Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Can't Hear The Orient

As part of the quest to own the movie adaptations of my favorite books, last week I ordered the DVD of "The World of Henry Orient," the wacky 1964 comedy about two preteen prep school misfits and their pursuit of an eccentric musician. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. It arrived last night and we watched it.

It has the usual changes you make from print to screen: Combining characters, compressing events, changing exposition into action. Plus, the novel is written from the first-person point of view of Gil, the more quiet of the two girls, while the movie's narrative is third-person omniscient. This saves it from being a Hayley Mills "Parent Trap" thing and gives us sophisticated scenes from Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss, Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley--in fact, there's surprising gravitas here from the guy who played Richie Cunningham's father.

In contrast to the book, the movie has a more upbeat, less ambiguous ending a la "Take Her, She's Mine." This is very "of its time" and perhaps had the movie been made a few years later, it would have ended with Gil and Val running away to the Haight in pursuit of Jerry Garcia.

The movie is true to the spirit of the book and I'm no purist, so I have no complaints with the adaptation. My complaint is about the sound. You can hardly hear the friggin' dialogue! And if you turn up the volume, the soundtrack just blares at you. Plus, if you're watching it with somebody, you miss additional lines, because for some reason the other person just assumes they've gone temporarily deaf:

Husband: What did he say?

Me: I don't know. I can't hear.

Husband: But you read the book.

Me: This scene isn't in the book.

Husband: Now what did he say?

Me: I don't know. You were talking.

Husband: Roll it back.

Me: We'll be watching it all night!

And why do we say "Roll it back" anyway? It's a DVD. It doesn't roll. This is a holdover from the days of VHS. Decades from now, people as yet unborn will be saying "Roll it back" and some aficionado of pop culture ephemera, perhaps Lileks' daughter, will be telling them where the expression comes from.

At any rate, I'm keeping the DVD until a better remastering is available, which will probably be never since it's part of MGM's budget line and not a big priority. I can enjoy that romping Elmer Bernstein score and the love-letter-to-New York scenery. Perhaps I can play it on the computer with headphones, reading the actors' lips onscreen until I've memorized it, the way Gil and Val memorized every detail of Henry Orient's life.

A couple of trivia:

Merrie Spaeth, who plays Gil, grew up to become a Public Relations guru, an assistant to Nancy Reagan and a PR Consultant to those Swift Boat Veterans who made a lot of trouble for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Nora Johnson, the author of the book and daughter of screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, was a student at Brearley in the late '40s. She had a friend who had a crush on Oscar Levant, and the two would spend their afternoons stalking him.

Yes, it's a great movie that we roll out once or twice a year. You're bang on about Bosley, he's terrific. I love the "modern concerto" scene in Carnegie Hall, with the conductor mouthing "Bb" to Sellers, trying to get him to end the cadenza in the right key. You'll notice a huge continuity error in that scen if you focus on Peter's hair--which is hard not to do.
Yep, it's messy and when the camera comes back to him, it's neat again.

BTW, that's a funny nick, Branch DVDian. Do you have an extensive collection of DVDs?
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