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Live blogging about The Handmaid’s Tale (the movie)

2009 March 25
by Anne Dalke

(Images of us @ work…)

Laura began with the story of her first experience watching the movie, and compared it with her re-watching now, having read the book: it’s missing most of the subtleties (especially of Offred’s resistance to her emotions: her trying to become mechanical).

Why was the movie made this way? The director said couldn’t imagine that the events speculated about in the novel could happen. Natasha Richardson, the star, was unhappy with the film, angry that it was “disloyal” to the book, that the voice-overs (for example) were omitted. There were also some financing problems (Hollywood not being interested in a feminist film….)

When this novel about surveillance was made into a film, the audience became participant in the surveillance–this is very uncomfortable making! The political commentary is stripped away, as is the conference framing.

Our conversation today: what do we think about these mutations and gaps…?

How was the novel changed by being re-made as a film?
* Just being able to see Offred changed the story: she didn’t seem as “real.”
* The Handmaids were more decorative.
* It made it more real, more everyday, more disturbing.
* The dark scenes in the novel were shot as sunny.
* Especially affecting were all the natural scenes; had imagined something more industrial.
* The book was darker.
* The cinematography was really “off”: why not closer shots, following her more? (The loss of her particular point of view in the film.)
* A few scenes Offred doesn’t know about are added (for example: the Commander asks Serena Joy, in the garden, what she thinks of Offred).
* In the book, she sees the world “in little gaps”; in the film, with all the large sweeping shots, that sense of narrow strictness is lost.
* Did the book address race? It was really put out there in the movie.

More generally:
* How do our experiences of films differ from those of novels? We are always disappointed…because when we are reading, the pictures are completely our own…the images are more complete, more directive, than the words are.
* This film is telling, rather than showing us, what was going on. But when reading, your eyes have to follow the words in front of you; the author shapes your image that way. When you watch a film, you actually have more choice about where your eye goes, more freedom of interpretation.
* It makes a difference which we experience first, but generally Hollywood’s agenda conflicts with (negates entirely) that of the book: there is an attempt to appease the audience.
* If I like the book, I will be especially disappointed in the film (even if well made): because “it breaks with my own personal movie.
* Any film based on a particular novel has to meet a “scene quota”; films based on a series have more freedom.
* It is possible for films to have ambiguity, to create room for the audience to interpret.
* Some books (like The Handmaid’s Tale) should not be filmed: it’s written too much in her head; we’re not meant to see what is happening. But the movie imappropriately concretizes this.
* But a film can portray interiority: this one didn’t even try to have an inner monologue. She wasn’t even thinking! There were no quiet scenes of loneliness.
* It is unfair to judge a film by the novel on which it is based: a movie is no affront to its source material, which is not God (Cf. what was learned in a mythology class: events did not happen in one concrete way; stories can be told differently.) It is offensive to critique a film because it changes the novel; the novel is not the standard against which the film should be judged.
* But the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale missed its core message.
* How about making this film with no words?

So: let’s do a better job! What sort of film would we like to make of The Handmaid’s Tale?
What genre would you make? How would you order the scenes?
Who would you cast? Where would you film it? What would it look like?
What kind of costumes would you use? How true would you be to what the characters look like?
Think about the reasons why you are doing it the way you are doing it.

Listen to Margaret Atwood’s interview with Bill Moyers, and her
prediction that what happened in the novel could happen now….

Get to the elevator speech…
how would you sell this movie to a potential producer?

We then split into groups to “make” the film….

1. a dual documentary:
first part from Offred’s point of view, only her voice overs.
2nd 1/2: conference footage, no sound, no vision of the handmaids: archival footage.
costumes faithful to the book: recounting of lost voice from the past.

2. the future isn’t important for what it is, but for what it represents.

no physical representation of the future, only the flashback scnes from the novel.
only thing from the future: taperecorded voice.

3. Narrative structure will start and end w/ taperecording a faceless narrator, who will narrate the whole film. Narration will seem inreliable, by introducing multiple versions. Colors of the outfits will be repeated in the film. Lots of impressive silences. Many scenes of Offred alone.

4. Narrative indie film: social political commentary about the impression of women under religious regime told in the first person persepctive of a woman whose state-assigned function is to bear children. Opening scene: military style, a shade of red it hurts at to look @ too long. Initial voice over: “It’s not rape, it’s not anything I haven’t signed up for.” Can’t see Offred’s face except in moments of intimate connection. Lots of flashbacks…Religious symbol of eyes, omniously presiding over, tell them what to do. Clear linear plot line, but everything will jump around, as in her head, to contradict the “perfection.”

5. Animated film, with minimal use of color. Close cut shots. Background colors muted, only color her costume. Starting in the middle (like the book); lots of flashbacks, voice overs, sense of piecing together to make sense, and lots of waiting. End w/ door of van shutting, then realize you have been watching the film in a conference, in an auditorium…

6. Three different plot lines in time: flashback and -forwards to create sense of disquiet, uncanniness; main time line of character walking through Stepford-esque environment. “A dsytopian view of the not-too distant future: the protagonist is caught in a system of breedingful (?) babies.” She is more tragic and mysterious than passive.

7. We wanted to create a memoir in film. Whole movie constructed with very tight shots on Offred. Lots of reverse shots. When you are looking, as her, you would see the wings on the side of the frame. Film begins with the conference, with a speaker about Gilead, fading into a voiceover of the narrative, with the scene recounting the gang rape. (Very applicable to current day assumptions about women’s whoring, etc.) Also show oppression in lots of waiting scenes; and little things she takes joy in–to show how bad it is.

8. Fade in: Offred in a dark car–on her way to freedom or not? She looks @ us, breaking the fourth wall. Continue w/ a sci-fi theme, in futuristic San Francisco. Science has developed gene therapy to fix male homosexuality. Whole theme: active controlling both male and female sexuality. The selling point is the casting! Also really cool costumes…

Which of these films should be made?
The last one, about repressing all sexuality….
or the animated one, emphasizing the mechanization of the characters….?
All emphasized the voiceovers, and the spooky Edwards’ Scissorhands’ effect….
Setting it in a mirror location: doppelganger effect: same-but-different parallel world…

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