Tag Archives: eleanor wachtel

Reading as imaginative co-creation

As the lights darkened in the TIFF cinema Monday night, I leaned over to my friend and said “We’re so lucky to live in this city.”

We were there for the season opener of the Books in Film series. Eleanor Wachtel had just introduced Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and special guest flown in from Lahore for the screening of Mira Nair’s film based on the novel. From his brief comments before the film, it was clear this was going to be a highlight of the series.

No spoilers here. This Man Booker nominated novel is a must-read. But it was an interesting exercise in teasing out the differences between the experience of reading and that of watching a film. The novel has two basic acts: Changez (the protagonist, pronounced Chong’-iz) at Princeton and working as a financial analyst in New York City; and Changez after he returns to Lahore. The novel is written in the second person: Changez is telling his story to an American while sitting in a cafe in Lahore. We don’t know much about the American and the ending is not tidy.

In the film, there is a third act that ties the story together. There are other significant changes, and much more of a back story. Hamid stated that movie-goers don’t want to leave the cinema not knowing what “the ending” meant. But more than that, he had interesting things to say about the experience of reading versus watching a film.

In his view, a book leaves greater space for “imaginative co-creation” on the part of the reader. And particularly so in this novel where one half of the conversation is missing. Readers are required to imagine a lot, to create their own reality, to “engage in make-believe, or imaginative play for adults.”  He said that film is more “pre-chewed”, with less space for the viewer to enter into their own minds. Hamid stated that “books and film are completely different art forms.”

There was more. A discussion of the meaning of a beard. Nair’s changes to the screenplay to highlight powerful women. The importance (or not) of 9/11 in the novel. How one’s identification as part of a group can be (always is?) uncomfortable.

This was an evening to remember, and one of the reasons that I love my adopted city, and TIFF in particular. If you’re a reader and love film (and live in Toronto), single tickets are now available for this terrific series.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Duddy’s back in town.

Last night was a CanCon lover’s dream. The screening of the newly-remastered digital print of “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz“, based on the novel by Mordecai Richler, was the TIFF Books on Film event, and as we walked in to the screening room, we immediately noticed the 30 or so seats that had been reserved for special guests. Margaret Atwood’s name was the first to catch my eye. Richler’s widow Florence and children Noah and Jacob were also in attendance.

Jesse Wente, Head of Programming at TIFF, opened the evening and introduced the CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, Helga Stephenson. Her announcement that a copy of the beautiful digital print had been donated to TIFF so that it could be shown whenever possible was met with great applause. Last week, the film finally had its Cannes debut in the Cannes Classics program, and director Ted Kotcheff and Richard Dreyfuss were on the red carpet.

Svetlana and Richard Dreyfuss, Helga Stephenson, Ted Kotcheff and Laifun Kotcheff
Svetlana and Richard Dreyfuss, Helga Stephenson, Ted Kotcheff and Laifun Kotcheff

Eleanor Wachtel, our host for the Books on Film series, followed with a welcome and gave a bio of Kotcheff, our guest for the post-screening interview. (The ACCT bio is here.) Kotcheff then spoke of his 44-year friendship with Richler that started in the South of France. He wanted to make a film of Duddy for years, and finally got funding in the early days of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (now Telefilm Canada) when they covered half of the $750,000 budget for the film, with Gerald Schniederman covering the other half. Mr Schneiderman’s widow Roberta was at the screening last night and Kotcheff called her out to applause.

As Stephenson said in her remarks, the newly remastered print makes the film look like it was shot yesterday. I’ve seen the original at least twice, and Dreyfuss’ performance is amazing. Kotcheff described the casting of Duddy as a bit of a nightmare. He didn’t want to make the film until he found the perfect lead. As they got very close to the shoot date,  Kotcheff put in a call to NY casting director Lynn Stalmaster who, after reading the script, called him down to see a young guy who had a four minute scene in a previous film in which the kid had overacted. The moment he began to read for the part, Kotcheff knew he had “his Duddy”, the only issue being that Dreyfuss, a German Jew, had blue eyes.

In Cannes, Dreyfuss commented that Duddy was his best role, and that he didn’t realise this until many years later. And in my mind, when I read the novel, it is Dreyfuss who forms my mental image for Duddy.

Enjoy this little clip of the gambling scene:

Enhanced by Zemanta