Film Hick: The Dead (1987)
Directed by: John Huston. Cast: Angelica Huston, Frank Patterson, Kate O’Toole. Rated: U. Running Time: 83 minutes.
Some times a voiceover will work and sometimes it won’t – it strikes me that it is often less wise to do this when converting a book because it is going to pull the viewers mind towards comparisons which you may not fare too well from. You either have to use that text in an innovative way or add something to it that wasn’t there before otherwise, in a sense, you are paraphrasing the bible. Fight Club
provides an example of good use of voiceover, this film provides a bad use of one. When it is used throughout a film as a tool and becomes integral to the structure of the movie it is fine – I think the thing that jars with The Dead
is that it feels like a failure of the imagination; everything else we need to know about all the characters is contained within their actions and their conversations.
Joyce’s prose sings on the page – it is vibrant and compelling; delivered deadpan while an actor sits there trying to look thoughtful it doesn’t do its job quite so well, and of course it is somewhat less wordy than the actual prose which is one of the wonderful things about Joyce. It might be said in some cases that the wordiness of Joyce is the very thing that makes it.
I generally like John Huston as a director, and the cast is not bad at all. They are very believable characters up there on the screen, but they unfortunately lack the vitality that they have on the page. Joyce has a reputation as someone who it is hard to translate to film, and there aren’t really any examples that refute that claim, and I think that some of it is due to the fact that there is not necessarily what one would call action in the narrative and the prime attraction of reading Joyce is for the descriptive quality and the verbal dexterity – the effect the mechanics of the telling have rather than what is being told.
The film never really engages, seems dusty and badly aged, like some television costume dramas. You won’t be gouging your eyes out in pain if you have to sit through it but there are better ways to waste your time.