Chris Chang im Agathachristie.com Blog über Änderungen

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Japp
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Chris Chang im Agathachristie.com Blog über Änderungen

Beitrag von Japp » 07.09.2009, 22:43

Interessanter Blog eintrag!
Adapting Christie, or, How I Learned to Start Complaining and Hate the Changes by Chris_Chan

Fandom is a strange yet wonderful phenomenon. Some professed “fans” of Agatha Christie are content to read the occasional Christie novel once in a while, when they have the time. Other fans feel compelled to read every book that Christie ever wrote. Still other fans seek out every movie and television adaptation of Christie novels ever filmed. Some fans with the time and money to travel actually visits locations from Christie’s life and novels. Then, there are fans like me, who want to help preserve, perpetuate, and polish Christie’s legacy.

Ever since the first film adaptations of Christie’s work were released, Christie purists (i.e., fans who want movie versions of Christie stories to adhere as closely to the original tales as possible while still being first-class art and entertainment) have found much to irk them. Many changes have made little sense. In 1928, the first Christie movie, based on the first Harley Quin story, added an extra “n” to the enigmatic detective’s name. A trilogy of Poirot movies in the early 1930’s, based on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Black Coffee, and Lord Edgware Dies, starred Austin Trevor as Poirot. Trevor declared that he got the role because of his ability to mimic a French accent. The whole Belgian/French confusion notwithstanding, Trevor bore no physical resemblance to Christie’s detective, being in his mid-thirties, tall, and completely devoid of facial hair. The trend has not abated over the years. Over the years, Christie stories have had their locations changed, with characters dropped and added, plots completely gutted, sex and violence inserted, and sometimes even the killer has been changed.

Since its inception, the message board on this website has been continuously buzzing with Christie fans voicing their opinions over recent adaptations. So far, plot transplants, Sapphic subplots, and more overtly sexual subject matter have been particular bones of contention, with some fans crying foul, and others asserting that alterations to the plot are perfectly acceptable as long as the movie is entertaining.

In the interests of full disclosure, I feel like I should make it clear that I am a reactionary purist when it comes to Christie adaptations. I’m a huge fan of those thirty-two-hour adaptations of Dickens novels that replicate every single little detail of the books, and if one tiny little extraneous scene is missing, I get very upset. I hate it when the plot of a Christie adaptation bears no resemblance to the original book. When a story is adapted, I want to see the book come to life, not some radical reworking so loosely based on the source material that I’m surprised that Christie’s name is still on it.

And yes, I know that Christie said that her stories needed simplification when they were adapted for the stage, and I know that she changed her own endings to the stage versions of And Then There Were None, Appointment With Death, and Witness for the Prosecution. But when Christie made the changes that she did, she altered her stories to make them work better on the stage, or to comfort an audience reeling from WWII, or to comment on the self-destructive nature of evil, or emphasize a point about the inevitability of justice. Over the last few years, I get the sense that the screenwriters are making the alterations they do just because they want to see girl-on-girl action.

Now, I can accept changes if they actually work. I loved the addition of Nurse Plimsoll in Witness for the Prosecution, I mostly enjoyed the little original subplots that were tacked onto the one-hour episodes of Poirot, and any time that Hugh Fraser, Philip Jackson, and Pauline Moran want to make an appearance in an adaptation of a story that didn’t originally include Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp, or Miss Lemon is fine by me. I’m a purist, but I’m not unreasonable about it. I don’t mind changes if it makes a better movie, but all too often the modifications don’t interest, entertain, or enlighten me in the least.

The complaints about changed killers, transplanted adult material, and utterly alien plots are well known. In many cases, the changes make the movies more confusing. In a good adaptation of a Christie novel, enough clues should be provided to allow the viewer to be able to deduce the solution, without the killer’s identity being too obvious. Unfortunately, in some of the new Marple mysteries, the clues have been obscured or made ambiguous to the point that it is almost impossible to guess the answer if you don’t know it already (assuming that the original solution has been retained). In the recent adaptation of Cards on the Table, which was a wonderful take on Christie’s work for the first hour, it went off the rails with the radically restructured final act. Several minutes were devoted to adding a fifth suspect– one of the detectives– into the mix. Handled properly, it might be an acceptable change, but in a panning shot before the murder victim is discovered, a knife handle is clearly visible in the dead man’s chest. Since sharp-eyed viewers know that the victim was dead long before any of the detectives came anywhere near him, the time devoted to setting up a motive for the fifth suspect is simply a flat-out waste of time. This could have been prevented by a more judicious camera angle, or a two-second cut at the start of the scene. As it was, the time spent on this subplot meant that intriguing storylines from the book had to be deleted. My point is, if the production team absolutely must make changes, they must take great pains to integrate them into the storyline and make them work.

Having stated the problem, I would like to propound my solutions. I am not a professional screenwriter (although I would love to be involved with any new Christie adaptations that might be released), but as someone who is extremely familiar with Dame Agatha’s work, I know what I would like to see. Instead of gimmicks and shock value, the key to attracting viewers, critical praise, and lasting work, future productions need to work at providing opportunities for incredible acting.

Christie’s critics have often voiced their opinions that her characters need more depth. I don’t always agree with that, but I think that in the future, stress should be placed on sculpting and crafting great roles for suspects. I want to see scenes where the innocent worry over whether or not they will be forced to spend the rest of their lives under suspicion, I want to see terrific climactic scenes with the murderer, and I want to see fully developed characters interacting, so viewers can pick up on psychological clues as to who’s innocent and who’s guilty. Some of the most recent Poirot adaptations have been criticized for not showing the great detective actually detecting, but instead, his solutions seem to be intuitive rather than deductive. Suchet has managed to keep his portrayal of the Belgian sleuth fresh for two decades, and future installments need to show him interacting with the suspects, subtly crafting psychological profiles of them through seemingly innocuous but actually carefully planned conversations. I want to see Poirot’s humor, righteous rage, and little instances of joie de vivre incorporated into each episode.

And I know that the remaining Poirot adaptations may need some tweaking in order to work properly. Black Coffee may need some reworking and padding, and the plot elements borrowed from The Mysterious Affair at Styles need to be altered. Elephants Can Remember needs to me more than just conversations with people with blurry memories. The Suchet version of Murder on the Orient Express will need to be more than a mere shot-for-shot remake of the fine 1974 version starring Albert Finney, and avoid the pitfalls of the modernized 2001 version starring Alfred Molina.

The production decision to keep the Poirot series in the 1930’s has worked out well for the most part, with the slight awkwardness of amputating the postwar themes of Taken at the Flood and sixties youth culture clashes of Third Girl. I think that Black Coffee should be set in a distinctly WWII-era setting, and perhaps The Big Four, one of the most difficult Christie novels to adapt, ought to be set during WWII, with the villains’ motives tied directly to the war. Curtain, which was originally supposed to be set in the years immediately following the war, rather than in the 1970’s, ought to be set soon after the peace begins, during the still-reeling years of regrouping and rebuilding. With only a handful of Poirot stories remaining ( Dead Man’s Folly, Hallowe’en Party, Murder on the Orient Express, Elephants Can Remember, Three-Act Tragedy, The Clocks, The Big Four, Black Coffee, The Labours of Hercules (twelve stories), “The Lemesurier Inheritance,” and Curtain), it would be nice to see them serve as a shining capstone to a long-running series.



As for new Marple adaptations, at this point every Miss Marple novel has been filmed, some as many as four times. Instead of Miss Marple being shoehorned into mysteries she does not originally appear in, (I worry that Crooked House might be the next one to face the Marple-insertion treatment, since it was once cited by Christie as one of her personal favorite of her own novels, I think that when it is finally filmed, it should adhere as closely as possible to Christie’s original vision), I say that the screenwriters should make the most out of stories they already have. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Miss Marple short stories have ever been filmed. Many of these stories would make for excellent television, especially “Death by Drowning.” A series based on the stories, with a supporting cast consisting of actors playing Miss Marple’s nephew Raymond West, his artist paramour Joyce (Or is it Joan? Christie contradicted herself.), Dolly Bantry, Dr. Haydock, and possibly others, could potentially be very entertaining. Like the one-hour Poirots, if the screenwriters wanted to utilize their fertile imaginations, this would be an ideal place in order to fill out the episodes.

If screenwriters are absolutely determined to film essentially original mysteries under the Christie name, there are much better ways to create them rather than gutting novels. I certainly would not object to a series centered on “adaptations” of Ariadne Oliver’s work, based on the brief descriptions of the Sven Hjerson saga in the real novels. Authors could take the few brief premises, such as numerous chief constables being shot simultaneously, or a politician faking his own murder before being killed for real, and let their imaginations run wild. Also, I would love to see television movies based on Christie and real-life crimes, such as the “Bovington Bug,” where a serial killer poisoned his family and friends, and was only caught because someone investigating the case had read The Pale Horse, and recognized the poisoning symptoms. A fictionalized telling of the story, giving Christie a much more involved role, could be really entertaining, as would tales based on the members of the Detection Club, like Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton, collaborating on solving real-life mysteries.

By writing this, I do not mean to antagonize or denigrate the creative teams behind some of the most recent Christie adaptations. I think that the last five years have brought out some of the best– and worst– takes on Christie’s work yet. I would like to see a continuation of the high production values, stellar acting, and style that have made the new adaptations of Five Little Pigs, The Hollow, and After the Funeral among the best yet, and a move away from the unrecognizable storylines that have put off many fans who appreciate Christie for what she is, rather than just light entertainment that can be punched up as necessary in order to mindlessly tickle viewers. My opinion is that of a fan and nothing more, but if I could possibly make future Christie adaptations as great as they can possibly be, I feel that I would be giving back to the legacy of a woman who has brought a great deal of happiness to my life.



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Wilfried
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Re: Chris Chang im Agathachristie.com Blog über Änderungen

Beitrag von Wilfried » 08.09.2009, 20:42

Danke Japp für diesen wundervollen Beitrag; Chris Chang spricht mir ganz und gar aus der Seele! Hoffentlich verfolgen die Christie-Filmemacher den Christie-Fan-Talk auch ein bischen und sind sensibel für Kritik...
"But yes, my friend, it is of a most pleasing symmetry, do you not find it so?"

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Re: Chris Chang im Agathachristie.com Blog über Änderungen

Beitrag von Japp » 17.11.2009, 18:36

neuer eintrag von ihm:

In a previous column, I complained about the disasters that can result when screen adaptations of Christie novels play fast and loose with the original source material. I stand by my whining. However, I feel that I need to follow up my previous, largely negative article with a companion piece describing what I like about Christie film adaptations.

Although there have been a few hiccups along the way, the Poirot series starring David Suchet has been one of the finest programs on television for two decades and counting. The Joan Hickson Miss Marple series is another gold standard for quality mystery adaptations. Furthermore, the big-screen versions of And Then There Were None (the 1945 René Clair adaption), Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution, and Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express are film classics. The Peter Ustinov versions of Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun are also among my favorites. Even in most of the more mediocre adaptations of Christie novels, there is always something that keeps me watching and interested. And I think that I need to explain why.

I know that there are people who believe that once you know the solution to the mystery, there’s no point in reading the book or watching the movie another time. I couldn’t disagree more. For the first reading or viewing, good mysteries should produce two reactions: a desperate desire to reach the end so as to learn the solution, and a strong unwillingness to see the story stop. The best mysteries need to provide a reason for subsequent visits.

Other than the fact that I find rereading Agatha Christie novels and rewatching adaptations soothing, I keep coming back to them because further study helps to improve my understanding of the art and craft of creating mysteries. In an Agatha Christie book or movie, it is a cardinal rule that the reader or viewer needs to have a fair chance at guessing the identity of the guilty party. Even if I know the ending, I watch to appreciate the screenwriter’s work at condensing extraneous clues, red herrings, and characters to fit the allotted time. I often ask myself, would I be able to guess the solution if I didn’t know it? Is the solution being made too obvious? Where does the film improve or come short compared to the original book? Making comparisons and appreciating the sheer difficulty of producing a mystery always entertains me.

Quality acting is another facet of Christie adaptations that I really appreciate. I have lauded the performances of David Suchet and Joan Hickson many times, and they deserve this praise. The supporting casts have not tended to receive their just reward from me. In a well-crafted film mystery, all of the actors need to give their all for the sake of the viewers who don’t know the solution, because up until the denouement, every character has the potential to be the most important player in the drama: the killer. It’s amazing how few actors give one hundred percent for a role for which they know they won’t win an award. One problem marring many of the American television adaptations is that the actors clearly treat their roles as just a paycheck. In a truly wonderful Christie adaptation, each potential suspect, no matter how small the role, needs to act like he very well could be the murderer.

The Christie adaptations are full of great acting. Not just the continuing performances of the actors playing the main detectives, but also on the part of dozens of actors who attempt to create little miniatures of great performances, creating an understandable suspect or sympathetic victim with only a limited amount of screen time. True, many actors fail to create anything more than another possibility in their performance, but over the years I have been routinely impressed by how many actors take a limited character and make me understand that character’s emotions, motives, and goals over as little as seven or eight minutes.

Also, since most Christie movies are period pieces, I enjoy seeing how genteel British worlds are recreated on screen. When significant time and effort are spent on developing time-specific sets and costumes, the results tend to be visually impressive.

I will continue to complain long and loud when I find things that annoy me about Christie adaptations, but I realize that I need to start praising what the adaptations do right more often. A good Christie adaptation relaxes and entertains me, as well as stimulates my mind and imagination. In the end, watching the recreation of the world of Agatha Christie is what really keeps me coming back to the adaptations. The Christieverse is a welcome respite from the crude, messy, and often unjust real world, as well as many of the other fictional or fictionalized worlds on television, and when film adaptations successfully transfer it onto the screen, I can turn on the television and for a brief period I can feel that all is right with the world… except for all the murders.

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