Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Vanity Fair: the movie

A thread for discussing the movie Vanity Fair. Feel free to comment on the movie if you haven’t read the book. Compare, contrast, deconstruct, or just say thumbs up or down. If you’ve read the book, how did you like the changes/additions/omissions?

You can also visit the Vanity Fair movie website which has a lot of things to see.

I will post another ‘round-up’ thread for Vanity Fair soon that provides links to all the posts and can serve as a final discussion area as we move on to other works.


Dwight said...

In general, I like the movie very much. I did not see it until I completely finished the book. The film was absolutely lovely to watch, with Mira Nair adding richness with the additional Indian references and flair.

I thought they did about as well as they could in trying to condense such a long, rambling book to 2 hours. Combining scenes from the book into one scene in the movie worked fine. Most of the changes from the book didn’t bother me, although once they went in a certain direction away from the book on small changes, sometimes it led to further necessary changes further into the film.

The biggest change to me was how much nicer they painted Becky in the movie. I got the feeling that that they were trying to impose a modern viewpoint on Thackeray’s satire. Thackeray skewered everyone and every institution. In trying to make Becky a more sympathetic character, the satire is completely lost. In trying to paint her as an innocent simply trying to get ahead, the movie becomes less black but loses much of the original intent. Becky, despite what one of the principals said in an interview on the DVD, was not a Madonna in her time.

Underlying that major difference is the emphasis on vanity and not Vanity Fair. I posted about the source of the term Vanity Fair, which underlined everything Thackeray wrote. I thought we might be in trouble the second time we saw peacocks in the movie (first during the credits, second at Vauxhall) which symbolizes vanity—that is definitely NOT what Thackeray was focusing on. Just having discovered the movie website, I see peacock feathers everywhere. I know—it’s a minor thing. But it symbolizes a completely different meaning for the movie.

The casting was good, although I pictured Dobbin much differently (I was thinking much bigger and duller) and Jos much fatter. Also, I pictured Lord Steyne as much older and feebler than Gabriel Byrne. I watched the deleted scenes on the DVD, and not much was lost by excluding them. A few additional seconds on Conventry Island when the natives speculating on how long Rawdon would live would have highlighted the death-sentence part of his post. And there were a couple of scenes that would have added to the financial aspect of the movie (how they were able to secure a house in London with no money, for example).

But the alternate ending was the most instructive. I’m sure the happy ending of Becky and Jos getting married in India tested much higher with focus groups. But Becky showing up at the funeral of Pitt, although fabricated, is much truer to the book. Even then, they still had to throw in a sort of reconciliation between little Rawdon and Becky, following their ‘nicer Becky’ tack.

All in all, a fun and beautiful movie to watch. Several of the changes undermined the entire book in my view, so don’t expect a faithful rendition of Thackeray. But worthwhile to watch on its own merits. I’m interested to hear what others think about it.

Tiredbuthappy said...

I finally saw this a week or so ago. I expected to watch it by myself, but my spouse got sucked in early on. We're both newish Reese Witherspoon fans after seeing her in Walk the Line.

I thought the connection with Steyne was more sinister in the movie, and also more predictable. Becky was more likeable, partly because the movie omitted all the servants who Becky and Rawdon beggared.

All in all, though, a really excellent film adaptation.