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Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Oct 24, 2009 8:40 am

We recently watched the 1944 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.
My initial impression of this film (perhaps unfairly since I just came off reading the book and seeing the extremely faithful 1983 miniseries) is that it is way too rushed.

Welles was okay as Rochester, but not nearly passionate enough. I almost laughed at the part where he is pleading with Jane not to leave. "Jane, Jane, Jane" says he in a fading voice. Oh dear. Rochester would not have stood there so lamely and watched her depart, not by a long shot! Jane had to leave the house secretly! He would have at least given her money; that was his main concern in the book, that she not be cast destitute on the world because of him.

I rather liked Fontaine as Jane, though she was certainly too pretty for the part. Having her in that role reminded me forcibly of how much Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca owes to Jane Eyre; just think of the similarities in story! But I like Jane better than the unnamed narrator of Rebecca. I get the feeling that the second Mrs. de Winter did not have quite the strength of will and moral compass of Jane.

I also missed the gypsy scene. And why did they change small things that didn't need to be changed, like making Jane's sojourn at Lowood ten years instead of eight (what did that accomplish?). I didn't like how they removed the Rivers from the story entirely, replacing them with a Dr. Rivers.

They gave Brocklehurst a much more prominent and direct role in Helen's death (it was interesting to see the young Elizabeth Taylor in that uncredited role, by the by). But they never allowed Lowood to be redeemed as it is in the book; the epidemic doesn't happen and apparently Jane lives at the school for ten years under Brocklehurst's harsh rule. That doesn't make sense... they clearly state that she is ten years old when she goes there, and she is still a student at age twenty? Because she never teaches at Lowood in this version; the impetus for her leaving Lowood is when Brocklehurst tries to get her to be a teacher because it will be cheaper than getting someone from the outside. *sigh*

I missed Miss Temple, and even Jane's female cousins Georgiana and Eliza.

I also didn't like how they rewrote parts of the story and had Jane narrate it, actually showing an image of the "book" and the text she was reading — when it was totally different from the book's text! It was almost deceptive. If I had not read the book I would have been completely fooled.

I was also disappointed in Bertha. They never really showed her, and when they did the scene was so silly. Rochester is bringing the group to Bertha's room upstairs and when he opens the door she leaps on him with her hands on his neck. It was kind of lame how they choreographed it, to be honest. They also cut out the part where she creeps into Jane's room and rips her veil — of the most deliciously terrifying parts of the entire story.

The ending felt anticlimatic. Don't have much more to say about it than that. Oh, they're back together, how nice.

I know this sounds scathing but it isn't so bad as all that. I did enjoy it, it's just not going to be a favorite. I'd rather get the full story in the miniseries version.

I also picked up the 1973 miniseries when I was at the library last. I wasn't intending to watch it so soon, but there it was on the shelf and I thought I might as well ;)). Good thing my husband likes the story too. If we watch it today it will be our third JE adaptation in a week :p

[Edited to remove a superfluous review :ymblushing: ]
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby lysander » Oct 24, 2009 11:39 am

Oh, I have been waiting for this review ever since you said you were going to post it yesterday. I was also dreading it, considering that you had just watched and enjoyed the much lengthier '83 miniseries. (By the way, you've now posted your review of that version twice in this thread. ;) )

Some thoughts:

My initial impression of this film (perhaps unfairly since I just came off reading the book and seeing the extremely faithful 1983 miniseries) is that it is way too rushed.

I just knew this was going to happen! :(( Yes, it is rather unfair to compare the pacing of a 5.5 hour miniseries with a movie less than two hours long! But I do see what you mean. A lot of things had to be cut or sped up to fit with the running time, but I don't see it being any worse than most big-screen literary adaptations. The childhood sections, granted, I always found a little random and OTT, as well as her visit to her aunt - anything, in general, that does not take place at Thornfield. But those sections, which make up the bulk of the movie, are just superb. I know a lot is missing, but I always found the novel to be rather exciting and suspenseful, and I feel the Welles/Fontaine version conveyed this much better than either of the other versions I've seen, certainly better than the Zefferelli version, which had good atmosphere but was terribly dull.

Welles was okay as Rochester, but not nearly passionate enough. I almost laughed at the part where he is pleading with Jane not to leave. "Jane, Jane, Jane" says he in a fading voice.

I watched a clip of this scene recently and in general I agree with you. After comparing it with other renditions, it seemed rather too staid, and not at all faithful to the book. But I don't think it's laughable. Heartbreaking, rather, and Fontaine's face says everything that needs to be said. And you can't blame Welles for how the scene was written. In general, I find him a very passionate, brooding Rochester (the scene where he reveals Bertha is particularly good), as well as being the one that best fits the physical type.

I rather liked Fontaine as Jane, though she was certainly too pretty for the part. Having her in that role reminded me forcibly of how much Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca owes to Jane Eyre;

... which begs the question as to why this beautiful lady was always cast as plain, mousy heroines. Weird. Anyhow, they did a fairly good job of making her look plain with hair and makeup, though I have seen better pretty-to-ugly onscreen transformations (e.g. her sister Olivia in The Heiress). Good contrast between she and the Blanche, too.

I also didn't like how they rewrote parts of the story and had Jane narrate it, actually showing an image of the "book" and the text she was reading — when it was totally different from the book's text!

That is incredibly annoying; one of the few things I genuinely dislike about the film. X( Why did they have to show us the text she was reading, especially with the corny highlighting of the important paragraphs? It would have been preferable just to have narration, nothing more. Or, better yet, use the book's text.

I do miss the veil-ripping too, and the gypsy scene, but again, I find the Bertha scene wonderfully intense, and think not showing her just adds to the mystery of the thing. When she WAS shown in the other two versions I watched, I always found her disappointing, and not at all as I pictured her.

The ending felt anticlimatic.

Okay, this I don't understand at all. 8-} For me the ending, while succinct, is both intense and eloquent. They missed Rochester's repentance and jealousy (the latter impossible when St John is written out) but thematically most everything else is there. There's more passion in the single kiss in this version than in all the necking in '06, and Fontaine's closing voiceover always gives me goosebumps.

Other things I love about the film: Bernard Hermann's score, the WONDERFUL cinematography (I have a hard time watching other versions just because they're in color, believe it or not :ymblushing: ), and Margaret O'Brien's brilliant comic turn as Adele. Moreover, as much as I hate using the term, especially as an excuse for failures of adaptation, it is simply great entertainment. I'm sure I've told this story before, but my mother sat down to fold laundry once in the same room where I was watching the movie, and though it only took her ten minutes to get the clothes folded, she ended up sitting there until "The End" appeared on the screen. "Wow, that was a great movie!" she said. And it is; one of my favorites. Maybe because my initial reading wasn't on the whole a success, I was able to overlook things that might normally have bothered me. But I'm sad you didn't enjoy it more! :((
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby 220chrisTian » Oct 24, 2009 4:54 pm

This will be my first post in this thread. :ymblushing:

Jane Eyre: I've seen the 1983 miniseries, which I loved, the first part of the 1996 Zefirelli version [except for Anna Paquin I didn't like the casting], the 1997 A&E version [I didn't like the casting] and parts of the 2006 BBC version. I liked the casting on this last one. :)

lysander wrote:There's more passion in the single kiss in this version than in all the necking in '06, and Fontaine's closing voiceover always gives me goosebumps.
I haven't seen the 1944 version, but I thought there was plenty of passion in the 2006 movie, certainly more than in the other versions I saw. I want to see the 2006 version in full. :ymblushing:

Wuthering Heights: let's see ... I've seen parts of the 1992 version [good casting] and the first half of the 2009 BBC version. I thought the settings were pretty well done in both. But I disliked the latter one because of its overt godlessness. /:) I don't remember it being like this in the book, which I still don't care for. I prefer Jane Eyre. ;)

(Don't you hate the word "version" now? I do. ;) )
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby lysander » Oct 24, 2009 6:30 pm

There was plenty of passion in the '06 miniseries. I was being snarky, really, because that version's fans often seem to adopt the attitude that all the others aren't passionate enough because they don't show Jane and Rochester cuddling or lying down on Jane's bed! This actually happens in the '06 version and it annoys me to death. Brontë's Jane would never do such a thing.

That adaptation is overrated in the extreme.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Oct 24, 2009 7:12 pm

lys wrote:(By the way, you've now posted your review of that version twice in this thread. )


Ack! That's what happens when I'm posting on two different boards :ymblushing: . I've edited to remove that repeated review. Sorry! I need to keep better track of where I post what.

lys wrote:But I don't think it's laughable. Heartbreaking, rather, and Fontaine's face says everything that needs to be said.


Ah, but I disagree! You can't even see his face; he's all the way across the room. Jane's face betrays little, I thought. It just didn't fit with Rochester's fiery, impetuous nature to give her up so easily. I understand they had limited time to give to that scene, but it just felt weak.

lys wrote:In general, I find him a very passionate, brooding Rochester (the scene where he reveals Bertha is particularly good), as well as being the one that best fits the physical type.


Yes, that's true. But I think I like Timothy Dalton best so far. He played the role very passionately. Maybe if Welles had had a better script, he would be my favorite Rochester.

lys wrote:Good contrast between she and the Blanche, too.


"The Blanche"? ;)) Yes, I thought the contrast was fairly good. I think Fontaine was cast in all those mousy roles because she was simply good at playing the hesitant, shy girl. And would they really have cast an unattractive woman in a lead role back then? I doubt it (though I would be happy to be proven wrong).

I ditto your thoughts about the highlighted faux JE text!

lys wrote:For me the ending, while succinct, is both intense and eloquent.


Maybe it was its brevity that ruined it for me. And I really do miss the Rivers subplot. It was just such a lovely reversal, to have Rochester jealous of Jane's supposed lover, when he had taken such pains that she should be jealous of his.

lys wrote:Bernard Hermann's score,


Agreed! It was very nice.

lys wrote:the WONDERFUL cinematography (I have a hard time watching other versions just because they're in color, believe it or not )


Yes, I agree here too! Has anyone ever considered making a modern film in black and white? You can do so much with it that you can't do with color films. Every shadow means something.

lys wrote:Margaret O'Brien's brilliant comic turn as Adele.


Oh, do you mean when the party is arriving and she turns and drops the plant? Yes, that was hilarious =)) . We rewound it a couple times just to laugh at it!

Don't be sad, lys, I didn't hate it. But you need to see the 1983 version now ;)

220 wrote:Jane Eyre: I've seen the 1983 miniseries, which I loved


Yes, that one's my favorite so far too!

I saw bits of the 2009 Wuthering Heights when it was on TV and thought it well done. I'd like to see all of it eventually. Is the 1992 version the one with Ralph Fiennes and Juliet Binoche? I like that version a lot. You're right, the casting was spot-on. And I remember the music being lovely too.

Ugh, I don't want to hear that about the 2006 version :(. It's annoying that one was made so recently... there seems to be a ten-year gap between the adaptations, so I suppose that means we have to wait until 2016 for a new one to dissect ;))

I'm a little more than halfway through the 1973 version (yes 220, I'm starting to dislike that word too!). It's pretty good, though Michael Jayston is not at all the physical type for Rochester. He's barely taller than Jane! And the makeup he is wearing is a bit stagey (come on, eyeliner??). I am really liking Sorcha Cusack as Jane though. She has a very slightly elfin look, and is less reserved that Zelah Clarke. Though Zelah Clarke is very good too!

And in other Bronte news, I'm nearly 200 pages into Villette. It's good, but it isn't really gripping me yet. For some reason it is reminding me of Eliot's Middlemarch. Perhaps I will suddenly fall into Villette around page 200 as I did with Middlemarch. Dr. John reminds me of Tertius Lydgate very much indeed...
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby lysander » Oct 24, 2009 10:36 pm

Unfortunately, Amy, my library does not carry the either of the older miniseries - just the '96, '97, and '06 versions! They used to have the Welles/Fontaine on VHS too, but then they sold that ... and I bought it. :p Anyway, I did watch clips of '83 today, and while I think Welles/Fontaine is #1 for me, I do really want to see it. One quibble: Dalton is so very tall, and Clarke so very short, that the effect when they were standing side by side was almost humorous. But they both seemed quite wonderful individually.

Oh, do you mean when the party is arriving and she turns and drops the plant? Yes, that was hilarious =)) . We rewound it a couple times just to laugh at it!

Oh, I'd forgotten about that part in particular, but now I remember it. =)) However, pretty much everything she does in that movie is hilarious; my favorite part is when she does an impression of Rochester glowering beside the fire. I'm sure some people frown on turning Adele into comic relief, but when it's so well done, I don't mind really.

This is incredibly random, but I've totally been trying to say some of Rochester's lines from the 40s film in a deep Wellesian voice today, after watching a couple clips of it as well. Particularly "I don't want your pity, Jane!" and "Do you think I want to let you go?" My friend and I decided that only someone like Welles could say lines like that with the result that they be epic and not cheesy. (No slight meant to Charlotte Brontë, or even the screenwriters really. It's just one of those old movies things.)

Oh dear, now I may have to read Villette, since I do love Middlemarch so much. And there's a character like Lydgate? Most people seem to dislike him, but for some reason he reminds me a bit of myself. Anyway, off-topic....

EDIT: One last bit I meant to respond to....
And would they really have cast an unattractive woman in a lead role back then? I doubt it (though I would be happy to be proven wrong).

No, they wouldn't. They probably wouldn't now either, at least in mainstream Hollywood, but back when the studio system was at its height it was almost impossible to find something like that happening. However, there were brave actresses who insisted they be made up to look their part, no matter how unglamorous a result. Again, Olivia de Havilland (Fontaine's sister) in The Heiress is a perfect example.

One more strike for the 40s version: this ghastly poster. :-s
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Kate » Oct 25, 2009 1:50 am

ww wrote:And in other Bronte news, I'm nearly 200 pages into Villette. It's good, but it isn't really gripping me yet. For some reason it is reminding me of Eliot's Middlemarch. Perhaps I will suddenly fall into Villette around page 200 as I did with Middlemarch.
Uh oh. I don't want to hear that. I found Villette a waste of time and I want so badly to like Middlemarch when I finally read it. I have a real bone to pick with Dr. John.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Oct 27, 2009 12:06 pm

lys wrote:One quibble: Dalton is so very tall, and Clarke so very short, that the effect when they were standing side by side was almost humorous.


Aww! Maybe it's because I am significantly shorter than my husband that this doesn't bother me in the least — in fact, I rather like it. It emphasizes Jane's physical insignificance which contrasts so beautifully with her spiritual/mental/moral stature. Dalton is not the physical type for Rochester but he's still my favorite.

lys wrote:my favorite part is when she does an impression of Rochester glowering beside the fire.


Yes, that was very funny too ;))

Oh my! :-o That poster defines "ghastly." Ugh.

I like Lydgate! Dr. John in Villette is strikingly similar, though I think now he is going to avoid Lydgate's mistake. We shall see.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby johobbit » Oct 31, 2009 8:19 pm

Please note that this Special Feature will close this coming Wednesday, November 4. After that time, please discuss the Bronte sisters' works in the appropriate Books, Television, or Movies thread. :)
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby ForeverFan » Oct 31, 2009 8:45 pm

220 wrote:Wuthering Heights: let's see ... I've seen parts of the 1992 version [good casting] and the first half of the 2009 BBC version. I thought the settings were pretty well done in both. But I disliked the latter one because of its overt godlessness. /:) I don't remember it being like this in the book, which I still don't care for.


I saw the full thing when it was on Masterpiece, and personally I found it very very much unlike the book. Especially in regards to the Heathcliff-Cathy relationship, which I felt they totally skewered. I had just read the book previously, so it was still fresh in my mind, and when I watched that particular adaptation, there was so much by way of fast forward-able content (which we couldn't have skipped due to it being on TV) that it really turned me off it. I like the actual book (I may not absolutely love it, but I liked it enough to dislike this adaptation and all that was added in) still, but definitely not this particular version of it. [-( All that to say, you didn't miss much by not watching the second half. Anyways.

On the subject of Anne Bronte, I picked up her The Tenant of Wildfell Hall the other day at the bookstore, I'm looking forwards to reading it (although for no particular reason...). I saw the film adaptation of that as well at another store, but as it was with two other Bronte Adaptations (I think the Zelah Clarke Jane Eyre and some 1967 Wuthering Heights) and I didn't have the $26.00 or so for all three, I had to pass. Alas. I wouldn't minded seeing a Jane Eyre version. I started one some time ago, from the '70s, but never finished it.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Amira Tair » Nov 02, 2009 4:07 am

I also picked up The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall at the library and have been reading it this weekend, as it is a holiday and I have more time. I have almost finished it and loved it. I couln't put it down, wishing to see what was going to happen next, although at some moment it became almost unbearable to read - but I think that this was Brontë's intention. The subject is quite atypical for the time and her views unconventional, which makes it more interesting, and I have grown very fond of the main character, Helen - well, and Gilbert too, naïve as he is.
It is a pity Anne doesn't receive as much attention as her sisters; surely she is not as good as them, but she is much better than many others and has been quite forgotten.
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Nov 03, 2009 7:19 pm

Oh no, I have to get a last post in before this closes!

I finished Villette — and Kate, I get why you didn't like it ;)). I did like it, but not terribly. Full review here for the curious.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will be my next Bronte, though I think I will give them a bit of a break for the moment. Thanks for your thoughts on it, Amira.

And I watched the 1973 JE adaptation. It's my second favorite, after the 1983 version. I liked Sorcha Cusack a lot, and their St. John Rivers looked absolutely perfect. But for some odd reason they cut out the subplot with Miss Olivia. Maybe it didn't add much to the story, but it did give us good insight into St John's character.

Michael Jayston acted the part of Rochester very well, but he didn't look like Rochester to me and they had him in stage makeup (very obvious eyeliner ;;) ).

One thing I did find interesting was that the lady who played Mrs. Reed in the 1973 version played Mrs. Fairfax in the 1983 version :P. Jean Harvey, I think her name is. She did well in both roles!
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby Marigold Gamgee » Nov 03, 2009 10:17 pm

I remember that Kate and I had rather different opinions on Villette when she was reading it. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it. :(

I think part of the problem for some readers (with both Villette and Wuthering Heights) is that Jane Eyre is so distinctively brilliant, and the other books just...aren't the same style or tone at all really.

I like all the books I've read so far by the Bronte sisters, for different reasons. I've read: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Villette, and Agnes Grey by Anne (a sweet little book that I really enjoyed--why isn't this one a movie?!?).
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Re: Special Feature: the Brontë Sisters

Postby wisewoman » Nov 04, 2009 6:04 am

It wasn't that I didn't enjoy Villette. I just found it so different from JE. I think you're right... they're all good, but there is something inspired about JE, and the others suffer by it.

I've read Agnes Grey and liked it. It would be a sweet movie :)
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