July 31, 2012

Tuff Fest II: Great Expectations (1946)

Hey cool kids, I'm back with another post from my Tuff Fest series.
Simul-posted here: The Movie Advocate

Great Expectations was the first of three David Lean movies in the Fest, and all three were serious high points.  The poster's claim that this is the greatest Dickens film ever made arguably stands to this day, save for possible the brilliantly executed Scrooged, staring Bill Murrey (I'm only half kidding I think).

Dickens was undeniably an important and terrific author, but adapting his dry technique to the vivid, fluid world of the silver screen is a task that should not be taken lightly.  Just spending half a minute on the Charles Dickens IMDB page, you can read the names of hundreds of Dickens adaptations, mostly of A Christmas Carol it should be noted. The amount of adequately adapted novels on that list can be counted on one hand.  David Lean's Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are clear outliers among the deluge of Christmas Carol adaptations, and for a good reason.

David Lean appears to have a brilliant grasp not only on the tone of Dicken's works, but how to bring that tone up to date, and translate it to celluloid.  The characters aren't the stiff, dull characters that one could so easily mistake them for in the source material, they crackle and pop with life, if even just barely below the surface.  The world they live in may be dusty and stuffy, but the expertly crafted characters bring life to the oppressive surroundings, sometimes by accenting the fetid, confined atmosphere of Miss Havisham's mansion, and other times by emphasizing the chaos of Mr Jaggers' law office.

Great Expectations is a hard sell.  Not just this movie, or the other adaptations, but the story itself.  As the years go by, the audience for a story about a white English boy getting everything he could have ever wanted simply handed to him, and him dealing with the consequences of that, will continue to dwindle.  It's not that it's not an important tale to have been told, it's more that what the world is defining "important" as is changing.  I may be overstepping my boundaries, but I do think it's safe to say that, at this point, Pip's tale of falling into money and generally just doing anything he wants isn't something people either can relate to, or even wish to read about.  It may be that we've just become so inundated with variations on it, or that type of people who are consuming media (books, movies, music, etc.) has finally shifted to the point that old media is no longer written for us or by us, and, because of that, it no longer hits home the way it used to.

That said, Lean's Great Expectations is a piece of history, well told.  Even though a story may seem a little out of touch, a well told story is still satisfying in and of itself.

-Luke Hunter James-Erickson
To see all the movies written about so far, click here: Tuff Fest II
To see all the movies written about during Tuff Fest I, click here: Tuff Fest I 
For an explanation as to what this is all about, click here: Tuff Fest Introduction.

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