"Postmodern mirrors"

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Date: Oct. 2006
From: Literature-Film Quarterly(Vol. 34, Issue 4)
Publisher: Salisbury State University
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,126 words
Lexile Measure: 1630L

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Metaphors of replication characterize William Wyler's adaptational films. The reflexive metaphor, in Glamour (1934), for instance, is laden with social and political meanings. Glamour is among the films of the classical period that combine commercial purpose with a simultaneous critique of it. As popular as that combination has become (Slmone [Niccol, 2002] is an obvious example), that dual strategy is carried on (rather than invented) in contemporary cinema; and in the classical period, adaptation of literary work is an important locus for that theme. Whether literature and film are two forms of one narrative art (Beja 121-40), or whether (instead) literature and film are opposite forms of signification, productive of mutually alien modes of meaning (Andrew 101), sometimes, as in Wyler's films, reflections about imitation itself mean far more than a witty representation of the art's own form. (1) My principal examples within this essay--The Heiress (Wyler, 1949), Glamour, and A Star Is Born (Wellman, 1937) considered in relation to What Price Hollywood? (Cukor, 1932--cannot in themselves establish the larger point that I suggest, which is that film adaptations very generally incorporate reflections of simulation, critically mirroring their own imitative forms. That larger argument will require other essays and many more examples, of course; but these examples can, I hope, illustrate the point and clarify the artistic strategies and effects that I have in mind.

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In Wyler's Glamour and The Heiress, a prematurely postmodern mirror-moment functions within the narrative and also without. Images of replication or imitation deepen and broaden the issues. The nonidentity of media (a film is not a printed book) is an issue that serves, in itself, to represent many forms of unreality in the social and economic worlds, deriving ultimately from the merely symbolic or substitutional character of money, in an increasingly monetized world. The problem of cinematic replication involves a larger philosophical problem concerning what Jean Baudrillard and Fredric Jameson represent as (respectively) the annihilation of reality and the end of comprehension (Baudrillard 146; Jameson 40).

One of the most telling and trenchant images of film adaptation is the shot (see Figure 1) of Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) beside her mirror-image in The Heiress. At the end of the film's narrative of betrayal, she has responded to the jilt by Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), jilting him now, years later, in retribution. This second jilt is not in the stage-play on which the film is based (The Heiress [1948], by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, who also wrote the screenplay for Wyler's film), and it is not in the novel on which that play is based Wyler's film, mirrors the first jilt, and the photograph doubles Catherine's image, in the mirror, as she self-consciously doubles the jilt. Simultaneously, she doubles the calculation and bitterness of her father (Ralph Richardson), which she spent most of the film resisting; she makes in her own life a story of renunciation that replicates the story of denial to which

she was subjected, and the image...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A155476974