Everybody had fun a few weeks back with The New Republic's claim that, as part of its makeover, the magazine was taking "daring" stands in favor of war on Iraq and against President Bush's tax cuts. (Coming soon: Greg Easterbrook exposes the myth of the Tiny Drop of Retsin in Certs!) This think piece from Stanley Kauffmann suggests one daring stance the magazine might take—updating its decades out-of-date cultural coverage. Our issue for this week: Should Kauffmann read the book About Schmidt, and risk confusing his memory of the film?
I have in my head one work, a film called About Schmidt: do I want in my head a related work in another medium? If I do read the novel and think it as good as my correspondents say, haven't I shoved myself into a small torture chamber that I could have avoided? Since the film is itself of consequence, why do I have to put in my mind an earlier version that, at best, can only make me admire Payne and Taylor's skill in changing it? I have trouble enough in admiring Arrigo Boito's adaptation of Othello for Verdi; do I need more such quasi-grudging admiration?
Like, yawn! Roger Ebert claims Kauffmann is the only critic who can make him think twice about one of his own judgments, so I try to give him the benefit of the doubt. But jeeziz: The guy's been doing criticism since Thomas Edison's Electrocuting An Elephant was in its first run; is this kind of precious pseudo-dilemma the best he has to say about the currently hot topic of adaptation? In the case of About Schmidt, this Do I Dare to Read a Book routine is especially regrettable because of a crucial change they made between media: In the movie, Schmidt's prospective son in law is a mullet-headed nightmare, and you can sympathize with Schmidt's horror at seeing his daughter marry him. In the book, the guy is an all-around dream; Schmidt hates him because he's Jewish. Say what you like about that change; it's an interesting topic for discussion. If Kauffmann is aware of it, he doesn't let on. Not surprising, given that this is the same group of geriatric kulturkampfers that completely misunderstood Curb Your Enthusiasm.