Saturday, October 06, 2012

Michael Eaton: Charles Dickens: Father of the Screenplay (Pordenone 2012 introduction)

Charles Dickens, il padre della sceneneggiatura / Father of the Screenplay

"During the silent era about a hundred films were made from the works of Charles Dickens. These were produced, not only in his native country and the USA, but also in Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Russia, and, especially, in Denmark. Through the eras of sound film and television, the enthusiasm for Dickens adaptations has hardly waned. No proof is needed of the continuing international popularity of these stories and characters and their fundamental influence on such an artist as Chaplin. Moreover, filmmakers’ continuing fascination with Dickens also seems to vindicate the belief of two of the greatest and most influential filmmakers, Griffith and Eisenstein, that in Dickens’s narrative method we can trace the fundamental principles of cinematic storytelling – even though Dickens died just a quarter of a century before the arrival of the cinematograph. The world-wide celebration of the bicentennial of Dickens’s birth seems an opportune moment to engage with this fruitful, contentious assertion. Sadly, some two-thirds of the silent adaptations are now lost or awaiting rediscovery. Nevertheless, the remaining third are conserved in archives throughout the world. The Giornate programme is able to offer the most comprehensive selection of these, starting with the earliest-recorded Dickens adaptation, George Albert Smith’s The Death of Poor Joe, rediscovered in the British Film Institute by Bryony Dixon in February 2012, and now seen after more than 110 years. Starting from this, the extensive retrospective includes rarely seen films, some only very recently restored."

"Closely following The Death of Poor Joe, the 1901 Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost, R.W. Paul’s version of A Christmas Carol, mobilized cinematic “special effects” to represent the temporal and psychological complexities of the original story. The last Dickens silent film was The Only Way, Herbert Wilcox’s version of A Tale of Two Cities released in 1925, with its magisterial performance by Sir John Martin-Harvey, providing today’s spectator with an insight into the acting and staging techniques of late-19th-century theatre. In between there are films from companies such as Gaumont, Vitagraph, Edison, Thanhouser, and Hepworth, and from directors including Walter Booth, J. Stuart Blackton, Thomas Bentley, Maurice Elvey, and Frank Lloyd. Some might object that these films are often of varying quality and rarely “faithful”. Taken together, however, they chart a history of developing approaches to cinematic adaptations of literary texts. Perhaps the most exciting revelation in this bicentennial year will be long-awaited restorations of A.W. Sandberg’s Danish films for Nordisk, which lovers of both Dickens and the silent screen will finally be able to assess." – MICHAEL EATON

Further Reading
S.J. Adair Fitz-Gerald, DICKENS AND THE DRAMA – BEING AN ACCOUNT OF CHARLES DICKENS’S CONNECTION WITH THE STAGE AND THE STAGE’S CONNECTION WITH HIM (Chapman & Hall, 1910): an invaluable survey of theatrical adaptations.
F. Dubrez Fawcett, DICKENS THE DRAMATIST: ON STAGE, SCREEN AND RADIO (W.H. Allen, 1952): remains an impressive resource.
Michael Pointer, CHARLES DICKENS ON THE SCREEN: THE FILM, TELEVISION AND VIDEO ADAPTATIONS (Scarecrow Press, 1996): the most reliable filmography.
H. Philip Boulton, DICKENS DRAMATIZED (Mansell Publishing, 1987): contains a comprehensive inventory of stage and radio adaptations.
Graham Petrie, “SILENT FILM ADAPTATIONS OF DICKENS”: based on extensive research conducted in American and European archives, first published in The Dickensian, nos. 455/6/7, 2001/2002, and also reproduced on the BFI’s DVD compilation Dickens Before Sound.

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