradise, Intolerance, Black Orpheus, and The Entertainer). Several readers mentioned Buñuel’s magnificent Belle de Jour, which, sadly, has not been released on video; but Claude Lanzmann’s epic Holocaust documentary Shoah has. My favorite responses were a plea by Bradley W. Jones of Atlanta for “a David Lynch film with a plot” (that’s asking for a lot) and a request for Mother Teresa (the movie or the mini-series?).

(To take part in this quarter’s poll, return the card in this section.)