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The Innocents and The Turn and the Screw
Over the decades, very different Henry James appeared on the screen. “His experiences in and of the theater”, consciously and unconsciously, get him use “scenic method” in his narratives, and so pave the way for his prose to filmic treatment (Griffin 2). Furthermore, “James’ acute visual sense, his near obsession with perception and point of view”, and “his rich oeuvre in term of the character” make his novels worthy of being turns into movies (2). Probably, even most influential has been his concern about the matters which were central to contemporary culture: “the position of women, the workings of sexualities both hetero – and homo -, the complexities of social existence, the problems of knowing, and the workings of power” (3).
The Turn of the Screw, which is considered as his most famous short fiction, has also been most often adapted into film, with versions ranging from a prequel (the 1971 TheNightcomers) to a 2009 television BBC production directed by Sandy Welch (The Turn of the Screw).
James, commenting on his own fiction, claimed that the readers “are inclined to accept the governess vision of her own courage in the face of the occult”; moreover, her hard efforts in fighting demons, “as in old morality plays”, to save two innocents are quite praiseworthy (Wilson 105). Yet, returning to the tale and going over it once more, they begin to understand why Henry James called it a “trap of the unwary” as they have to reassess the governess’s reliability as a reporter (105). Thus, it turns out to be thoroughly crafted work which weaves its ambiguity so well that it is reckless to ascribe only one solution to the mystery it establishes.
concerning the films, this intellectual experience is a bit more complicated, since the audiences face the same dilemma as the protagonist: can they believe the evidence of their eyes? However, before each of these adaptations can be regarded as a text, they should be thought of as different readings of the novella which in their own ways tries to fill in the gaps of the main artistic source and develop the gestalt. Thus this chapter aims at going through different shots and scenes of two of the novella’s film adaptations in order to find out how either of them charges the empty spaces and provides its audiences with a unique reading of the turn of the screw. The versions which are chosen for this study are Jack Clayton’s The Innocents and Ben Bolt’s The Turn of the Screw, supposedly the best among the numerous film adaptations.
For the screen play, Jack Clayton called upon William Archibald to adapt his own two-act play based on James’ novella. After “consulting Harold Pinter and Nigel Kneale, two acknowledged masters of subtle terrors, Clayton turned to Jon Mortimer and Truman Capot for the final rewrites” (Tibbetts 105). Deborah Kerr stars the governess while Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens are respectively playing the roles of Flora and Miles.
The screenplay of Ben Bolt’s The Turn of the Screw is written by Nick Dear and the main roles are handled by Jodhi May (the governess), Grace Robinson (Flora), and Joe Sowerbutts (Miles).
The Techniques of the Narration
Edward Recchia in his review on the Innocents wrote, “Where James uses a well defined frame work of multiple narrators to complicate the reader’s task of evaluating the events that the governess reports, Clayton reduces the narrative to a descriptively simple format (qtd. in Wilson 114).
There is not any prologue to the film. Actually, “Clayton regarded the use of the device of subjective narration as an admission of defeat by the filmmaker,” so the audience does not hear any voice over the film to transfer the governess thoughts and feelings as one finds in James’ narrative (Wilson 106). Therefore, everything depends upon the images, sounds, points of view, and the camera angel.
A degree of subjectivity is created throughout the film in that Miss Giddens appears in every scene of the film. But meanwhile there are events which occur without her apparent knowledge. For instance, on her first night at Bly, she is sleeping restlessly when Flora rises, examines her disturbed sleep with a smile and goes to the open window, where she hums a couple of bars of the willow song, stops, narrows her eyes as if focusing on something or someone, and then smiles as she begins to hum the song again. Here, the audience is not granted a glimpse of what she sees and neither is the governess.
Later, in another scene of the film when the governess is playing hide and seek with the children, Quint appears at the window behind the Giddens. Because we see him before the governess does, we feels the objectivity of his peresence. During the novella, all the time we are aware of the apparitions only and only through the governess’s eyes. But here the audience is provided with an objective shot of the camera. This objectivity is strongly confirmed at the moment of Miles’ death. In sharp contrast to the novella, the scene of Miles’ death is moved outside to a statuary garden instead of being confined to the house. When Miles runs out of the conservatory and into the sunken grass circle, Miss Giddens pursues him to prevent his escape. Then, firstly, camera presents her point of view subjectively, rests shortly on the figure of Quint, who is replacing one of the statues on the pedestals. But, the next moment, in an astounding withdrawal from her point of view, an overhead shot reveals her and the boy in the middle distance while in the foreground Quint’s gesturing hand dominates the frame. In the next shot, Miles falls on the ground lifeless. Here, for the first time, the audience has the apparition’s point of view. The film thus provides “at the penultimate moment, an objective shot beyond all debate: Quint is real (Mazzella 28). Therefore, for clayton, it is not the governess who rules the game, but she is just another piece of the game.
As in the Innocents, Ben Bolt’s The Turn of the Screw does not include any prologue, or any voice upon the movie reporting. It seems as if the director’s camera is reconstructing all the events which happened at Bly. Yet, if the audience has a close and exact look at the camera points of view, h/she finds out all the events, except for a few number of shots, are recorded from the governess’s eyes or over her shoulder, in particular the scenes in which the ghosts appear. These shots are arranged in such a way that if the camera switches its angel or point of view, the apparitions vanish and disappear totally. Through this presentation, Ben Bolt puts a strong emphasis on the possibility that everything should be seen from the governess’s point of view. Although she is the focal point of Bolt’s camera, her honesty is not approved by him since as the camera shifts, the ghosts are not present anymore.
Which genre is adapted?
The opening of one film can be considered as one of the main factors in forming its genre. As the innocents gets started, there is a pre-credit sequence of a totally black screen, and on the soundtrack a voice, that is later identified to belong to Flora, or, most probably, Miss Jessel in her possession of Flora, since the film never shows Flora as actually singing these words, but only humming them. Besides the lyrics of the song, written by Paul Dehn, certainly appears to be more appropriate to Miss Jessel than to Flora, as heard on the sound track:
We wait, my love and I,
Beneath a weeping willow,
But now alone I lie,
And weep beside the tree,
Siging, “Awaiting, awaiting,”
By the tree that weeps with me,
Singing, “Awaiting, awaiting,”
Till my lover returns to me.
We wait, my love and I,
Beneath a weeping willow,
But now alone I lie,
By willow I die,
By willow I die.
The association of willow and dying recalls the more famous figure of Ophelia, who also drowned herself in madness and grief (Mazzella 29). As the credits roll, the face and clasped hands of Deborah Kerr swing into view, “all I want to do is to save the children,” she whispers, “not destroy them, more than anything, they need affection, love, …someone who will belong to them.”
A dark screen which is dominated by a child’s voice, who is singing a horrible song over the motif of grief and death, creates a tense atmosphere which makes the audience feel uneasy from the very beginning. As the film goes on, Clayton loses no time to establish this air of uneasiness even more than before. In an immediate scene following this one, the governess becomes aware that she is going to occupy a dead person’s position in a lonely place. Next, we have her arrived at Bly. Walking down the broad drive on a beautiful day (as is borrowed from James’ novel), Giddens hears the name “Flora” called out in a high voice while sees no one around in the area. And all of a sudden, Flora appears as if she is materialized! That night, after prayer, when Miss Giddens assures her that she will go to heaven because she has been a good little girl, Flora wonders aloud: “And if I weren’t, wouldn’t the lord just leave me here to walk around? Isn’t that what happens to some people (the scene is not in the novel)? This chain of frightening and suspenseful elements continues to control the coming scenes too, and along with it arouse the feeling of terror, tension, and anxiety. Clayton sets out the horror elements in a way so that not even a shot is empty of them. All the more, the way of photographing the film emphasizes the trace of horror, since Freddie Francis, the photographer, observed that:
Our audiances probably did not realize that one of the things that one of the things contributed toward the horror of the film is that I had these filters made up so only the center of the scene would be fully illuminated. The edge of the screen would always be a little bit dark. So that you didn’t know whether there was anything there or not (Mazzalla 12).
Music would be another influential element in creating the intended atmosphere in the film and a special feeling in the audience. The music which is played along with a sorrowful song at the beginning of the film turns out to be a leitmotif for the entire film. Although it is a calming sad music which originally doesn’t invoke any thought but sorrow, when it is found out that it actually belongs to the last governess, Miss Jessel, its being played starts to tease the audience. It reappears in a variety of guises. Flora plays it as a simple tune on the piano, and she hums it softly to herself on several occasions, usually before the appearance of the ghosts – at the moment Miss Giddens sees Quint on the tower, and beside the lake just before the appearance of Miss Jessel. Gradually it comes to imply the invocation of the ghosts. Even Miss Giddens finds herself playing it on the parlor piano, and sometimes it is heard being played on the piano while nobody is around. Moreover, Clayton has got the music on the soundtrack; therefore, the audience comes to believe in the house being possessed by the ghosts.
Consequently, all the horror constituents, and the continuous suspense develop the gothic genre throughout The Innocents.
Ben Bolt has a quite different opening to his film; it starts by a blurry shot of a lake, then the camera moves up to show a close up of a woman’s face. Then, she is shown standing on the edge of a ship, and the next moment she throws herself into the water. The scene of the dark silent lake dissolves into a young lady. Meanwhile a strange music is played in the soundtrack, and the credits roll. So, Bolt has also started his movie in a way to establish a sense of uneasiness.
Yet, this sense vanishes quickly and easily, because the ensuing incidents don’t emphasize on it. Most of the succeeding scenes are illuminated and the music, playing on the background, changes into a sort of romantic film music. Although the dissonant type of the same music is heard in some parts of the film, it does not denote horror as much as it denotes the governess hysteria. That being so, the music and sound track of film, mainly, reflect the governess’s action and her feelings at time.
There is no extra shot to intensify the element of suspense or terror. All in all, it seems that Bolt doesn’t have any ghothic reading of the work to reveal in his movie.
Are the Ghosts Real?
As mentioned in the last chapter, one of the most controversial and basic gaps in the narrative has been the question of the reality and presence of the ghosts out in the natural world. It has been an element of sustained uncertainty, as the reader of the story sees the ghosts only in the mind eyes, which brings this possibility about that they only exist in the imagination of the governess. However, in the case of films, it is a very different matter since the film is not only dealing with the mind eyes but with the physical eyes of the audience. So, the reality of the ghosts in a film is easily proved, if the film intends it and gives sufficient evidences to its audience to justify his/her physical eyes.
Via adding up some supplementary scenes to the original tale, Clayton shows that The Innocents is in fact an apparitionist reading of The Turn of the Screw. It is in their playing hide and seek that the first evidence shows up. In the first turn, the children hide and the governess goes to seek them and finds them hiding in the attic. On her way to the attic, she sees a lady in black down the corridor. She seems to be Anna, the cook, yet as Miss Giddens calls her, she gets no answer. The figure passes very slowly and as she passes, her long skirt touches the curtain and gives it a move. This palpable proof of the setting, which is recorded by the camera, proves the reality of the one who passes: Miss Jessel.
Another important proof is provided by the film as it visualizes the scene in which the governess encounters Miss Jessel in the classroom. Hearing someone’s sobbing, Miss Giddens turns around, frightened and shocked, and sees Miss Jessel sitting at the schoolroom desk. As Giddens advances toward her, the figure vanishes, but a tear drop is left upon the desk. She touches it: it is real. As Paul Kael remarks, “All else can be more or less comprised within the system of the repressed governess’s madness; but not that little wet tear” (qtd. inWilson199).
Other scenes which confirms the point that the film considered the ghosts to be real are related to Pete Quint, and already discussed in the earlier part of this chapter in the context of the techniques of narration. The one in which Peter Quint is shown quite objectively from the omniscient point of view of the camera and not from the governess’s perspective at all. And the other one which takes place in the last scene in which for the first time through the entire film, we have the point of view of an apparition whose moving hand causes Miles’s death
On the contrary, Ben Bolt in The Turn of the Screw doesn’t make much effort to bring the ghosts into reality. Not only doesn’t his film care about this matter, but also it seems to be tilting the scale toward the idea of the ghosts being only the governess’s hallucination. The ghosts just appear in front of the governess for a very few number of times. Each time just for some seconds they are present and as long as the governess stares at them. They take no action (the same as their original model). Yet, the fascinating point in this film is that, unlike the novella, the ghosts’ presence mostly affects the governess rather than the children. In other words, it is the governess who is hurting the children by her gradually increasing aggressiveness while the children do nothing wrong to be blameworthy. On the whole, Ben Bolt doesn’t take the ghosts much into account.
Ideation Turns into Actualization: Character
Going through the novella, every individual reader, with respect to their peculiar personality and background, will have various imaginations and ideations of the same characters. Some aspects are offered, questions are proposed, and images are formed to give birth to a character with variable characteristics. Scrutinizing the adaptations, we intend to learn how either of them put the primary and secondary images together to depict what was scattered in different pages. Besides, it should be clarified whose side each of them comes to take: the governess or the children.
Deborah Kerr, who plays the role of the governess in The Innocents, represents the stress which the film puts on the beauty and respectability of the anonymous governess. But, the film changes her unknown identity to a known one: Miss Giddens which is a beforehand allusion to her visual and aural giddiness. Thus, the film provides its main character with an identity. Her face and facial gestures in the main represents kindness and innocence, and her actions often reveal her patience and affection for the children. There are several shots in which the film granted her with the idea of innocence thorough linking her to some singular images. For instance, early in the film, there is a shot in which her head is framed by the high oval window at Bly’s entrance, through which light streams, encircling the governess as if by a halo.
In another scene, when she is descending the main staircase in order to look for her hiding place, the camera shows a tapestry on the wall of a maiden with a unicorn, that is an emblem of innocence. Later, before she starts her nocturnal visit of the house, she is pictured, reading a book. In the main narrative the book is mentioned to be Fielding’s Amelia, but in the film, when she closes it and puts it on the table, the camera reveals in a close up that it is a Bible. And by presenting this image affirms her being trustworthy more than before; she is a real savior for Clayton.
Jodhi May is a very young mistress whose facial lines are very strict. She rarely smiles, and loses her equilibrium very soon. She has no identity and is called “Miss” by everyone. She is unusually serious in the classroom with the children. The way she talks is often hasty, and her actions become more aggressive over the time. For instance, early in the film when she informs Flora of transferring her bed to her (the governess) room, the little child expresses her happiness by jumping and laughing. At the moment without paying attention to her excitement, Miss frowns at her and reminds her that they are at the table and her action is quite inappropriate. Flora gets sad. Later, after seeing Miss Jessel by the lake, she pulls Flora after herself to house in a violent manner, then shuts the children up in a room and shouts at them “There, don’t dare moving”.
She is pictured by the film as sleepless, and it brings about her nocturnal walking around the house. When the camera records her moving in the corridors in her long white nightgown, it seems that Bolt has taken her to be the apparition of this lonely house.
Flora, in The Innocents, may appear angelic at the first shot and look (as she is depicted in James’ story 😉 nevertheless, the suggestion of something darker is hinted at in a number of minor details from the very beginning of the film. She either gives equivocal answers or no answers at all when Miss Giddens asks her certain questions and this habit is established from the moment they first meet. When Miss Giddens walks from the entrance to the grounds of Bly, she reaches a lake by which she all at once comes across Flora. There, to the innocuous question, “isn’t your name Flora?” she remains silent. The same night, the way she stands at the end of the sleeping governess’s bed like an incubus; or the way she moves to the open window humming the special willow tune and seemingly seeing someone in the garden add more dark colors to the sketch of her character.
Later, in a detail not in the novel, she twice announces that Miles will be coming home soon, even though the school term is still continuing. When Miss Giddens receives the letter from Miles’s school telling of his expulsion, and questions Flora about her strangely prescient knowledge of his arrival, she responds with, “oh, look! Here’s a spider eating a butterfly!” her indifference in this scene is bordering on cruelty. Her being so much engrossed in the sight of a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web is odd and quite out of place for a child.
The same child is pictured quite differently in The Turn of the Screw. She is just a child in the film with no strange actions. She has very few dialogues. She doesn’t do anything naughty. Even when she speaks filthy at the end of the film, as Mrs. Grose points out, it is because of her being sad with the governess. In some of the scenes she is catched whispering something in Miles’s ears, but it is only photographed as being a childish habit.
To be in the same line with the sequence of the events in the novella, the boy is introduced in his absence. In a shot in conservatory, like the novella, Miss Giddens discusses different possible reasons for Miles’ having been expelled from school with Mrs. Grose. Unlike the novella, the letter provides an additional piece of information concerning the matter, and it is that Miles “is an injury to the others” (in the novella, it is the governess’s hypothesis not a part of the letter). Then, in a full close up Giddens murmurs that Miles might “contaminate” and “corrupt” the other children. At the moment, both ladies are in the frame facing each other and between them in the background there is a statue, an almost naked man figure, when Mrs. Grose laughs and adds, “Miss, you’re afraid he contaminates you?” Then the camera goes slowly to the naked statue, and there is a dissolve from it to Miles leaning out of window. So, even before his appearing, the film has a sexual image connected with him. This image is confirmed when the film portrays him as strangely adult for his age and a deceitful flatterer.
The scene of the fancy dress and costume party is another evidence, provided by the film, to reinforce Miles’s wickedness. There, he is sinisterly reciting a poem as if to invoke Peter Quint and to invite him to enter the house. The poem, both in terms of thematic material and actual delivery, is unequivocally directed to the departed spirit of a dead vale whom he worshipped:
What shall I sing,
To my lord from my window?
What shall I sing?
For my lord will not stay-
What shall I sing?
For my lord will not listen-
Where shall I go?
For my lord is away.
Whom shall I love
Whwn the moon is arisen?
Gone is my lord,
And the grave is his prison
What shall I say,
When my lord comes acalling?
What shall I say
When he knocks on the door?
What shall I say
When his feet enter softly
Leaving the marks of his grave on the floor?
Enter my lord; come from your prison!
Come from your grave!
For the moon is arisen!
Welcome my lord!
Miles delivers the last lines as a whisper while facing the very window behind which peter Quint has appeared to the governess. Then he casts a meaningful look over at the governess, much subtler and more sinister. Miss Giddens is shocked. When it comes to the last scene and the final dialogue between Miles and the governess about his school, he denies being a thief (as his prototype does in the novel,) and confesses that he said things. And sometimes he heard things at night after it got dark, “the masters heard about it. They said I frightened the other boys” (in contrast to the text acknowledgement that “he said things to those he liked” and “they must have repeated them to those they liked”). This locus tells about Clayton’s reading of the word “things”; thereby, he thinks of Miles as an abnormal child who is capable of hearing some frightening things at night.
When the governess asks where Miles learned these things, Miles states that he “made them up.” She persists in asking her questions, almost badgering him. So, Miles gets furious and when he calls her “a damned hussy; a damned, dirty-minded hag,” the camera shows a laughing Peter Quint conjuring with an immediate close up of Miles laughter.
Therefore, form Clayton’s point of view Miles’s angelic face is a masque upon his internal demon.
Ben Bolt does not have any emblem for the character of Miles. He comes home on his own, i.e., nobody goes after him. He is terrifically intelligent and polite, but not too adult for his age (in contrast to Jack Clayton’s reading of him). In the classroom, he answers all the governess’s questions and tries to help her sister. His being protective of his little sister is emphasized in the part when they are standing alone behind the window, and watch the governess stressfully. There Miles put his arm on his sister’s shoulder as a sign of support.
Being asked about Shakespeare, he starts reciting some parts of Hamlet which are a bit scary. However when the governess accuses him of teasing her, he looks at her bewildered and denies it. In the last clash between them which occurs in the school room, he seems quite vulnerable and defenseless. While his face is in her hands, he is honestly shocked at the news of his being expelled and states, “I just said things.”/ “Bad things?”/ “Bad enough to send me down Miss.”/ “To whom did you say them too?”/ “Just to my friends.”/ “so you are not innocent Miles?”/ “I don’t know Miss.” he says the last sentence while he is on the verge of crying. Ben Bolt takes Miles as a clever, naughty boy who has been a victim of the horrible atmosphere of the school, and is now the victim of an imaginative governess.
Dialogues and Language
Before expounding on the interaction between the text and the reader, Iser points out that the major dissimilarity between reading and all forms of social interactions is that “there is no face to face situation.” Thus, the reader “can never learn from the text whether his views are accurate or not”, and so “this very lack of ascertainability causes the interaction.” this lack of ascertainability is obviously present in the language of the turn of the screw. Therefore, different forms of the indeterminate blanks on the level of pronouns and sentences are arisen which underlies the process of communication. Balance is gained only if “these gaps are filled, so the constitutive blank is bombarded with different projections. In the previous chapter, some of the key blanks whose filling would have a critical turn on the final reading of the story were discussed. Through reexamining the same scenes in the film, we are determined to discover with which one of the possibilities the blanks are supplied.
The first clash has taken place in a conversation about the last governess. In the novella, we read:
“What was the lady who was here before?”
“The last governess? She was also young and pretty– almost as young an almost as pretty, miss, even as you.”
“Ah, then, I hope her youth and her beauty helped her!” I recollect throwing off. “He seems to like us young and pretty!”
“Oh, he did,” Mrs. Grose assented: “it was the way he liked everyone!” She had no sooner spoken indeed than she caught herself up. “I mean that’s his way–the master’s.”
I was struck. “But of whom did you speak first?”
She looked blank, but she colored. “Why, of him.”
“Of the master?”
“Of who else” (James 22)?
The major doubt is over the antecedent of “him” and “he”. Besides, does Mrs. Grose really look blank or is it just the governess’s imagination?
Jack Clayton takes the governess side and lays out the scene in a way to show that the antecedent is nobody but Peter Quint. In the film, this scene takes place in conservatory, starts from speaking about the children’s uncle and moves to the previous governess:
Miss Giddens: Mrs. Grose…
Mrs. Grose: (busying herself with tea things in the b.g) Yes, Miss?
Miss Giddens: What was she like?
Mrs. Grose: Who, Miss?
Miss Giddens: The last governess, the one who died?
Mrs. Grose: Miss Jessel? She was a young woman. Some thought her pretty, and – well, I suppose she was. But not as pretty as you, Miss – not by half.
Miss Giddens: (moving towards her – smiling, somewhat embarrassed) he seems to prefer them young and pretty.
As Miss Giddens reaches Mrs. Grose, Camera moves in slowly.
Mrs. Grose: (vehemently) Oh, he did – he had the devil’s own eye.
Miss Giddens turns to look at her in surprise. Mrs. Grose catches herself – then, hurriedly:
Mrs. Grose: I mean – that’s his way, the master’s.
Miss Giddens: But of whom did you speak first?
Mrs. Grose: Why, the master of course. There is nobody else, Miss. Nobody at all.
First Miss Giddens romantic effusiveness, prompted by thoughts of uncle (he seems to prefer them young and pretty) is abruptly checked by Mrs Grose’s unexpectedly vehement response. An unguarded slip underscored by an auric’s music. In the novel we read, it was the way he liked every one, but changing the sentence has the advantage of bringing in the demonic sense with it too.
In Ben Bolt’s The Turn of the Screw, the scene takes place outside the house in an open area surrounded with natural beauty. The governess mentions her predecessor to Mrs. Grose as she is leaving:
Miss: There is something I wish to ask you, tell me about the lady who was here before.
Mrs. Grose: (a bit surprised) the last governess? Well – let me see, I suppose she was young and pretty Miss, like you.
Miss: (smiling, head down) He seems to like us young and pretty
Mrs. Grose: (smiling) he did. (Miss looks up) I mean he does.
Miss: I beg pardon; (somehow anxious) you say he did?
Mrs. Grose: Did I?
Miss: To whom you were referring?
Mrs. Grose: Why, the master?
Here, Mrs. Grose’ smiling face doesn’t reflect any strange thing but a slip of tongue. And by omitting the second affirming sentence of the main text, Ben Bolt wants to show that she is so honest that she doesn’t need any affirmation. She has just referred to the master.
Secondly, their conversation after being left alone should be taken into account. This clash is interestingly resolved in The Innocents. As the governess even dismisses all the servents of the house for the day, they are truly quite alone. So when Miss Giddens mentions, “but there are still the others”; it is obvious whom she refers to by the pronouns. But Miles on hearing the sentence makes a short pause and cleverly shifts the subject to Flora!
Thirdly, the short dialogue at the moment of the first appearance of Peter Quint has been talked over. This dialogue is modified in The Innocents, so we had it examined in the previou
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