Zoltán Dragon Envisioning the Scarlet Letter
Hawthorne Adapted
Victor Sjöström: The Scarlett Letter (1926)
Victor Sjöström: The Scarlett Letter (1926)
34 KByte

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter has a long and rich adaptation history. Hester Prynne’s story was first adapted to film as early as 1908 by Gene Gauntier, and was followed by not less than eleven attempts to bring the text to the screen. (1) Ironically, only two of these have succeeded at dwelling in public memory (not counting Wenders’ German adaptation that curiously does not form a cornerstone in the director’s filmography): the 1926 adaptation by Victor Sjöström and the latest high-budget version by Roland Joffé in 1995. The former is famous for its scandals (in Louis B. Mayer’s words, it was „on the black list” (2)) the latter for its failure in spite of the star-packed crew. Joffé’s interpretation in fact joins a recent tradition (some would say a truly postmodern one – a view I do not hold) that characterizes films that aim „to show it all:” adaptations with the avowed goal of revealing what could not be told or shown previously either in earlier film adaptations or in the book. Films with similar goals and assumptions that may be mentioned here stem from Gus Van Sant’s remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (based on Patricia Highsmith’s refined novel), or Glenn Jordan’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and the list could go on. All of these films suppose that there is an enigmatic core in the source text that for some reason could not be disclosed at that time, and that now the time has arrived to learn this secret message. As I will attempt to prove, this view is central to the problems of present day adaptation theory as well: more precisely the view that the original has (concealed or disclosed) a sacred message that should be rendered in the faithful, therefore good adaptation.

First, I will briefly discuss the failure and the ideological bias of the reigning trend in adaptation theory and offer a theoretical and also practical way to transcend it, which secondly I will relate to two film versions of The Scarlet Letter: Sjöström’s and Joffé’s. In this part I wish to give some specific examples that shed light on the dialogic study of adaptation, with some additional reference to the technique of narration, characterization, and focalization. Finally, I will return to the question whether the above-mentioned trend in adaptation really reveals anything new about the source text, or rather it conceals many things and features even further. My intention in this essay, however, is not to compare the three texts – Hawthorne, Sjöström, and Joffé – but rather to offer an alternative way of studying novels and their film adaptations. The essay therefore does not address particular comparative problems such as divergence from the strict plot line of the novel in the case of the films and its effect on the reception or the value of The Scarlet Letter – issues, in other words, that seem to me absolutely fruitless as they do not lead to any depth of understanding about either textual manifestation. Instead I will outline how a dialogic study should be initiated and where it should lead.

I. Adaptation theory

Before I tackle specific questions in the process of adaptation of Hawthorne’s novel to film, I wish to claim the theoretical stand I am taking in the following investigation. This is imperative since I will not join the debates centering upon the issue of fidelity, for my concern here is not whether the film remains faithful to the original or departs from it, and if it does, to what extent. Listing such details would simply mean condemning a film adaptation because it fails to „be” the novel one reads (or praising it for taking up all the details of the novel). However, I think a film adaptation should „transform” the literary text in order to „become” a film and change from the medium of literature. Otherwise, the film fails, i.e. it does not become an adaptation, but a mere parroting mechanism. This is the basic difference between the dominant view on adaptation and the view I am advocating in what follows.

Another crucial issue, in fact deriving from this very point of view, is the question of origin and transformed discursive framework, in other words, the source text and its adaptation. While the so-called „fidelity criticism” aims to disclose the places where an adaptation diverges or departs from the original, sacred, holy text (i.e. the highly established, possibly canonized literary predecessor), I aim to look at novel and film simultaneously, using the potential differences between them to open up a space for intertextual dialogue. One consequence of this approach is that it does away with temporal hierarchy, i.e. the question of „origin” and its „impure later use” loses its relevance. Instead, the two texts start to reveal thereto hidden aspects of themselves for each other (and for the interpreter): so that not only does the film adaptation point at specific interpretative possibilities in the novel, but vice versa, the novel also „talks about” the film. My theoretical basis for such a striking claim can be found in Mihail Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, and its recent „adaptation” to the field of film theory by Robert Stam.

According to Stam, „the notion of ‘fidelity’ is essentialist in relation to both media involved. First, it assumes that a novel ‘contains’ an extractable ‘essence’ … hidden ‘underneath’ the surface details of style.” (3) In other words, this approach takes the literary work as a closed entity the role of which is to transmit a concrete and coherent message to the reader. However, it is a theoretical commonplace today that a text is far from being „closed”: it is an open structure, an endless play of signification, and the act of reading is not a „cracking of the shell” to reach the meaningful kernel, but rather a volatile moment of contextualization.

Another question comes up here: to what should a film be faithful then? „Is the filmmaker to be faithful to the plot in its every detail?,” asks Stam. It would lead to „a thirty-hour version of War and Peace.” (4) Or should the filmmaker conform to the „intentions” of the author? According to Stam, this path would cause further problems, as

„Authors often mask their intentions for personal or psychoanalytic reasons or for external or censorious ones. An author’s expressed intentions are not necessarily relevant, since literary critics warn us away from the „intentional fallacy,” urging us to „trust the tale not the teller.” The author, Proust taught us, is not necessarily a purposeful, self-present individual, but rather „un autre moi.” Authors are sometimes not even aware of their own deepest intentions. How, then, can filmmakers be faithful to them?” (5)

Instead of the century-old question of fidelity to the source or to the mythical origin of a film adaptation, Stam proposes an alternative model for the analysis of adaptation. He introduces the notion of „intertextual dialogism” into the critical discourse, completely shifting the focus to the texts (literary and filmic) themselves. As he explains, „every text forms an intersection of textual surfaces” as „all texts are tissues of anonymous formulae, variations of those formulae, conscious and unconscious quotations, and conflations and inversions of other texts.” (6) In a Bakhtinian vein Stam asserts that one should restrain oneself from limiting the concept to solely one medium, as texts in general are products of „the infinite and open-ended possibilities generated by the discursive practices of a culture, the entire matrix of communicative utterances within which the artistic text is situated,” and which is subject to the process of dissemination. (7)

It is Stam’s final theoretical remark that gives me the premise to embark on a project described above. He says that as film adaptations are not only „a kind of multileveled negotiation of intertexts,” but with the same token they are also „caught up in the ongoing whirl of intertextual reference and transformation, of texts generating other texts in an endless process of recycling, transformation, and transmutation, with no clear point of origin.” (8) It is in this light that I wish to transcend the aporias of „fidelity criticism” and build a dialogue among the three texts under discussion (Hawthorne, Sjöström, Joffé).

II. Sjöström and Joffé: Two Readers Visualizing

What is immediately apparent in both Sjöström and Joffé’s versions of Hawthorne’s novel is that both dispense with The Custom House „prologue” which, in the novel, in fact establishes the narratorial voice that frames all the subsequent voices. In the 1926 silent film adaptation this also means the lack of „voice” per se, which is more or less substituted by the implied voice of the intertitles. However, the 1995 version comes up with a complete and more or less radical change in the narration: the narrative voice that is rendered in the sparingly used voice-overs is that of Pearl, that is the „grown-up” Pearl who does not appear in the narrative. There is a double shift here: first, the voice is changed from male to female; secondly, the novel’s primary narrator is eliminated, and his place is taken by the character who was once the „elf-child,” whose very presence is the evidence for the scarlet letter (metonymically speaking, who herself becomes the scarlet letter). In other words, the story is rendered as a memory flashback instead of the original form of a „case” presentation.

It is evident in the case of a silent film adaptation of a novel that the words cannot be rendered as dialogue proper in the film, nor can the „discursive mode” (the prose framing the dialogue and action in the novel) overwhelm as voice-over narration. This way, the filmic discourse needs to „invent” as it were some correlative technique in order to produce an artistic effect that would relate the spectator to the text of the novel (a way of opening up a potential intertextual dialogue already). As Brian McFarlane suggests, Sjöström achieves this task by creating a network of „macro-„ and „micro-level oppositions” that succeed in translating or transforming the narrative codes of the literary narrative to that of the film. In this way he brings to the binarisms of Hawthorne’s text filmic techniques that underlined these more often than not unspoken dichotomies. For instance, McFarlane lists „publicly acknowledged and punished guilt (Hester)” as opposed to „privately experienced guilt and inner anguish (Dimmesdale)”; or „public contumely (Hester)” resulting in „rejection and solitariness” contrasting it with „public adulation (Dimmesdale)” resulting in „acceptance”; furthermore, „strength (Hester)” versus „weakness (Dimmesdale)”, „natural passion” versus „repressed feeling”, „the individual” versus „the community”, and „the forest (= freedom from the constraint of man’s laws)” versus „civilization (= constraint of man’s laws)”, among many others. (9) To these macro-level oppositions (structuring the story) McFarlane finds several micro-level solutions in the adaptation. According to him, Sjöström used close-up, subjective point-of-view shot, tracking shot, moreover light and a predominance of on-screen space in tackling with the „Hester-side” of the binaries, while long shot, reverse-shot, objective shot, still shot and dark, and a lot of references to off-screen space dominate in the rendition of the „Dimmesdale-side” of the list. (10)

Thus, even though the silent film version par excellence dispenses with the discursive mode of the prose fiction, it nonetheless succeeds in transforming this field of utterance to a visual aspect. Instead of verbally insisting on the differences between the moral, ethical, emotional, and social positions of Hester and Dimmesdale, „Sjöström cuts insistently between Hester and Dimmesdale, the shot-reverse shot alternation establishing firmly the opposition between man and woman, private guilt and public guilt, agitation and composure.” (11) The tension between the two sides of the dichotomy – which is ostensibly highly stressed in this adaptation – is furthermore emphasized by the exaggerated facial expressions and the evidently contrasting bodily postures of the actress and the actor. Lillian Gish’s Hester Prynne presents her „star-gaze” (frontally looking directly into the camera, with a determined, motionless look) to oppose the pleading, almost crying, helpless look of Dimmesdale.

The tension, emphasized by gestures and editing as well, is kept in Sjöström’s film adaptation until the very end, until the final scaffold scene. Here Hester and Dimmesdale are photographed very similarly, and finally they are together in medium shots and even close-ups in order to contrast their union against the crowd below (rendered in long shots, without any alternating cut). This film version therefore presents an excellent case for transposition: Sjöström succeeds in utilizing the cinematic technique to overcome the lack of verbal dialogue. The discursive mode of the narration of Hawthorne’s first person narrator is dispensed with, and substituted by the focalizing agent of Hester. This also means a shift in the point of view – which is underlined by the very strong star presence of Lillian Gish, who could also be called an auteur in the case of this film, as McFarlane intimates on the basis of production notes of the film and of many „paratextual” material (interviews, memoirs, and criticisms). (12)

Sjöström’s film sheds light on the dialogic nature of the study of adaptation: it shows how the specificity of one medium (words – literature) can be transposed very differently, yet with the same purpose into another medium (images – film). This film version goes beyond the limits of comparative analysis: it is in futile to match the character descriptions of the novel to the characterization (including the casting policy) of the film, as one can learn about Hester more by „reading” Lillian Gish back into the novel than vice versa, struggling to find all the buttons on her garment in the image.

What is common in Sjöström’s and then in Joffé’s adaptation of The Scarlet Letter is that both films have a very strong and explicit female presence – not only in the diegetic story, but also in the narration. Lillian Gish is explicitly the focalizer in the earlier adaptation: we see through her eyes, she is in some way the camera-eye of the film. Her strongly felt presence thus is not merely a question of her star status, but also a narratological necessity. Another aspect of the strong feminine atmosphere bears the signature of the uncredited scriptwriter: Frances Marion, perhaps „the hardest working scriptwriter” of her time in Hollywood. (13) Moreover, she was a very close friend to Gish: perhaps the closest in sensibility, as Cari Beauchamp remarks.(14) Perhaps it is not a mere supposition that this close collaboration left its mark – as strong as the scarlet letter itself – on the film adaptation of the Swedish director. The feminine presence overwhelming the masculine law and leadership is also central to Joffé’s film, so I will return to this issue later.

Sjöström and Frances Marion decided to keep the cardinal functions (15) of Hawthorne’s narrative, so the plot did not change in its contiguity, only in the discursive mode. By contrast, Joffé flattened the story completely and filled in the lacks or missing links that created the mystery in Hawthorne (such as the begetting of Pearl, for an obvious instance). With this gesture Sjöström succeeded in foregrounding the scarlet letter as it is, in its speaking silence, whereas Joffé reduced its pivotal role to a mere pretext (and pre-text, indeed), speaking and showing everything instead of it. Therefore, while Joffé’s film is highly cinematic (it uses all the five tracks of the cinema), it aimed beyond adaptation, i.e. it wanted to interpret, to bring out the allegedly repressed content, which makes Joffé’s attitude very similar to the fidelity critics. Sjöström however chose not to interpret this repression or the hidden kernel in the Hawthorne text, he merely transferred it (if there had been any) for the spectator to contemplate. In other words, using Catherine Belsey’s typology of texts, Joffé created a declarative text, while Sjöström brought to the silver screen the interrogative text. The declarative text simply gives information to the reader. „The interrogative text, on the other hand, disrupts the unity of the reader by discouraging identification with a unified subject of the enunciation.” (16) This opens a gap in comprehension that seeks to be filled in by the answer of the reader/spectator. In other words, the interrogative text „does literally invite the reader to produce answers to the questions it implicitly or explicitly raises.” (17) In this sense, Sjöström’s version addresses its spectator in the light of the dialogue with the Hawthorne text, while Joffé’s film wants to be a film without the dialogue with the novel it seeks to interpret.

Finally, there is a harsh difference between the endings of the two films. Hawthorne’s Dimmesdale dies following the revelation of „his” scarlet letter – the existence of which is immediately questioned by the narrator in the Conclusion part of the novel. (18) Sjöström keeps this ending and is brave enough to present the final scaffold scene in an explicitly pieta pose, evoking by reference both Jesus and the Christian religion – in the name of which Hester was condemned. I claim this to be a brave move as the film was made in the heydays of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, the Studio Relations Committee, later known as the Hays Office, an organization that gave way to – or denied release from – films of the time. In some respect, the making of the film should be seen as a parable of the story itself: the League wanted to hinder the release of the film arguing against it on religious, ethical and moral grounds, whereas the film „struck back,” as it were, on the very same grounds. This might be one reason why the film was on a black list for some time – I have no other possible clues for it otherwise.

Joffé’s adaptation, however, changes the ending of the story, creating a genuinely Hollywood happy-end, in which the „family” is finally united and leaves the place of pain with uplifted gazes, morally victorious. In this sense the female protagonist in this version does not fight and persevere for herself and her child but in view of the united family. This version is underscored by the editing as well, since whenever a crisis is bound to happen (most evidently in the court scene where Hester is tried and Pearl is about to be taken away from her), the looks of the protagonists, Hester and Dimmesdale, are designed so as to form a perceptible axis in the field of vision, excluding all other looks in the room. This axis of looks is further emphasized by the use of the classical cinematic suture: the shot-reverse shot structure that visually forms a family universe within the space of the building. (19) The very same technique is used in the final scaffold scene, too: Joffé here separates the family (i.e. private) from the crowd (i.e. public) just as successfully as Sjöström did in 1926.

To return to the issue of strong feminine presence, it needs to be established that the Demi Moore character seems to take on a man’s role at first: she arrives among men, interpellates them freely, has determination, strong ideas, and is ready to work. Perhaps this anachronistic attitude (quite foreign to the age) propels some townspeople to state quite early in the film that she „unsettles” the town with her presence. Interestingly, though, she is not the only one to acquire negative responses from the community with her arrival: Dimmesdale himself is said to be such a troublemaker, since he took on the task of converting the Native Americans (who in fact appear in the film dressed unlike the „noble savage” is imagined, some of them speak English, etc.). That is why some say that „vile scum are those to follow the fool Dimmesdale.” In this sense the tension that is meticulously built up by Hawthorne’s narrative is transformed into a ready-made tension in the eyes of the townspeople concerning both protagonists.

The spectator is warned very early on not to expect a letter-by-letter adaptation of the novel in Joffé’s film, as the credits testify: „Freely adapted from the novel.” I think this clever sentence makes all claims to any fidelity whatsoever evidently vain and false, and validates the changes in emphasis in the narrative. I have already mentioned the foregrounding of the female voice: and this voice is to be taken quite literally in this version, since the task of narration – a male voice in the novel – is taken over by Pearl in the film. This change in the narrative voice, however, results in some inconsequent lines among the awkwardly and abruptly presented voice-overs, among them the part when she talks about the „possession of Mr. Prynne” when captive: how did she learn about such an episode when even her mother was ignorant about it? The case history that was based on „facts” and research in the novel is transformed into a family history told by the youngest member. Another crucial change is the featuring of the Native Americans as very strongly on Dimmesdale’s side, thus morally above the community of the town. I have the strange suspicion here that Joffé very heavily built his adaptation on his earlier feature film classic, The Mission (1985), where once again the natives morally overcome the civilized – and physically victorious – Portuguese and Spanish forces. The protagonist of The Mission, played by Jeremy Irons, also aims to convert the natives, and takes sides with them in the attempt to fight the „invaders” back. (20) The foregrounding of this line is evident right from the start of the film, which is the ritual burial of the head of the clan – a case that is discussed over the dinner at the Governor’s house; then a bit later, when Hester chooses her dwelling, they say that it is a dangerous spot: not because of its obviously dangerous exposure on the edge of the cliff, but because of its position as an easy prey for the natives. This way, the feminine and the native („subaltern”) positions are visibly connected, even though Hester little cares about the natives, and vice versa.

Apart from making the entire narrative into a linear story so that sjuzhet and fabula coincide, Joffé also chooses to inscribe a focalizing agent. This is Mituba, the dumb slave, who silently follows the unfolding of the secret passion of Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale. Her sexual-sensual awakening in fact parallels the realization of the couple’s mutual attraction, so in a sense she is the silent secret kernel of the letter „A”. I venture to argue here that whereas it is the protagonist in the novel who vows silence about her „sin,” this is transferred outside her in the film. However, this transference is not over at this point. The film introduces yet another signifier for Hester and her passion: a little scarlet bird. At the beginning of the film whenever Hester appears, the bird follows her, sometimes even comes before her as if to announce her arrival in the scene. This bird is later on visually becomes a metonymy for Mituba as well, thus becoming a carrier of the silenced secret.

Even before this obvious metonymy, the scarlet bird appears in the forest. In this scene, it flies around a deer, which curiously appears „as if to announce” the arrival of Dimmesdale. When Hester peeps on the naked reverend who is swimming in her territory (an obviously metaphorical rendition of „transgression”), the bird peeps on the deer – also in her territory, grazing. Unfortunately, Joffé abruptly forgets about this symbolical line that comments on and in fact foreshadows everything that is bound to happen between Hester and Dimmesdale, so the pursuing of this analytical thread leads to an impasse. In my opinion, this symbolical, highly visual pretext could have been a very effective way of rendering the discursive mode of Hawthorne’s narrative. Instead, it lays bare a break in the dialogue between the two texts, and fails to add anything to our knowledge and understanding of the novel (which I think is essential in a dialogue: we can ideally learn more about each participating text). Mituba’s role is also prey to this inconsequent tackling: she becomes the traitor, the one to reveal the silenced secret to the community. She also „talks” about the bird – „Was it scarlet? Black? It must have been the devil!” – but the entire scene is more about Chillingworth’s more and more insane and furious rage than about the secret.

Joffé also decided to give Chillingworth an easy leave by the end of the film. We see him getting crazier by the day, but there is no trace of his „friendship” with the reverend, and thus there is no tension built up between the two characters. He acts as a mere focalizer at times, such as when Dimmesdale visits the scaffold twice. Apart from these, the two men rarely meet, or face each other. Instead of this psychic tension Joffé opted for an action-packed finale, where Chillingworth (totally transformed into the stereotypical „mad Indian,” whose ritual hatred and blood-thirst is beyond common-sense) in fact kills somebody he took for Dimmesdale. (He kills the man who has always wanted to rape Hester, so in this respect he acts as a husband defending his wife, which he does here unknowingly – hence his fury upon discovering his mistake.) But when his revenge fails (he wanted to kill Dimmesdale), he hangs himself in his room. In the final scaffold scene, when they are about to hang Hester and Dimmesdale as well, the native friends suddenly break into town and save the family.

It seems that Joffé decided to shout out loud everything that both the novel and Sjöström’s adaptation seemed to keep silent. The passion inherent in every meeting between Hester and Dimmesdale in the novel, or inherent in every look and gesture of Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson, is transformed into explicit sexual scenes; the inner wrestling, psychic pain and suffering that helped to build the tension in Hawthorne’s text and in the silent film version are all laid open, over-explained, creating a simple (and I should say simplified) love story. If the secret can be seen as a void at the center of the story that is a rupture á la Lacan, it should be argued that it is this very secret, this very silence that keeps the entire narrative together. The secret then is a lack that covers itself with the very same gesture as it opens up the entire narrative establishment. The letter „A” becomes thus the signifier for this lack, the objet petit a, the Real object standing in for the Imaginary one, as it signals something beyond the grasp of the everyday reality of the narrative. It signals something unspeakable, but stubbornly insistent. It „glues” – as Hawthorne states at the end: it keeps everything together because it is kept at bay, it is left functioning, i.e. it is silent. No wonder Hawthorne „takes” Hester back to town and has her take up the letter after she succeeded in raising Pearl. (21) The sign encompasses everything Hester (or more precisely Hester and her desire) is about, so renouncing it would have meant a complete deserting of herself. This is where the „bringing out to the open what has been silenced” attitude of Joffé’s film fails completely: little Pearl throws the letter into the mud as the small family is leaving the town forever. By this, Pearl – even though as a narrator she states otherwise – throws away everything that she, as the very fruit of the affair, means in Hawthorne and Sjöström, therefore the question immediately rises: why does she tell this story? What makes her speak, and to what audience?

III. Conclusion

In this essay I set out to find the basis for a dialogue among three texts under the same title, The Scarlet Letter: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, and Victor Sjöström’s and Roland Joffé’s film versions. The aim was far from listing the differences in the texts or from simply condemning any of the films for not following closely enough the plot line of the „original” novel. My attempt was to see how one medium informs the other via a story, and what this transposition reveals about that story. Although I worked with a limited number of examples, I think they proved to be enough to see how the very same „scarlet letter” appears (or disappears for that matter) in each and every textual or visual manifestation.

To introduce the premise of such an undertaking, I referred to the recent development in adaptation theory epitomized by the work of Robert Stam. Stam utilizes Bakhtinian „translinguistics” to argue for an intertextual understanding of adaptation. This allows the interpreter to see the texts in a dialogue, simultaneously revealing potential readings about one another. This way the question of fidelity and the myth of the „original text” fade away to give way to an interdisciplinary study of cultural products.

It is against this theoretical background that I looked at the three texts. In my analysis I pointed out how Sjöström’s version, while keeping quite closely to the plot of Hawthorne’s novel, shows more than Joffé’s completely outspoken and flattened out, linear narrative, and what this means in the light of the novel, to mention only one example. I also tackled the question of discursive emphases: the symptom of the very strong female presence, which might further be connected (via the position of the „subaltern”) to the presence of the Native Americans in the Joffé version.

Finally, I have to emphasize that my aim with this essay was far from „proving” anything about either of the texts under discussion or meticulously study the adaptation process from word to word and from image to image – the length of this essay would not have allowed such an exercise. What I wished to offer is merely to outline an alternative way of looking at novels and film adaptations without the unnecessary constraints of fidelity criticism (i.e. without the compulsory and fruitless questions of a text being faithful to another one, or whether the quality of an adaptation matches the quality of the original, etc.). The Scarlet Letter proves to be a classic not because it is part of the literary canon, but – from the point of view of the present essay – because its numerous film adaptations cannot exhaust its interpretative capacity and even add further potential readings to it. This is what is at stake in a study of adaptation, which – I might venture to claim – is a richer study of the novel as well.

I wish to thank Professor Kent Bales (University of Minnesota) for his comments and suggestions that helped me improve this essay.


(1) Here is a list of the twelve adaptations by date, director, and scriptwriter: 1908 – Gene Gauntier; 1911 – D: Joseph W. Smiley and George Loane Tucker, S: Herbert Brenan; 1913 – David Miles; 1917 – Carl Harbaugh; an 1920 short film (uncredited); 1922 – D: Challis Sanderson, S: Frank Miller; 1926 – D: Victor Sjöström, S: Frances Marion; 1934 – D: Robert G. Vignola, S: Leonard Fields; 1950 (TV) – D: Franklin J. Schaffner, S: Joseph Liss; 1972 – [Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe] – D: Wim Wenders, S: Tankred Dorst and Ursula Ehler; 1979 – a mini series by Rick Hauser; 1995 – D: Roland Joffé, S: Douglas Day Stewart. I am aware that this list is by no means complete. (Source: International Movie Database: www.imdb.com)

(2) Quoted in Lillian Gish and Ann Pinchot. Mr Griffith, the Movies and Me. London: W. H. Allen, 1969., 285.

(3) Robert Stam, „The Dialogics of Adaptation,” in James Naremore (ed.) Film Adaptation. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000., 57.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Op. cit., 64.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Op. cit., 66-67.

(9) Brian McFarlane. Novel to Film. An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996., 65-66.

(10) Op. cit., 67.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Op. cit., 39. The term „paratext” is coined by Gerard Genette, and refers to all the material referring to a given text that is not strictly speaking a part of that very text, only connected to it in some ways, such as preceding it (trailers, posters, interviews, etc.) or coming after it (criticism, memorabilia, etc.). For further discussion and on Genette’s relevance for film theory, see: Robert Stam. Film Theory: An Introduction. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2000.

(13) Jennie Rose, „Women in Film,” available at http://www.greencine.com/static/primers/womeninfilm.jsp; accessed on 7 Aug, 2004.

(14) Cari Beauchamp, „Even for Talkies, the Women Who Wrote Worked Silently,” available at http://www.welcometosilentmovies.com/news/newsarchive/marion.htm ; accessed on 7 Aug, 2004.

(15) Roland Barthes introduced this term to define those elements in a narrative that constitute the main cornerstones, in other words, without which (or with a change in them) the entire story would be completely different. These are the so-called „hinge points” or „nuclei” in the novel: the points where something changes in a way, and not in any other ways. See: Roland Barthes, „Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives,” in Image Music Text. (tr. Stephen Heath) London: Fontana, 1977., 89.

(16) Catherine Belsey. Critical Practice. London: Routledge, 1980., 91.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter. London: Penguin, 1994., 219.

(19) I refer here to the classic suture as described by Jean-Pierre Oudart („La Suture,” I-II, Cahiers du Cinéma nos 211 and 212, April and May 1969) and then by Daniel Dayan („The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema,” in Gerald Mast et al (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism. New York: Oxford, 1992). The classical shot-reverse shot formation was subsequently criticized by William Rothman in „Against the System of the Suture,” in Mast.

(20) I deliberately use the word „invader,” as this is Joffé’s to be released film this year.

(21) Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 222-224.


Victor Sjöström: The Scarlett Letter (1926)
Victor Sjöström: The Scarlett Letter (1926)
32 KByte
Roland Joffé: The Scarlett Letter (1995)
Roland Joffé: The Scarlett Letter (1995)
56 KByte

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