Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Film Vs. Stage

I spoke last week about the capitalization which came as a direct result of the “Threepenny Opera”s success. I would like to take a chance to further explore this by briefly comparing and contrasting the endings of G.W. Pabst's film version and that of the original 1928 stage play. Through this it will become clear that while the overall intention may be similar, there are many similarities which bastardize Brecht's original view.

Negating the legal struggle which resulted from Pabst's re-interpretation of “Threepenny”--which he also won—we must first consider the political views of each opposing side. Brecht, we know, was a devout Marxist at the time he penned this play, as well as throughout his career. His work with the techniques of the Epic Theatre made use of “putting on a show;” or, rather, distancing the audience from the spectacle. In the case of “Threepenny”s ending, particularly, he brilliantly orchestrates a fantastical happy ending which highlights corruption on every level.

This is not something that Pabst overlooked, as it can not be easily missed. However, in the ending of his adaptation, just as with many plays turned films, we are given the sense that it is the people we should be concerned with. Just as I spoke of this in the second to last scene of the play (in the last post), Pabst seems to have embraced the humanity of the characters—instead of the intended caricatures they represent. As a well known director, one can only assume that Pabst was interested in not only cashing in on the wild success of the 'hit-musical', but also on figuring out a way to make the story more relatable to a widespread audience. In essence, Pabst was most likely interested in using his skill and influence to tell the story as he saw it. And from what can be seen of his oeuvre—a long list of films which focus on the plight of women in the societies of their day—it is of interest that he made sure to include longer song selections for both Polly and Jenny: two leading ladies of their day.

Pabst provided a disservice to the play by cutting out many of the songs concerning the true issues of human nastiness. Perhaps film goers had no interest in be called “shit,” or receiving lessons on the effects of sexual obsession. Yet, these messages were written for a reason, and their omission gives the appearance that Pabst is softening the proverbial blow—something that Brecht obviously would never approve of. While Brecht shows us a magical messenger on a horse who 'saves the day', well sort of, Pabst shows us three corrupt men who decide to combine their efforts by manipulating the financial system. Granted, all of the aforementioned characters do possess unique insights into how they can beat the system and get away with it, and this does make Pabst's ending more plausible. But is it really plausibility we're looking for here? Surely audiences weren't as blind to the exploits of the bourgeois as this. Right?

Brecht wanted us to question the plausibility of his ending. It was something audiences were supposed to ponder and discuss later—a fairy tale that could maybe happen. Ultimately he wanted audiences to identify his play as a play and then realize that they might never be so lucky as Mac, because in life there are consequences. With Pabst there are no consequences for the characters in question. They become legitimate and we ask ourselves how they could get away with it. As I said earlier, there are obviously comparable objectives with each piece, but I'm still stuck on how un-alienated I was while watching this film. In this case I am doubtful of a certain conclusion.

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