Mamoun was very pleased that the screening of Iosif Heifitz lyrical adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog was shown in the larger NFT 1 at the BFI Southbank. It is over 20 years since this classic film has been shown. The packed audience were moved to applause after the screening, and showed their appreciation to BFI programmer David Somerset for arranging this rare opportunity to see this masterpiece of Russian cinema.
We will be sharing the filmed discussion held after the screening shortly.
The Lady with the Dog will screen on Monday 13 May at 2.00pm in NFT I at the BFI Southbank.
Mamoun will introduce the film and there will be a Q&A at the end.
You won’t find many adaptations of books or plays in anybody’s list of Ten Best Films. Francis Coppola’s two-parter of Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather might figure and also Satyajit Ray’s trilogy of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Pather Panchali, where it is difficult to know where the book ends and the film begins. But where are the other great writers: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, Balzac, Ibsen, Melville, George Eliot…? So often we get illustrations of bits from here and there and dialogue, lots of it. Adaptation can be an inspiration but also a burden – a burden of responsibility to the original. Films need to break free, as in Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Howard Hawks’s liberties with Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not.
Books and films are more than plot, character and dialogue. To my mind, one of the most successful adaptations, where the book and the film are one, where the film is the book and the book is the film, is the 1960 realization by Soviet director-screenwriter Josif Kheifitz of Anton Chekhov’s great short story The Lady with the Dog. The original is only 17 pages long – no longer than a film treatment.
Kino Lorber Repertory and new distributor Seventy Seven are
releasing BABYLON in the US next month. The film opens at the BAM Theatre in
Brooklyn on 8 March, in Los Angeles on 15 March, and more widely after that.
Forty years ago I backed my first film as managing director of the National Film Finance Corporation [NFFC]: that film was BABYLON. The Board members were invited to take a leap in the dark. The BBC had developed the script but had passed on it; the British Film Institute Production Board under Peter Sainsbury had rejected it. BABYLON was a first film for the director; it had no stars, a wholly unfamiliar cast, dialogue and accents that required subtitles in parts, as if it were a foreign film – which of course it was to most people; it was violent, and it had no distribution guarantee or co-investor. I recommended we invest 83% of the budget: anything less would not get the film made. It was unheard of. Historically, the NFFC offered 30% at most. Further, a couple of years earlier the NFFC had invested in Anthony Simmons’s BLACK JOY, described by a critic as a ‘lightly ironic clash of cultures comedy’. The auguries were not good.
The script of BABYLON was co-written by Martin Stellman and Franco
Rosso. There was no producer attached, but Franco and Martin had Stephen Frears
in mind as director. I knew Stephen and admired his work, but the script was
uniquely authentic, born out of Martin’s and Franco’s direct experience of the
lives of black youth in south London. I thought Stephen would make a fine film,
but it would perforce be a foreign correspondent’s view. Although neither of
the two scriptwriters had directed a feature before, I suggested that one of them
should direct it. Franco became the director and Martin the associate producer.
Chris Menges agreed to shoot the film and Gavrik Losey joined as producer. The
Board finally agreed my proposal.
The first five minutes of the film will tell you why I backed
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