Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oscar-Worthy Graphic Novel Films: Ghost World

This post is the first part of an article I was asked to write for the Houston Public Library blog. The final article will be posted some time in the near future, in its entirety, on that website.

As Oscar fever descends upon movie-goers this year, it’s worth noting the rise of graphic novels as popular formats to adapt for the big screen.  Be it films from comic books, superhero films, or movies made from realistic graphic fiction stories that happen to be told using text with sequential art, it’s pretty easy to pick out films we’ve seen in the last few years that were adapted from the medium.  Some movies even end up surprising audiences when they realize that it first existed essentially as a comic book.

Among these, there are a few that were exceptional enough to have been nominated for Academy Awards in one or more categories.  While it would be easy to list a number of big-budget superhero films that achieved this distinction--and there are quite a few--it’s also worthwhile to take notice of some of the less flashy, more realistic stories that have been told in these mediums.  So, for your consideration, I’ve looked into several significant films that have attained recognition from the Academy in the last ten years.

Ghost World
Originally published as serialized fiction in the alternative comic Eightball in the mid-1990s, Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World was collected into a trade paperback in 1997 and published by Fantagraphics, to considerable critical and commercial acclaim.  The film was made in 2001, directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansen and Steve Buscemi, with a script adapted by Terry Zwigoff and original author Clowes.  

The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay -- Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff at the 74th Academy Awards.  It lost to Akiva Goldsman for A Beautiful Mind.

Plot: After graduating high school, best friends and social misfits Enid and Becky drift listlessly through life, observing and commenting on the people and popular culture that pervades their unnamed small town in ways that are alternately amusing and eye-roll inducing.  Their friendship changes as they start to think about what they want to do with their lives, and they begin to drift apart.  Becky, who seems the more “normal” of the two, eventually takes steps to build a typical life, while her wilder friend Enid has a series of adventures with Seymour, a similarly lonely older man.  Eventually, she leaves town on a bus, to start a new life for herself.

Differences from the graphic novel: Thematically and plot-wise, the film is remarkably similar to the graphic novel: they essentially present a portrait of listless post-adolescent women as they try to keep themselves amused and figure out their places in the world.  I think the film’s deeper level of expressive possibilities make the characters easier to relate to in than in the graphic novel.  It’s nice to hear them talking about people, where there are more nuances and emotions conveyed than if you simply read the text and see a comparatively occasional picture of them.  One of the film’s characters, Seymour, played by Steve Buscemi, is a composite of several people from the graphic novel, and has a much larger part in the film than in the source material.  Because of this, several plot points arise in the film that are simply not portrayed in the  graphic novel, one example being a romance that happens due to a personal ad the character places early in the story.  In the comic, this is merely a setup for Enid and friends to torment the poor man, and we never see beyond that point.  In the film, we see the relationship form, progress, and eventually end.

No comments:

Post a Comment