Thursday, May 21, 2009

Silencing the Cultural Distancing ‘sotto voce’ : The Celluloid Adaptation of E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View”

Mr Emerson: “………It seems to me you are in a muddle, seems to me that the reason you are going to Greece, the reason you have broken off your engagement , yes Miss Bartlett told me, is that you love George……..”
Lucy ( sobbing she sits down): “But I got to go to Greece, I mean the tickets bought,and…everything…..its only impossible.”
Mr. Emerson: “Tell me one thing impossible next to love and to part………..( catches hold of Lucy’s fists) ……You love George, you love the boy body and soul as he loves you….”
Lucy( still sobbing): “But, of course, I do. Who did you all think? ( rushing to the door )…….No, I got to go; they trust me.”
Mr. Emerson: “Why should they? You deceived everybody including yourself.”

--------Thus Mr. Emerson , a believer in truth and desire, a staunch upholder of personal values before public ones, coaxes the feisty yet baffled English idealist Lucy into giving vent to her heart in the climax of “A Room with a View”, an engrossing screen adaptation of E.M. Forester’s classic novel of the same name. And this compressed scene suggests why E. M. Forster's novels have proved so captivating and alluring on screen.
Forster the liberal humanist palpably showed allegiance to the sanctity of personal relationships, democracy , individualism, and an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate ,and the plucky. He sought freedom from prejudices and its skepticism, from restricting and regressive bonds of a political , economic and social doctrine. In order to make life worth living, he advocated a synthesis ---a synthesis of the body and the soul, Emotion and Intellect, Nature and Culture. Forster’s novels perfectly epitomize his creed and so do the films based on his novels. In them flares up a microcosm of what has immortalised Forster as a veracious delineator of social manners and ‘underdeveloped hearts’, and a patron of the complete man and the total vision of life.

In the exquisite screen adaptation of E.M. Forster’s third novel ‘ A Room with a View’(1908), the creative triumvirate of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have fashioned a delightfully entertaining yet spiffy and cerebral comedy of manners quite in concordance with the classic novel. Unlike most period pieces, this movie is charming, witty, and very entertaining, and has none of the stiffness that adaptations of literary classics usually suffer from. The film released in 1986 turned out to be one of the first international hits of the Merchant/ Ivory Production grabbing accolades from both critics and connoisseurs. As expected , the film stole the show in the year’s Academy Award Ceremony and clinched three including the Oscar for the Best Picture.

Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter), a young English nubile , arrives in Florence in 1907 with Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith), her prudish middle-aged cousin. They are very disappointed that their rooms do not have views. At dinner in the pension, Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott) offers them the rooms he shares with his handsome son George (Julian Sands). Although embarrassed by this proposal and the frank way it is proffered, the women decide to swap rooms.
While touring the city alone one afternoon, Lucy happens to witness the violent stabbing of a man; George is nearby when she collapses in shock. The stage is set for intimacy between the two young people, and later, during an outing in the country, he boldly kisses her in a beautiful field of flowers. Charlotte, her hawk-eyed chaperon, witnesses the event and whisks her charge back to England.
Lucy complacently settles for the tiresomely traditional courtship of nerdish Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis). Much to the dismay of her fun-loving brother Freddy (Rupert Graves) and the family clergyman, Reverend Beebe (Simon Callow), Lucy has decided to marry Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day Lewis), a dilettante who loves art rather than life. Both men intuit that she is too passionate a woman for this supercilious fellow. By chance, the Emersons rent a villa nearby. When the Emersons decide to move into the area, Lucy becomes nervous, restless, anxious. And we know the best-laid plans are about to go terribly and wonderfully awry. For the Emersons are passionate disciples of Thoreau, and they believe that love, not law, should be the operative principle. The worst thing in the world, says Mr. Emerson, “is to love… and to part.” When George learns that Lucy is to marry Cecil, he steals another heated kiss and declares his love for her. Bound by convention to wed the man she has chosen, Lucy faces a conflict between propriety and passion. She inexorably finds herself on the horns of a dilemma: Should she opt for a safe, proper marriage to Cecil, or the bohemian unpredictability of the charismatic Emerson? In other words,she is forced to make a choice — to offend and upset the entire community by breaking her engagement to a man who wants her only as an ornament, or to deny her heart the relationship in which she will be valued, appreciated, and free.
True to the novel, screenplay writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and director James Ivory revel in Lucy’s awakening to the possibility of a new life lived in accordance with nature and the promptings of the heart. The emancipation of her passion proves to be a thunderstorm in a teacup. And on the screen it simply stirs and casts a spell on all. A winner of three Academy Awards, “A Room with a View” is not what one could call fast-moving, but fans of the Merchant-Ivory team enjoy the film basking in its leisurely pace and stimulating cast of characters. Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Helena Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis are all exceptional in an outstanding cast. The scenery and the soundtrack are spectacularly bold, and it works wonders. At times, viewers feel as though they have visited a museum, and stepped right into paintings of romance and life.

Early in her acquaintance with the author, Virginia Woolf wrote, “I saw Forster, who is timid as a mouse, but when he creeps out of his hole very charming.” Even on the page, Forster’s writing voice has a quiet composure that would seemingly subvert any claim to being a cynosure in the cinematic world . But when his stories creep out of their books and onto the screen, they always loom large as charming and cinematic . And “A Room with a View’ obviously bears testimony to it.

Pranjal Borah
Mobile: 9435052267

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