Monday, October 5, 2015

Turns of the screw...

As I spoke about in class, Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, one of the most famous ghost stories is also a very ambiguous ghost story.  And his novella is premised on many kinds of ambiguity: not only on the level of  content (are the ghosts "really" there? what exactly is so terrifying about them?) but also form. James' story is presented as a manuscript written by a woman long dead, read years later. James' use of this narrative frame creates a distance between the events and our understanding of them. It’s so ambiguous that there are questions about the questions.

As you might expect it has become a very popular text for literary scholars and critics to analyze. It's also been a very popular inspiration for other artists: there are countless film and theater treatments of the story.

After we discuss The Turn of the Screw, we'll be reading one of the more ambitious and fascinating responses to it, Joyce Carol Oates's short story, "Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly," a work which attempts to turn TOTS on its head, so to speak.

But the work has inspired many treatments, versions and responses. Here's a far from complete list of other works which derive from The Turn on the Screw, many of which are more or less "faithful" adaptations for stage or sceen:

Benjamin Britten wrote an opera based on "The Turn of the Screw" in 1954.

A 1959 live television version starring Ingrid Bergman.

The Innocents (1961) with Deborah Kerr as the Governess and Michael Redgrave as The Uncle. Truman Capote worked on the script.

There's a television version with Lynn Redgrave as the Governess in 1974.

Shelley Duvall directed a version in 1989 for her television series, "Nightmare Classics" with Amy Irving as the Governess and Balthazar Getty as Miles.

A 1994 British version with Patsy Kensit and Julian Sands updates the story to the 1960s.

A 1995 television version called The Haunting of Helen Walker casts Valerie Bertinelli as the Governess.

Another television adaptation, in 1999, with Colin Firth as The Master.

A 1999 film adaptation Presence of Mind with Sadie Frost as the Governess, Harvey Keitel as the Master (!), Jude Law as The Secretary (!!?) and Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Grose (!!!!!!!)

The 2006 horror/thriller In a Dark Place is another TOTS adaptation, giving the story a contemporary setting.

Allegedly, the 2001 Nicole Kidman film, The Others is a TOTS version...but not very TOTS-y.

And probably the strangest film treatment I've come across is a 1971 prequel (!) to TOTS, The Nightcomers with Marlon Brando as a small-animal-torturing, BDSM Peter Quint. I'll have to try to track this one down soon.

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