The Age of Adaline (Review)

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The Age of Adaline is a time-travel film by any other name. A long, respectably delivered bit of exposition-cum-technobabble near the beginning informs us that for Science Reasons our protagonist (Blake Lively), a woman born in 1904, has not aged since she survived a car accident at 29. As the years pass, her acquaintances become increasingly confused by and suspicious of her fixed appearance. Eventually, during the Red Scare, US government agents attempt to detain and question Adaline. Her eternal youth seems to them like the sort of Soviet weird science that, in another SFnal genre, it would be. (That’s such a Man from U.N.C.L.E. plot.) After this near miss (not to mention the strain of outliving her friends and relations without understanding why), Adaline decides to conceal her identity, to move on at regular intervals and to form no new close attachments. This, of course, cannot withstand filmic logic’s relentless erosion of women’s barriers. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a female character who has decided not to form romantic attachments must be in want of a beau.

Full review here.

All Adaptations of Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’

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(poster for 1935 Hollywood version)

This is a list of all filmic David Copperfield adaptations I’m aware of. I’ve omitted stage and radio productions, but am very interested in any information you have on these, and may at some point start to look at them as well. Please comment if you know any more television or film adaptations! I suspect the list may not be very complete outside the Anglosphere.

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(still from 1935 Hollywood version)

Some notes:

  • There are three productions for children, including two animated versions, one of which departs radically from the plot. Two of these cut Uriah Heep.
  • There are five BBC miniseries.
  • There are eight tv miniseries, counting BBC offerings and not counting television films.
  • Not one version double-casts Uriah, though we meet him when he’s about 15 to David’s 11 (and Steerforth’s 17) and “Explosion”/the climax of the novel comes when David’s roughly 23 to Uriah’s 27 (based on Molly Katz’s timeline). At least four double-cast Steerforth (it is sometimes difficult to determine and a child actor is more likely to be ambiguously or uncredited), while the rest that include him rely on a youthful actor. Only two I can think of could be said to have a youthful Uriah: Italian 1965 and the BBC 1974 (this one reads as perhaps mid-20s throughout rather than 15). 1999 DC Uriah’s actor was 38 and 2000 DC actor’s Uriah was 33.  Italian 1965 Uriah’s actor was 30. As happens today, working-class Victorians were subjected to a variety of physical hardships that could indeed appear to age them more rapidly than their better-off contemporaries. David initially thinks Uriah older than 15, but he’s a child looking up at an older boy, and there’s a world of difference between a teenager looking old for his years and one actually being played by a 35 year old.
  • All other adaptations persistently age Uriah up to perhaps his 30s, which visually locates the problem with his desire to marry Agnes in his age rather than his class. If he looks 35 when David and Agnes are about 11, even if he still somehow looks 35 when David and Agnes are in their early 20s, a relative age has been conceptually established that does not permit the modern viewer to treat the prospect of their union as reasonable. Consider for example Austen adaptations, which almost uniformly ‘soften’ the canonical age differences between Brandon and Marianne and between Emma and Elton for a modern audience via casting, rendering Georgian marriage practices and stories concerning them acceptable to contemporary viewers. A union between Uriah and Agnes thus becomes not a problem of class and (to the extent you can separate these elements) personality, as in the novel, but of age and personality (even if age is not explicit mentioned as an issue: we have been visually cued). Class is elided in this formulation, as are the ‘there but for the grace of god’ parallels between David, Uriah and Steerforth.
  • There are six foreign language productions (counting the silent Danish version with cards). Only one (Brazil 1958) adaptation seems to have been made outside of either Europe or the Anglosphere.
  • None of them that I’ve seen seem interested in ‘Easter Egg’ nodding to other Dickens’ productions, one another, the events of the period or those of Dickens’ life. I could be wrong here! This is a casual observation.
  • All of them go with ‘David Copperfield’ as their title (unless they’ve been listed wrong where I grabbed them), choosing to use no other elements of the actual book title (The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)) (or of the 14 variant titles Dickens employed).
  • I’ll probably use this page to link to reviews of all of these as I work (it may be some time before I’m done).

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David and the only even slightly age-correct Uriah (possibly still a little too old-looking for 15?), Italian 1965 version

For comparison: Young Bruce in the very Dickensian Gotham, as played by 15 year old David Masouz.

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Title (year and medium), national origin, adult actor for David if known, any other identifying information

  1. David Copperfield, consisting of ‘The Early Life of David Copperfield’, ‘Little Em’ly and David Copperfield’ and ‘The Loves of David Copperfield’, (1911 film) American, Ed Genung, 3 reels, black and white, first non-British version, probably no Uriah and possibly no Steerforth
  2. David Copperfield (1913 film) British, Len Bethel, silent, a contender for the title of first British feature film, black and white
  3. David Copperfield (1922 film) Danish, Gorm Schmidt, silent, black and white, first non-Anglosphere version, possibly no Steerforth or Emily
  4. David Copperfield (1935 film) American, Frank Lawton, Hollywood, black and white
  5. David Copperfield (1954 two-part television film? unsure) American, David Cole, black and white, possibly no Steerforth or Emily
  6. David Copperfield (1956 tv miniseries) British, Robert Hardy, BBC: first BBC miniseries, black and white
  7. David Copperfield (1958 tv miniseries), Brazilian?, Márcio Trunkl, first and only  non-continental/Anglosphere version (if indeed Brazilian), black and white
  8. David Copperfield (1965) tv miniseries) Italian, Giancarlo Giannini, black and white, watch here, filmed like “The Leopard”, very interesting, two Steerforths
  9. David Copperfield (1965 tv miniseries) French, Bernard Verley, Uriah written out of plot, ‘Le théâtre de la jeunesse’ suggests possibly for children which would make it the first children’s production, black and white
  10. David Copperfield (1966 tv miniseries) British, Ian McKellen, BBC: second BBC miniseries, black and white
  11. David Copperfield (1969 television film) British-American, Robin Phillips, first colour production (assume colour from here on out unless indicated), two Steerforths
  12. David Copperfield (1969 tv miniseries) Spanish, Paco Valladares, black and white
  13. David Copperfield (1970 tv film) British, Robin Phillips, two Steerforths
  14. David Copperfield (1974 tv miniseries) British, David Yelland, BBC: third BBC miniseries
  15. David Copperfield (1983 animated film) Australian, unclear, second production for children
  16. David Copperfield (1986 tv miniseries) British, Colin Hurley, BBC: fourth BBC miniseries, Simon Callow as Micawber (which is interesting because Callow has a good line in playing Dickens, so playing a character based off Dickens’ dad makes sense for him)
  17. David Copperfield (1993 animated musical film) American, Julian Lennon, no Uriah, Emily or Steerforth: in fact the crackiest plot changes you could possibly imagine, third production for children, watch here.                                                                                          Screen Shot 2017-02-25 at 18.28.25.png

    Clara Copperfield looking as confused as I am.

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Murdstone looking like a budget Ratigan (I suspect this film’s entire planning meeting was  someone saying ‘like Great Mouse Detective, but awful’).

18. David Copperfield (1999 tv series) British, Ciarán McMenamin, BBC: fifth and currently final BBC miniseries, child David is Daniel Radcliffe–this is the role that got him cast as Harry Potter, two Steerforths
19. David Copperfield (2000 long tv film) Irish-American, Hugh Dancy, not good
20. David Copperfield
(2009 long tv film) Italian, Giorgio Pasotti
21. David Copperfield (2018 treatment, STILL IN DEVELOPMENT), British

UPDATE:

Per the Dickens Fellowship: “Presumably you have seen Dickens Dramatized by H Philip Bolton. Lists 2 DC films in 1912.”

Nonfiction End of Year Review, Award Eligibility

AWARDS

A while ago some nice people suggested Boucher, Backbone and Blake – the legacy of Blakes 7 might be Hugo-eligible under a few categories. There’s Best Related Work, there’s Best Fan Writer, etc. THIS IS VERY KIND. THANK YOU.

HOWEVER:

I really feel Best Related Work needs to go to the report, editorial and companion essays by Brian J. White, Tobias Buckell, Justina Ireland, Mikki Kendall, Nisi Shawl, Troy Wiggins, Cecily Kane and N.K. Jemisin that together comprise “#BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report”.

This collaborative project calls attention to a foundational issue in SFFnal publishing, representing the best traditions of critical, self-reflective and progressive work this award exists to recognise. Academically and practically, it is a necessary investigative report. The very model of its presentation is exciting and polyvocal, and it’d be great to see the award recognise this digital mixed-media format. Several great writers and thinkers made substantive contributions to the project. Others offered valuable reactions after the fact. The report and associated documents attracted international media attention, gave rise to editorial shifts on major SFF publications’ boards, and hopefully will spur further inclusive developments.

We should not let the memory of this work fade or its sharp, timely conclusions be overlooked. The report needs acted on, in a continuous praxis, and I believe it should also be recognised. This would show that we all feel the horrible inequalities it frankly delineates are a blight on the field, and that we are collectively serious about redressing them in the interests of both fairness and richer art. It would not definitively do so: only continuous work to dismantle systemic racism will accomplish this. But recognising the report as the most important piece of genre-related writing/the Best Related Work this year seems to me simply a just acknowledgement of a fait accompli.

As for me, I’d be happy to be considered for fan writer (though really I also think it’s past time for Abigail Nussbaum and/or Maureen K Speller to be acknowledged in that or some other capacity, but frogtea.gif).

END OF YEAR WRITING REVIEW:

STRANGE HORIZONS:

2016 In Review Part One  (my part: 270)
Yonderland (2276)

Age of Adeline (in the publishing queue, 2236)

***

OTHER PUBLICATIONS:

“Control the Computer, Control the Ship”, B7 and tech SFRA paper (promised to Foundation) (4kish atm)
“From ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to ‘Live Long and Prosper’: Engaging with Post-War American Jewish Identity via Star Trek: The Original Series“: forthcoming in “Set Phasers to Teach” (6666 with all notes)
Piece on P&P&Z (still homeless, 2980)
Piece on Love&Friendship (still homeless, 4315)

***

BLOG

FILM:

LITERATURE:

King John (2866)
Funny Girl (1426)

Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore (1143)

NONFIC TOTAL: 84,265

***

FICTION:

Rereading (4,600, out with an anthology, waiting to hear back)

***

FANFIC:

281965 words, broken down in the end of year fic meme on my lj

***

Personal story planning, correspondence, essays and private-lj blogging:
endless

TOTAL (minus the substantial last category): 370,830 words this year, ‘published’ in one form or another

Bit less fiction than last year, and I really suspect less nonfic, but then moving was hideous and drawn out, mental health’s been bad and this year was draining all-’round.

Notes on Crimson Peak (film, 2015)

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* Someone said this was a gothic novel adaptation of an unwritten book rather than a horror movie. That’s very true. The flow is a bit awkward no matter how you slice it, but Crimson Peak does work better considered in that capacity.

* I almost prefer Edith, the heroine, before she marries. She loses herself a bit in the second half. Perhaps that’s an intentional effect, but it’s not entirely working for me on the “Rebecca” level. I wish we had a protagonist who, even befuddled by the horror, didn’t try to walk out of this snow-hell without shoes.

* My friend Jade pointed out that it was fairly interesting that the ghosts were benign, and that the movie made an effort to ask ‘what is ghosts’ deal? What do they want?’ She is: CORRECT. The horror’s never been the haunted house, or the ghosts. We’re in one of those ‘people are the true monsters’ psychological gothic horror stories. I like that subgenre, but feel the film’s hold on this material could have been tighter.

* The house looks a lot like the similar manor in the more recent adaptation of The Haunting, which isn’t good per se but is compelling nonetheless. It has some of that film’s beats as well. The titular house is hella Aesthetic movement. Unless it’s original gothic, and let’s face it, it isn’t, and even if it is—no, sorry, it’s still really 19th c., design/serving post-Strawberry Hill realness at the very earliest, just look at it. Thus there’s been no time for these features to have mouldered to the extent they have. I wonder how common mismatched eras of decoration and degrees of decay are in horror movies?

Also, why not tarp over the ceiling hole that is artistically admitting drifting cascades of… something. Petals, or leaves from overhanging trees this property doesn’t seem to have. Sell half your shit to get that done, it’s your clear and present structural priority. They’re hard up, but this place is still LUSH with moveables. I’m mentally pricing these mantelpieces. You don’t even need this Bluebeard scheme, just call Lyon & Turnbull.

The visuals are indeed lush, but it’s hard to take the protagonist seriously in her diaphanous mutton sleeves. She looks like Sarah in the Labyrinth ball sequence. In fact these amazing visuals are almost getting in the way of the plot. We have to be in this house, so we’re here, even though the villains’ motivations for remaining (having sunk multiple fortunes into this place they hate, and yet never having bothered to repair that roof-hole) are shaky, and become less intelligible as the plot is revealed. If the siblings had some mystic connection with the house I could see staying, but in fact they could have cut and run ages ago, on any one of these bride-fetching trips or after their first murder. More time could have been spent on why they don’t.

* The logistics of this bride plot are strange. Did none of these women call shenanigans on the absence of sex? They can’t all have been in mourning—at least that isn’t explicitly mentioned. When the protagonist and HigPig: Incest Edition finally do the deed, on her first sexual outing Edith is confident, pain-free and cowgirling adroitly like a rodeo champion, no problem. You have to work up to those technical skills! Unless he has a dick like a pen nib, I guess, but even so one does not simply walk into Mordor/instinctually know where to put one’s limbs for more advanced manoeuvres. More seriously, the fluidity and the normalcy of the sex normalise what could be a site of intensity and strangeness, possibly a jarring period moment, or a moment of cute intimacy between the couple.

* I guessed from its first appearance that our heroine was being being intentionally slow-poisoned by this shit-tasting tea, but honestly it could easily just have been some Victorian wellness bs. It’s not like that lot haven’t tried restoratives that turned out to be medically terrible ideas in good faith before now.

* Why are our protagonist and HigPig sharing a bedroom? It’s not very period, and it’s not as if they don’t have enough rooms. This is especially true given HigPig’s secret incestual relationship—which I also called pretty early—and consequent practice of marital chastity. It’s hard staging these gothic novel plots now. Nothing is so shocking you can’t clearly guess it’s coming, and nothing is religiously or conventionally abhorrent in a deep and sacred sense. Gothic no longer quite works, in its accepted forms, as transgressive social horror.

* In general I feel periodicity is kind of strangely conveyed by props and clearly flagged pop cultural references in this film. It vaguely conditions aspects of the characters’ relationships, like making the sexless union and the live-in sister more possible, but it doesn’t inflect people’s behaviour or challenge audiences. It’s set dressing.

* Or protagonist is ‘so different’ from her predecessors, according to Hiddleston. How? This is never really explored. She was specifically picked to be like them, just going by her CV. Knowing more about what’s happening here would shore up the male lead’s pivotal turn against his sister, making it believable and meaningful.

* Burn Gorman’s Dickensian-lookin ass was goddamn meant for these Hammer Horror roles. It’s a pity he was in such a meh Bleak House, because he is an ideal Smallweed, visually. I never know if he can act: he seems fairly capable, but is generally cast in quite one-note roles. (I’m not walking it back, PacRim people.)

* ’Fuck’ doesn’t feel like the right verb for the sister’s class. Victorians posh people usually went for blasphemy related curses, while lower class people went for physical. Possibly the implication is that the asylum coarsened her (adding a degree of class horror to the mix), but if so, that could be clearer.

* Killing the dog is just excessive.

* Alternate boyf fucking skis his way here or some shit. Fuck knows how he gets here with vague directions in this weather, knowing nothing of the area.

* I’m a little more interested in Edith’s weird tension with the cray sister than I am in the multiple heterosexual erotic configurations, to be honest. There’s some Munchausen’s by proxy up in this joint which we touch for but a moment before gliding on. I want this movie to dwell in its oddness more than it does, to let these characters feel this strange, murderous, jealous, sisterly queerness. The movie sort of knows this, though—it stages the final confrontation between these two.

* The movie could use some honey-slow, sinister, dipping moments that couple its aesthetics with feeling. Something like ma, as Jade would say.

* Crimson Peak feels like a somewhat less successful version of something like Labyrinth, which is a flawed and at times incoherent fairy tale about maturation, desire and responsibility that resonates deeply with a lot of women, despite its structural issues as a text. I know a lot of people have this relationship with Jupiter Ascending, though I don’t personally. There’s perhaps something to be said about this category of films that just hit women’s fictional kinks in an attractively-shot but not quite cogent kind of way. Ultimately I want Crimson Peak to do more for me, emotionally or thematically or visually, to earn that status, though I understand it does something like this for at least one of my friends.

* I guess there’s something interesting to be distilled from all this about the siblings’ desperate, pitiless effort to try and keep the estate together, to repair and rebuild this decaying structure—about class and families and rurality, child abuse and trauma and haunting. Possibly there’s also something to be made of Edith’s status as a monied American transplant, a colonial from the New World and the only survivor of this too-long-steeped mess. She’s so reminiscent of the many real heiresses who ‘saved’ British aristocratic houses with their funds. People are always returning from the colonies bearing with them or coming into gothic unrest in the contemporary (and mentioned-herein) Holmes canon. I can’t quite pin these elements down, though, and I think that anything I did come up with would be a narrative imposed on rather than drawn out of the rich but ultimately uncultivated material of Crimson Peak.

(Have now read and liked Abigail’s piece on this, as well.)

Notes on The Witches (film, 1990)

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I don’t remember ever reading this particular Dahl, though I have a curious and contrasting strong memory of the cover (yellow, the Quintin Blake witch in black), and of looking at it in the closet where we kept my books—so did I? Could I have owned it and not read it? Or entirely forgotten it? That seems so unlikely. Perhaps I’m back-imagining this.

I loved James and the Giant Peach and was particularly and predictably way into Matilda when I was young. Both titles were probably quite formative for me. I don’t think my elementary school library had that many of Dahl’s books. I suspect I must have looked hard, but my book choices were always limited as a child by things like that. The libraries I had access to were, looking back, often fairly scrappy. I’m not sure anyone in my family would have known there were other Dahl titles to buy me if I’d wanted them, given Dahl’s lesser American reputation (it’s notable thatthe American trailer for The Witches doesn’t even mention Dahl) and my family’s general lack of interest in books (bar, of course, my grandmother). I couldn’t yet use the internet to determine how to find out whether more books by a given person existed, because the internet didn’t work like that at the time.

Aishwarya Subramanian makes a good point that the alchemy of forgetting that has made Dahl a national treasure and a Writer of Children’s Classics has done much to obscure his personal unpleasantness, and the value judgments and cruelty she draws attention to as persistent elements of his work aren’t absent in this adaptation. (Is there much work on the different directions people went out of Dickens? Because Dahl is as much an inheritor of one aspect of his work as Pratchett, Peake, DWJ, and Rowling are other, contrasting aspects. Except Dickens’ violence was slapstick and Dahl’s… isn’t. Dahl is the baby!Webster to Dickens’ Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love. ‘I LIKE IT WHEN THE MICE SCREAM!’ ‘Oooookay, kiddo.’ *)  I had been told before I watched it that this would be traumatising, that it was a classic and that Angelica Huston was epic herein. Yes. All the actresses playing the witches seem to have the time of their lives writhing about being gloriously, viscerally unpleasant, and it is a fucking treat to watch. Great physical acting. One particularly raptorish specimen just goes to town. I’d just watched the first Addams Family film for the first time two days or so before, and am quite impressed with her. Obviously. It’s Angelica fucking Huston.

The start of the film has a certain sedateness, and the pacing lags a bit in the middle, but I’m not too bothered. The protagonist’s sort-of-friend Bruno’s a little Brexit voter, but I’m glad his parents learn to accept and love their gaymouse son. The bittersweet ending (which I know to not be the book’s) is the biggest issue. In the book our protagonist is turned into a mouse, and will live out the rest of his short life (mouse lifespans are a bitch) in this form, cared for by his loving grandmother. In the film the head witch’s assistant, the sole survivor of the massacre of witches the protagonist orchestrated, completely improbably goes to the good. She shows up to change the child back into a human, and even to do the same for wee UKIPer Bruno. This new ending isn’t in and of itself a problem (it is in fact what filmic traditions would lead us to anticipate), but it feels structurally weak and deflated, like the film itself doesn’t believe in this. The lamp shading is too late and too winkingly obvious. It does feel very ‘made for Americans’, changed to suit expectations, to flatter American filmmaking’s distaste for ambivalent endings (especially in children’s productions).

Odd that Dahl adapts rather well. (Dickens doesn’t, or at least people often do a terrible job with adapting him—though there are some good examples.) Matilda is a fairish film and the play is strong. James and the Giant Peachwas well-made. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is perhaps more famous as a film than as a book. The Witches is a recognized cult children’s classic. We’ll see how the recent BFG fares. Quintin Blake’s illustrations are definitely part of the reason why this is so. Even where the filmic visuals don’t directly draw from his, there’s something about his evocative, brisk linework that both creates striking images and suggests figures in motion.

* The relevant bit of Shakespeare in Love:

(Will is pacing restlessly up and down in front of the theatre, looking for Thomas Kent. The streetboy who wanted to play Ethel is sitting on a corner, mice are clambering about him.)

Will (affably): Better fortune, boy.

Streetboy (shrugging): I was in a play. They cut my head off in “Titus Andronicus”. When I write plays, they will be like “Titus”.

Will (flattered): You admire it?

Streetboy: I liked it when they cut heads off. And the daughter mutilated with knives.

Will: What is your name?

Streetboy: John Webster. (holding up a mouse on her tail) Here, kitty, kitty! (A cat comes nearer.) Plenty of blood, that’s the only writing!

Will (disgusted): I have to get back. (The mouse screams.)

(Will gives up waiting and returns to the theatre where the rehearsal is in full swing.)

Funny Girl (film) Review

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After reviewing the West End production, have now watched the film Funny Girl. It will surprise no one to learn that Barbara Streisand was amazing. The part where Nicky asks Fanny to watch a poker game with no expression and she’s such a glorious failure! Fanny just dropping when she passes the curtain coming off stage, because she’s a talented performer but also a woman very worried about her marriage, is so good. Brice’s handling of the reporters after Nicky turns himself in is AMAZING. 100x more characters like this, please. Great singing, great comic presence, and great character acting on Barbara’s part. I am never surprised by her being a fucking pro.

What I am surprised by is how much better Nicky Arnstein works in this. Omar Sharif is always a deeply appealing performer (why Lawrence of Arabia didn’t retroactively become a problematic but fascinating major slash fandom, I cannot say, except for that fandom doesn’t work that way, more’s the pity). He plays the macho notes of Arnstein’s role with half a laugh, and seems to have altogether more personality than the stage version. In part Sharif works so well because he, like Fanny, is something of an outsider in this production. He’s a smooth, rich gentleman who also happens to be brown. There’s a story there, there are attendant intersectional privileges and disprivileges. It gives Nicky’s desire to maintain his power in this world in and of himself a kind of poignancy, a degree of comprehensibility. Nicky is, at present, an exotic foreign Somebody, but take away his cultivated air of prestige and he’s the Egyptian husband of a born-poor Jewish girl whose luck could turn (easily: this film ends in the inter-war period). With his personal vulnerability, situational positioning and good humor, Sharif makes this story a real romance between two well-drawn individuals, so that it can be a real tragedy when it falls apart.

The film is generally successful. I get more of a sense of Fanny as a performer here, too, and I’m glad her friend’s her friend now instead of pining for her. I really appreciate that Fanny’s mother no longer assigns her the blame for Nicky’s behaviour, and instead advises her not to throw money at the problem, but to talk it out, to support him as his wife via helping him figure out what he ought to do. Fanny’s failure to do this is a bit inexplicable in the film, but overall the logic of the cuts and additions manages the difficult feat of making a musical or play work like a film. If some of that comes at the expense of it feeling like a musical—oh well?

A movie very worth watching, and very worth working with and building off of if you intend to stage the musical.