Tuesday, August 14, 2012
What would Leo think?
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy — "Leo" to us English-speakers — was a very romantic fellow, and I am among his many fans. But the quality for which he is most widely known is prolixity: If the Family Feud question is "Name a really long novel," then "War and Peace" (1440 pages in paperback, almost 600,000 words) is always going to be the Number One Answer.
It's fascinating to me, then, but also disquieting, to see how Hollywood boils down the 832 pages (in paperback) of another of his epic novels — Anna Karenina — into a movie poster. To genuinely appreciate this one, if your internet connection permits, click on the image below to open a really huge hi-rez image in a new window:
I didn't gag, but I sputtered when I read the tagline: "You can't ask why about love." But then again, taglines are meant to be memorable, and one way to achieve that is by being quite trite. This poster's tagline has the same sort of repulsive attraction as "Love means never having to say you're sorry," a well-remembered tagline from an otherwise forgettable movie made from a quite trite novel. (I watched it again on late-night cable a couple of years ago; it doesn't hold up well, although the pretty actors and actresses still look pretty.) So, if there has to be a tagline for Anna Karenina, "You can't ask why about love" is certainly more romantic than "Look out for that train!"
And once you get past the puffery and oversimplification inherent in the movie poster format, this one is actually very ambitious, very detailed, filled with visual allusions to Tolstoy's plot line, and sumptuously stylish. This poster does its job, which is to trigger my fond memories of a romantic novel to entice me to see a romantic film adaptation. I also don't find it hard to watch Keira Knightley, and this poster reminded me of that too. So I will likely go see this movie in the fall.
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I suppose an alternative tagline for this poster could be:
When a train from Siberia has gotten inside a girl's theater, she's gotta break some chairs.
But the movie would need explosions for that. Maybe this version will have explosions. Trains explode, don't they? I don't know how that train got into the theater unless there was an explosion of some sort, do you?
One of my very literate Facebook friends proposed, aptly, the opening line of the novel, which is among the most famous opening lines of all novels:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
The problem with that, though, is that it's too complicated to hold in my head while I'm looking at Keira Knightley, and looking at her, all distressed and breathless and lovely, doesn't make me think of "families" until I'm fairly far down my list, which starts with "cheekbones," followed by "clavicles."
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