Westwind

Film

Post by Elise Escamilla

What makes a Jane Austen film adaptation good? Is it complete faithfulness to the text, or can it be found in the innate nature of film to “up the ante,” so to speak, in terms of drama and romance? Like most things in life, the answer can be found somewhat in between the two extremes. While I’m under no circumstances a researched, doctorate-wielding, Jane Austen scholar, I have seen enough adaptations (too many) to come to a solid conclusion about which worked well and which should be forgotten in the depths of hell forever. Here are my favorite Jane Austen film adaptations.

Persuasion (1995)

With only two well-known adaptations, this isn’t the most difficult choice. The 1995 film creates a wonderful picture of Anne Elliot as the sweet, patient, and capable heroine that Austen wrote in her novel. The actress is also a bit older, as the character is supposed to be 27 years old, an unmarried age that delegates her the title of “spinster.” The older age is quite different than most of Austen’s leading ladies and the casting choice is significant to Anne’s character. There is one scene in the film that doesn’t appear in the book, where Anne stares into a mirror, tracing the aged lines on her face, after Wentworth makes a comment about not recognizing her “altered” appearance. (He’s lying of course, but how rude of him!) The comment itself was a line in the novel, but the movie gives us her absolutely heartbreaking reaction: contemplating her loss of youth brings out a new aspect of Anne that makes us empathize with her and recognize that she has deep, unspoken feelings. Indeed, both of the romantic leads are much older looking, weathered even, by the lifetimes it seems they have lived apart, than any Austen adaptation I’ve ever seen, and I think it suits the novel perfectly.

Clueless (1995)

Clueless is, by far, the best adaptation of Emma ever made. There are a few more adaptations to contend with, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma being the most famous. However Clueless goes a lot deeper into Cher (Emma) than any other adaptation, and has a more defined character development. Readers of the novel know that Emma is completely humbled for her awful behavior and begins atoning for her wrongs in an authentic way. Similarly, Cher looks for small things she can do to help others, actively searching for ways to better herself. It comes from a genuine place. I didn’t want to talk about other adaptations, but what really bothered me about Paltrow’s Emma is one specific line, where Emma tells Knightley, “If only you’ve been around to see how much I’ve changed.” Cher never needs to say anything like this to Josh (Mr. Knightly), instead in a voice over narration she stresses the importance of bettering herself for herself, saying, “I decided I needed a complete makeover, except this time a makeover for my soul.” Overall, the writing is incredibly fun and witty throughout the film, taking Austen’s characters to another realm of social hierarchies in a completely new playing field. Who doesn’t love a good high school story?

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

I doubt that I could ever sing enough praises for this film. It is the perfect example of just the right amount of production and set design, an absolutely incredible script, and great actors. We have Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman giving the absolute best possible performances, bringing Austen’s characters truly to life. The script actually won Emma Thompson an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and it is well deserved. Sense and Sensibility, as a novel, was also not the most interesting thing to me when I first read it. Maybe as a young girl with only brothers I couldn’t relate to the close, sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood presented in the novel. However the film made me feel so deeply for the two sisters and their relationship. You are able to see more conversations and interactions between the two sisters and it really accentuates the difference between them, one being a pragmatist and the other a romantic, while also portraying the strengths and weaknesses of both. I fell in love with Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Elinor Dashwood as she perfectly encapsulated the calm and collected, yet deeply emotional woman that Austen created. I cannot finish this subject without mentioning Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon. I became infatuated with him and his character because of how romantic he was in the film. If you watch no other Jane Austen movie, watch this one.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

What can I say, BBC knows how to make British things. I have seen my fair share of Pride and Prejudice adaptations in my life, most of them awful. Interestingly, what most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice get right is the characterization of Elizabeth Bennet. I think every actress brings their own flair to her, but her character is so naturally likeable and fun, it is difficult to completely ruin her. But what differs about the 1995, episodic version of the novel is its depiction of Mr. Darcy. One of the most significant aspects of the novel is Mr. Darcy’s understanding of his own faults and accepting that he must change to become, not just someone Elizabeth could love but, a better person in general. This miniseries truly captures that change, without shying away from the fact that Mr. Darcy did some pretty insufferable things. I think it is important to make the distinction that Mr. Darcy’s character isn’t just some shy, introverted, and quirky guy (I am looking directly at you, 2005 Pride and Prejudice). Likewise, Elizabeth Bennet has her own share of prejudices that she must reconcile, which should also not be disregarded. The actors in this adaptation are incredible and there was so much attention to detail in the creation of costuming and set design that deserves appreciation in and of itself. Of course, this version has the added benefit of being hours and hours long, but if you want to see the most true and entertaining adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, this is the one.

In conclusion….what is it about the year 1995 that produced the best Austen adaptations? I have absolutely no explanation other than Jane Austen must have been sending her energy from the beyond the grave. So what does make a good adaptation? For me, it lies in the characters. What I think is so great about Jane Austen’s novels is her vivid and complex characters, especially her female characters. And she goes a step further in all of her novels by also employing these already fleshed out characters to represent intimate social aspects, or critiques rather, of the Regency Era. If not for her characters, her novels would just be lifeless, one-dimensional windows into the domestic life of women during a time period where their prospects were limited to marry rich or marry poor (or live and die alone as a burden to your family—my personal favorite). I find that what makes an Austen adaptation good for me is truth to the novel’s characters. It doesn’t matter if the story around them is conflated, but as long as each character action or dialogue is something that represents the characters that Jane Austen created in her novels, then the film really can’t go wrong.

(post by Pauline Pechakijan)
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I interviewed Kathleen Sarnelli, a senior English major, and Manvel Kapukchyan, a senior Political Science major, on their journey together as a filmmaking duo. They have recently been working on their Los Angeles Drought Documentary with a number of honorable researchers in order to investigate whether or not El Nino could affect or mediate the severity of the drought. Read on to hear what they have to say about filmmaking!

What inspired you two to delve into the world of film?

K:  Well, I always loved telling and writing stories. I was always fascinated about other people’s lives so I usually would make up stories about them. Film allows me to tell the stories I create and share them with the world.

M: I always had many interests and could never decide what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I found myself most interested in art, history, photography, computer graphics, and business, but directing was my main love. I believe directing is unique because it combines technical formal practices with art. It was this combination of technique and art which gravitated me towards film, as well as the emotional and political impact film can have on societies.

How has your work changed throughout the years? Does working with each other help inspire new ideas?

K: I learned how to develop my stories to be more in depth. Also, my stories have progressed throughout the years, as have I, and they have transformed with me through new experiences. Working with Manvel is great because he is blunt and will let me know of ways I can improve my work. His honest criticism has helped push my work to new levels of maturity.

M: It would be impossible to be where we are without each other’s support. Our work continues to improve as we learn the craft and hone in on our individual and collective skills. Kathleen comes up with the stories, and I find a method to tell that story in the best possible way.

What are you currently working on?

K: The L.A. Drought Documentary. I know this deviates from my traditional fictional story telling, but I believe there is a story board component to making a documentary. We had been hearing about the California drought and subsequently low water supply, but were not getting a clear answer as to whether or not El Nino would clear it [the drought] up. Thus, we investigated this question and decided to make a documentary.

M: Our largest project now is The L.A. Drought Documentary. It is a UCLA research project which will be presented in May at the Undergraduate Research Conference. We also hope to exhibit the documentary at various film festivals. The project explores the current water crisis in depth by looking at the past, present, and future of the drought in regards to science and politics. We are working with many experts from JPL, UCLA, the local government, and the Metropolitan Water District.

What would you say are the biggest challenges for up-and-coming filmmakers?

K: The biggest challenge is negative feedback from naysayers and the competition within the industry. Although it is highly competitive, persistency and consistency will pay off in reaching your goals.

M: The biggest challenge is staying hopeful and optimistic in the face of what may seem to be a far-fetched and outlandish goal. We always encounter people that diminish our efforts or tell us our goals are impractical, but this is what we want to do and we will do everything in our power to ensure that we reach them.

Do you have any advice for other students who would like to explore filmmaking?

K: Do not be afraid to pursue something new because, chances are, it will make you stand out.

M: My advice is to be persistent and not give up. It’s so hard to know if you are on the right path or if your work is being appreciated or noticed, but the most important thing is to keep on filming and creating, as ultimately, that’s what being a film maker is about.

Where can we find more on your current project?

K & M: For more information, you can check out our Facebook page which is the most active and up-to-date source. Also, be sure to check out our trailer for the documentary on YouTube and our Instagram page with some short clips taken directly from the project.
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Searching for a chance to break out of the campus bubble and find some cultural stimulation? Look no farther than UCLA’s own backyard. The Hammer Museum offers frequent public engagement programs, focusing on the arts and cultural issues, and often supplementing the museum’s current exhibits. Admission and public programs are all 100% free!

ART programs include weekly Lunchtime Art Talks and biweekly guided Exhibition Tours. Tours are led by Hammer student educators and include Art in Conversation tours, using conversation to compare two works of art.


LITERATURE & POETRY programs include Libros Schmibros Book Club meetings and a series of readings from prestigious authors around the country. Recent readings have featured JD McClatchy, Michael Waters, V. Penelope Pelizzon and a celebratory reading of Alice Munro. Coming up in June, the series will host a group of award winning UCLA student poets for a group reading, including Westwind’s very own Tina Lawson.

FILM programs include series of screenings related to current exhibit topics and, a personal favorite, the quarterly Open Projector Night. On Open Projector Night, short film submissions (of all genres) are accepted until the start of the event. Subsequently, each film is screened for two minutes, at which point the audience votes on whether or not to finish watching the film by cheering or booing. The event is emceed by a pair of brother comedians, and always holds the promise of a riotous evening.

Other frequent programs include concerts, performances, lectures, and family activities. Additionally, The Hammer Student Association puts on a series of mixers and parties to encourage student engagement with the arts, and the museum hosts a popular drop-in guided meditation every Thursday afternoon.

The programs are always memorable and definitely worth stopping by. Check out the full calendar of events here.

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