I am currently reading Alain de Botton’s wonderful book The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping, and the Novel. [GET IT!]
It’s proving to be as terrifically good as all the other de Botton books I have read. This one is a mixture of fiction [a love story], philosophical musings and meaningful digressions. I just love the inimical style, wit, and verve of Alain de Botton.
The following is an example from the book, of one of those “meaningful digressions”…
Whenever film companies summon their courage and accountants to make a version of Anna Karenina, Emma or Wuthering Heights, they must brace themselves for the charge that they have betrayed the reader’s imagination with their choice of actress. The charm of literary characters depends on a complex interplay between suggestion and indeterminacy. Critics point out that Tolstoy never specified throughout the course of Anna Karenina what his heroine actually looked like, but this was perhaps no oversight on the great master’s part. It is the prerogative of books, freed as they are from the tyranny of the image and hence at some level of reality, to leave things to the reader’s imagination. What need did Tolstoy have to tell us exactly what Anna looked like? If the writer thought his heroine beautiful and simply wanted the reader to feel the same way, then it was best to say she was beautiful and let readers get on with the rest – they were far better placed to know what set them salivating in this area.
I very much agree with de Botton that Tolstoy’s reticence is perhaps intentional. In not providing the reader with the exactitude of Anna, Tolstoy leaves the salivation factor wide open. The reader’s mind a playground. [I would now like to read Anna Karenina again, for the third time, and see if Tolstoy left the physiognomy of Count Vronsky equally uncorralled, for readers.] Since reading it for the first time, Anna has remained my favorite book of all time.
And so, I have thought about what de Botton is suggesting here. Film makers being charged with betraying the reader’s imagination with their choice of actress.
How does one choose an Anna?
There have been so many adaptations of Anna Karenina that it boggles the mind. I’ve been researching many of them this afternoon, and have chosen a few to discuss here. They are known as The Big Three silver-screen versions of the book.
I notice a definite… evolution, as it were.
← The first is from 1935, and stars Greta Garbo, opposite Frederic Marsh.
Firstly, wrong hair color.
Anyone who knows anything knows that Anna has to have dark dark hair. Darker than “brunette” even.
Let’s be serious. Anna cannot be even remotely blonde.
Some shots of Garbo/Anna → HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Then there was Vivien Leigh, in 1947.
Oh yes, much more closer to the musical truth. Vive le Vivien!
If you are in doubt, click → HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
But 1997 represented a quantum leap forward, in Anna-ism.
← This was the year when Sophie Marceau was chosen to play Anna, opposite Sean Bean as Vronsky. I wonder if a single devotee of the novel could watch this movie and conclude that Sophie Marceau is not right for the role. I own the movie and have watched it time after time, mostly to watch this raven-haired actress own the part.
Excellent casting. The pinnacle of Anna-volution.
See what I mean → HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Sometimes a casting director just gets it right, you know? And I love it when it happens. Another example, all three characters being cast with perfection, was the 1995 adaptation of Othello.
Laurence Fishburne as The Moor, Kenneth Branagh as Iago, and Irene Jacob as the perfect Desdemona.