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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, July 17, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 83

[83rd of 100]. We are vastly loyal to the books we've read and loved when we were children because they were our first gateways to worlds of imagination that not just informed our reality, but also provided escape from it. That dual effect of books -- as flight and as anchor -- is part of their magic, a truth about reading most bookworms would know. I've loved so many books when I was a kid, and I was indiscriminate in my taste, hopping from classics [Jane Eyre, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Little Women, Treasure Island, The Wizard of Oz] to popular fare [Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sweet Valley High, Encylopedia Brown, the books of Enid Blyton, Pippi Longstockings]. I'm grateful for that time in my growing up years, and I do envy my childhood's voraciousness for books, something I fall short of these days given the mundane concerns of adult living. It is this feel of treasuring the worlds of imagination we'd conjured in our heads from the pages of books we loved that make many of us feel proprietary over titles suddenly given to adaptations in visual media: because how we imagined them has a primacy for us, and anything else feels like an invasion, even a thievery. Which is why when Agnieszka Holland's 1993 version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved novel about a lonely girl and the botanical magic she conjures from a forgotten parcel of earth came out, I was wary. Will they make Mary Lennox too sweet, for Hollywood's sake, scrapping her initial crabbiness and sullenness? Will they make her too modern, injecting contemporary mores into a Victorian story? Will the manor and garden be as how I'd imagined them, or will they a horror of details gone awry? I was not prepared for disappointing my expectations: Holland -- who had already made a few films about "lost" children like Europa, Europa [1990] and Olivier, Olivier [1992] -- had taken Burnett's story, and made a faithful film of the material, infusing it with the necessary Gothic thrills and leaving the goodheartedness intact. We still get Mary's arc from miserable orphan girl to miracle worker, complete with episodes of hard-earned self-actualization that lead not just to her redemption, but also the redemption of the miserable people surrounding her. I'm not sure this film can be faulted for any bad choices. It feels like something near perfection, especially if you have loved the book, as I had. In the 1990s, there were a few attempts to put to the screen a slew of classics of children's literature, of which this was one. Another one that comes close was Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of A Little Princess [1995], from a novel also by Burnett. Many of them failed to register at the box office, ignored by many -- which always bothered me: people complain too much about not getting wholesome fare at the movie theater, but when actually presented with gems of the wholesome sort, they proceed to ignore them. Thank God, the filmmakers behind these children's films persevered, ensuring us movie treasures we can turn back to once and again, the way I can go back and peruse the pages of my favorite books, which occupy pride of place in my bookshelves. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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