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Hamptons Life

'Oliver Twist' Gets Star Treatment

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Dawn Watson   Feb 21, 2012 9:58 AM
Feb 21, 2012 10:46 AM

The recipe for success sounds simple: take a great book, adapt it for the screen and moviegoers will flock to what is sure to be a blockbuster film. But if that was the case, every well written novel would become an instant cinematic hit.

Take for instance David Lean’s classic 1948 film version of Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist,” which many—including actor Alec Baldwin, writer Jon Robin Baitz and Hamptons International Film Festival’s Director of Programming David Nugent—agree is a masterpiece, one of the best film adaptations ever made. The movie, though a hit with critics at the time of its release, did not receive any Academy Award nominations, was banned in Israel for anti-Semitism, banned in Egypt for portraying a principal Jewish character too sympathetically, and was not screened in the United States until 1951, due to objections by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the New York Board of Rabbis.

Though now available on DVD, the film is still relatively unknown to all but the most ardent of film buffs. Enter Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Baitz and Mr. Nugent, who are about to change that for East End movie audiences. The film will be presented by the Hamptons International Film Festival at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Saturday, February 25, at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by a Q&A with Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Baitz.

“This is a film I don’t think is as widely seen as it should be,” Mr. Nugent, who just returned from the Berlin Film Festival, said during a telephone interview last Thursday. “It should be fun for our audience to see it now.”

During a telephone interview on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Baldwin explained his passion for this adaptation and his love of Mr. Lean’s vision for it.

“This is one of my favorite films,” he said. “It’s got everything: compression, a good script, beautiful cinematography—it’s gorgeous. Lean really rose to the occasion. It’s operatic.”

Mr. Baitz agreed.

“It’s an amazingly precise, clean adaptation, as were all of Lean’s films,” the Water Mill-based writer of the Broadway hit “Other Desert Cities” and creator of television’s “Brothers & Sisters” said during a telephone interview last Wednesday. He added that Mr. Lean, “an all-around filmmaker and really great screenwriter” was one of his favorite film directors.

Mr. Baldwin said that he also counts Mr. Lean as one of his favorites. He said that the director of Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations,” as well as “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago” and “A Passage to India,” was a master at the art of the adaptation.

Adapting literature into film will be the focus of Mr. Baldwin’s and Mr. Baitz’s talk after the screening. Topics such as compression—“It’s not just cutting, it’s also compressing time and getting the most active parts as actively as you can,” Mr. Baitz explained—what makes an adaptation good, what makes one bad, and how the writing skill-set is different for adaptations and original works will be discussed.

“We’re going to talk about what makes an adaptation successful, where do people get it right, and how a book can be elevated by film,” Mr. Baldwin explained, adding that the “Harry Potter” franchise was a great example of books being translated to film successfully. “We’re also going to touch on when a book is tarnished by the film—think ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’—but we aren’t going to focus on the negative,” he quickly added.

Mr. Baitz said that he is planning on comparing a few scenes from the book with scenes from the screen. He will also spend some time talking about the writing process and how choices get made, he said.

“It’s almost unfair to compare those creatures. It’s very rare that you make it better. You’re making a fish out of a bird,” Mr. Baitz said of the differences between books and the films made from them. “A book lives in a different way inside you. Movies are more passive, you’re a spectator, whereas a book is asking you to define and clarify your thoughts; to build it in your head.”

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rior to the screening, Alec Baldwin will read passages from “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens at BookHampton in East Hampton at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 25. The film “Oliver Twist” will screen at Guild Hall in East Hampton at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Mr. Baldwin and Jon Robin Baitz.

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