[1945] Mildred Pierce

This post is my first in two months and I’m sorry if the language is hyper-academic and proseworthy for the Journal of the American Filmbloggers Association. 

Medium is essential. I talk about how we know what we know in the same breath as what we know. The ontological argument distinguishing book from movie is in how we as humans learn or retain information.  Literary novelists were awarded more (not much more) freedom in their written word under the assumption that many more people would see a film rather than read a book. For example, James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, Mildred Pierce, is a bleak roman noir, set in 1930s Southern California and Michael Curitz’s screen adaptation à la film noir might be the watered-down version offered but not necessarily deserved.That said, The Hays code that stifled filmmaking for nearly four decades hung its lowly rules on the head of Mildred Pierce‘s pièce, somewhat dramatically altering the tone and motifs from the book to the screen. It circumstantially and unnecessarily took a censorship beat to the film that would see Joan Crawford as a star and painted Ann Blyth as a different character between mediums. Does it matter that the medium, so essential, produced wildly different works of art based on the same basic information?

First, the case against: no it does not matter. Broad strokes paint the same picture, and though at different resolutions, we can understand the basic assumptions and arguments of a story regardless of the medium. It is impossible and boring, anyway, to include the same level of detail from a 400 page book to a 2 hour film. The book’s Mildred has the same basic relationships as the films: there exists her ex-husband, daughters, lovers, friends, business partners. That Hays dramatically altered Mildred’s daughter, Veda, is inconsequential to the outcome in both scenarios. That Hays altered how the story moved from exposition to dénouement produces a different story does not change the basic framework of Mildred Pierce, the movie and the book, but the woman, Mildred Pierce. We are required as viewers to determine, after having imbibed all the relevant information whether we care about. If, at the end of each medium, we leave with the same sense of understanding of the story, does it matter? Continue reading