"Censorship and Stardom in Various Adaptations of Tenessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire" by Helga Szabó
Helga Szabó obtained her MA in American Studies at the institute of English and American Studies, University of Szeged, was a summer university fellow at GUSEGG Graz, Austria and is currently a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at University of Szeged. Her doctoral research focuses on the history of film criticism in the United States. E-mail:
Abstract: This paper discusses the issue of censorship in Hollywood and beyond from the onset of the Production Code Administration through the Rating System alongside with that of the classical stardom. I will map the ways in which censorship and stardom developed and changed in time from the 1950s to the 2010s through various film adaptations of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). I am going to analyze the first film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire directed by Elia Kazan in 1951, then its 1984 adaptation directed by John Erman along with the 1995 version directed by Glenn Jordan, followed by Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999), and finally, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which came out in 2013. By examining the above listed films, my focus will also be on various methods of adapting Williams’s play to film and on the ways in which these adaptations actually altered the dramatic plot and how the issue of censorship and stars have altered, in turn, various adaptations.
Keywords: PCA, Hollywood, censorship, stardom, Tennessee Williams, Elia Kazan, Glenn Jordan, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar
I. Introduction. Streetcars: Censorship and Adaptations
This text examines various filmic adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), namely A Streetcar Named Desire directed by Elia Kazan in 1951, its 1995 version directed by Glenn Jordan, Pedro Almodóvar’s 1999 film, All About My Mother [with original title of Todo sobre mi madre] and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which came out in 2013. The paper seeks to primarily survey how censorship and stardom changed not only the world of Williams’s drama but also how its film adaptations modified issues of censorship and stardom through the world of Williams’s play in the past sixty-six years. Second, I will also explore how in turn these changes shaped the plot line of A Streetcar Named Desire in various adaptations.
Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire is an intriguing play, one of the most well-known dramas in the history of the United States of America and global modern theater as well. After its enormous success on the Broadway in 1948 and 1949, director Elia Kazan adapted A Streetcar Named Desire and created a film that became a pioneering adaptation in terms of censorship and stardom. This movie was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as one of the “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films” of the country. However, the movie caused great controversy for the ruling censorship office for its explicit themes and became subject to strict censorship, finally leading to become the first adult movie in the United States. In the following, I intend to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the regulations that the film producers had to keep due to the PCA and investigate the changes that came after the PCA reached its end and ceased to exist.
Later on, when censorship was far from being such an obstacle as before, movie producers reached back to the story and new adaptations were created from Williams’s play. However, censorship was not the only factor that defined the success of a film; its actors were just as important in the production of meaning as the censorship element because in the early 1950s, star names like, for example, James Dean or Marlon Brando also contributed in the transformation of movies through their star image. Despite strong regulations the Production Code Administration (hence PCA), also called the Production Code of the Motion Picture Industry that was active between 1930 and 1967, demanded from each of the American film studios, A Streetcar Named Desire managed to be successful not only in cinemas but also on the television screen—as much as it was on Broadway. The importance of well-known actors and actresses in the movie adaptations of Williams’ play rose remarkably during the 1960s and 1970s and reaching its hights in 2010s.
More, than thirty years later, in 1984, John Erman made a new Streetcar remake as television film and in 1995 Glenn Jordan also directed A Streetcar Named Desire movie for television, which was based on the play’s 1992 success on the Broadway. Erman used the original plot, making only minor transformations to it and rather following a fidelity of the letter adaptation the original script of the 1947 play. Names like Treat Williams or Ann-Margret (who won the Golden Globes for her performance as Blanche Dubois in 1985) starred in the movie. Interestingly, the Golden Globes was the only event where Erman’s Streetcar could win an award because the film was not among the successful Williams adaptations. This version was not regulated by the PCA and therefore, had more explicit scenes allowed by the rating system in vogue then. Jordan’s intention was also to revive Williams’s play without making any alterations to it. The new Streetcar – starring Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin – had no specific regulations limiting its creative output in terms of censorship. The film was first aired on the CBS channel, so it was open to a greater mass of audience then a feature film. Moreover, despite its obvious fidelity adaptation of Williams’s masterpiece, it received an ambiguous welcome from the film critics. For example, Tom Shales from The Washington Post called the audience’s attention to “expect [their] patience to be tested very early” and continued with the observation in which he claims that “viewers are likely to be put off by the talkiness and slow pace of the first hour, and viewership will likely decline steadily through the night” (1995, The Washington Post). Despite the harsher comments on the film, Jordan’s Streetcar was nominated for several awards, such as the Emmy Awards in 1996 (for the Best Leading Actress, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Outstanding Art direction), the Casting Society of America (Best Casting for TV Movie) or the Golden Globe, where Jessica Lange the won the Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television.
In Europe, more specifically in Spain, director Pedro Almodóvar’s movie, All About my Mother (1999) became a great success despite the fact that Almodóvar treated the issue of homosexuality and transgender people in an explicit way. The Spanish director did not use as such the plot of Streetcar in his film but has referred in many cases, especially in crucial moments, to Williams’s play that connects, thus the drama in an intertextual manner with the film. The movie, which had multiple nominations and awards, among them six Goya Awards (Premios Goya) in Spain, won also the Golden Globe, BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Awards) and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 2000. All About my Mother is considered to be one of Almodóvar’s finest works which questioned and redefined the previous movie making system in Spain.
The last film I am going to analyze is Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, produced in 2013. The movie follows the life of a woman who, after losing her husband and all her fortune, has to move to her sister’s and cope up with the difficulties this new life brings. The film’s star, alongside Alec Baldwin, was Cate Blanchett, who played the protagonist, Jasmine. In fact, the critics liked her acting so much that she received the Academy Awards for The Best Leading Actress in 2013. The performance of the actors was praised by many critics, among them Mark Kermode, who described the movie as rather an average production but one in which “performances are [being] worthy of stand-up-and-cheer ovations all round” (2013, The Guardian).
For my investigation, I will use some important sources regarding the issue of censorship and adaptation. The first is R. Barton Palmer’s study, titled Hollywood in Crisis: Tennessee Williams and the Evolution of the Adult Film which investigates the ways in which the Hollywood filmmaking system changed radically from the 1930s because of the introduction of the censorship. Palmer takes his example based on Tennessee Williams’s celebrated play which was adapted into film by Elia Kazan in 1947, A Streetcar Named Desire.
In the first section of his chapter, the “A New Type of Hollywood film,” Palmer writes about the most popular themes on the Broadway in the 1940s and discusses why he thinks Tennessee Williams’s plays – here mostly about A Streetcar Named Desire – became successful Broadway productions and also gives a very useful introduction into the most stringent issues of the PCA and its effects on Hollywood films starting from the second half of the 1930s. Palmer focuses also, besides the movie making industry in Hollywood, to the decades when television became popular among the middle-class citizens when cinemas had to come up with a solution in order to lure their audience back from homes into cinemas. Palmer’s approach is very informative and describes how certain segments of Hollywood’s film industry developed from the thespian world of Broadway and theatres to becoming a movie making center of America that changed a number of productions in regard to censorship and stardom later on. Palmer’s next subchapter, “A Streetcar Named Desire: The First Adult Film,” takes a closer look not only on the film adaptation of the Williams’s play but also on its extradiegetic, background story concerning the obstacles and struggles the making of the film had to go through during 1950s when the PCA practically controlled the movie-making system by making each film pass through a strict filter of rules. Moreover, Palmer takes his time to mention some key characteristics that helped Streetcar be one of the best well-known films on the movie market by highlighting Elia Kazan’s decisive role for the overall success over the PCA. Furthermore, in his objective study, Palmer gives detailed information about the actors playing the protagonist and the antagonist, Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, by focusing on their previous works and their suitability for the roles, claiming that the succes of the movie was also due to the stardom qualities, the charisma and the presence of stars. He gives Williams credit for making the male body sexually appealing and turning it into the object of the sexual gaze.
Another important source for my research was Réka Cristian and Zoltán Dragon’s book which provided a thorough introduction into film studies, explaining the most important terms and conceptions in the chapters on Do You Speak Film? Film Language and Adaptation and the other was the Cinema and Its Discontents: Auteur, Studio, Star. A third, important study for my research is Brian McFarlane’s text in which he writes about the issue of film adaptation, highlighting the concept of fidelity and the narrative techniques. He argues that fidelity adaptations are not the only acceptable ways of adapting a literary piece into a film, by saying that the result depends on the audience’s literary education rather than the real worth of the cinematic production. Moreover, A Straight Director’s Queer Eye is a chapter from the Kazan Revisited that deals with how Elia Kazan found his creative way of thinking concerning movies from 1951 through 1961 and how he was able to ’put’ sexuality – even homosexuality – on the screen when directing the A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951 despite the existing strict PCA regulations in the 1950s.
Censorship is a concept which still exists today and has been a part of our society since the early eras (Caso 2008). Its aim is control the information one can get and that is why it affects many fields of creative arts and media, including literature, music, everyday life and work, the political sphere, communications, media and the film industry as well. The public has a diverse opinion about its usefulness; on one hand, some claim it is an essential, greatly useful tool in order to protect people and especially children from the harmful content on the screens, be that cinema, television or the internet. On the other hand, many believe that censorship is an unnecessary invention that helps governments or those who control the censoring companies influence audiences into a given direction by displaying only that amount and kind of information that they wish to show. There are many types of censorship and their history can be traced back a long time but especially important ones appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries. Censorship concerning written literature was a well-known thing especially in the 19th century in the USA. During the 1920s, regulations were made on books that contained kissing or skin to skin interactions because some thought that these themes could be dangerous especially for the young girls’ sexual development and moral senses (Semonche 2007, 9). One of these regulations was the Clear Books Bill, which prohibited the publication of books with any hint of sexual content. This caused great controversy among critics and writers alike, who said that most of the books that were banned had been bestsellers before the Bill (Semonche 2007, 10).
The first censorship concerning movies was enacted by the city of Chicago early in 1907; the people who created a prohibiting law believed that certain silent films and melodramas would go as far as to threaten the Anglo-Saxon race and womanhood (Couvares 2006, 91). However, “early American films enjoyed an unrestricted artistic freedom and proliferated accordingly in the absence of censoring ‘frontiers” (Cristian 2014) and years after the first controlling law, film studios on the West Coast became the world leaders from the 1920s on in filmmaking. However, during the Great Depression and the New Deal, themes like sexuality and violence were still considered to be morally unacceptable and were all banned (Cristian 2008, 73-74). Moreover, showing the latter mentioned features on screen were interpreted as fake values and false illusions. Religious groups in the U.S. started to protest against films which, according to them, were destructive and harmful (73). Later on, in 1930s, institutions like the Catholic Legion of Decency was also established. These institutions were responsible for controlling the film studios on what they could show in their films and what they must not. In other words, the leaders of these institutions thought the viewers needed to be protected from the violent, morally incorrect content they saw proper in the television and in the cinema, otherwise the public would be exposed to dangerous visual content that would affect their mental stability. Advocates of censorship called the members of this kind of audience the „Vulnerable Viewer;” and this was often idealized into the figure of a young person (child) or, in most cases, a (grown-up) woman (Couvares 2006, 3).
The Catholic Legion of Decency (CLD) was founded in 1933 and, it operated under this name until 1965 where it became the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures (NCOMP). With the establishment of the CLD, the “C” (meaning “condemned”) rating for films was issued and its policy was in usage until 1978, when it was replaced by the so-called “O” (which meant “morally offensive”) rating. In 1980, the NCOMP ceased exist (IMDB). Hollywood film studios were independent companies from the state, but they had to accept the censorship and its rules due to the strong social pressure (Cristian 2008, 73). The Production Code was also called the Hays Code after William Harrison Hays, who was the leader the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association until 1945 (73). In 1945 its name changed into Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) and Joseph Breen became its chief executive officer (CEO). The PCA worked together with the Legion of Decency, a Catholic organization which was created in the 1930s in order to maintain the so-called “morally acceptable” screen (Palmer et al 2009, 62). The regulations of the Code included conditions such as the prohibition in representing any type of sexual intercourse, including any picture of a man and a woman sleeping in one bed. Moreover, luscious kissing was also forbidden, among many other interdictions concerning sexuality. Furthermore, any type of interracial marriage or relationship was considered to also to be non-acceptable for the PCA’s standards. No vulgarity, obscenity and no display of white slavery could be shown on the screen either; alcohol and the use of drugs could only be displayed if it was necessary for the plot (Cristian 2008, 74; see also “The Production Code of the Motion Picture Industry”). Since the strong regulations did not leave much choice for filmmakers, they had to come up with some truyl creative solutions if they wanted to represent something which otherwise was forbidden.
One of these creative solutions was the so-called “art film” (different from the European art films then), which meant a film containing sexual elements, made for adult audiences — in other words, this term was a euphemism for soft pornography (Palmer 1997, 211). One of these art movies circulating in the US at the time of the PCA was the Bicycle Thief (dir. Vittoro de Sica, with the American release in 1949), a film imported from Europe, which caused a considerable headache for Joseph Breen and which, nevertheless, won the Academy Award for the best foreign film (Palmer 1997, 211) was a great success. This meant that despite the harsh control over what could and could not contain a film that was exhibited to American audiences, the audience was eager to see adult content on the screen.
At the beginning of the sixties, there was another system that followed the PCA and had also some kind of control over the distribution of American movies: the rating system. This system distinguished films based on their target audience and based on that there were different ratings as in th following: “A” was for the „morally unobjectionable” movies, “B” for “objectionable,” “C” for “condemned.” The rating that was given to A Streetcar Named Desire (Cristian 2008, 67) was “C” that is, “condemned.” By the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, censorship started to decline as many social movements rose in that period and people started to fight for their various rights. One remarkable example of the weakening censorship in the USA in the sixties is represented by the censoring of the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (dir. Mike Nichols, 1966). This was the first movie where the “Suggested for Mature Audiences” label appeared instead of “C” for “condemned.” This also meant the end of the Production Code System and the wider introduction of the Rating System into the film industry, which rated films based on the amount of violence and sexuality contained in them.
The PCA “had to be substituted” with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) with the film-rating system at the end of the sixties (Cristian 2014), a change that opened the way in which films, and adaptations as such, could be treated by providing different ratings for each movie that came out after that (“Film Ratings”). The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) became the responsible unit for giving ratings for American and also foreign films. In this context, the signs for different age ratings were changed several times through the decades. The current version of the Rating System contains the following categories: “G” for general audiences, “PG” for parental guidance suggested, “PG-13” for parents strongly cautioned, “R” for restricted and “NC-17” for adults only (“Film Ratings”). The rating system seems to be even today an effective way to categorize movies without making the film directors or filmmakers cut out certain scenes or dialogues from the film’s intradiegetic world. Also, an important difference between the activity of the PCA and that of the MPAA is that while the PCA influenced the production of movies the MPAA regulated mass screening of the end product of film companies. One can argue whether PCA and the Breen Office had a good or bad influence on art when it was still in power or if it only caused various hardships, creating false illusions in the minds of the viewers. One thing is certain: although not as powerful as it used to be, censorship still exists in a certain amount as it was transposed to some degree in the rating system.
Adaptation in the film industry continued to be a successful tool despite the increasing growth of censorship. With its roots back in the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th., the first filmmakers adapted literary works in their films by turning into film previously successful literary pieces. In the 1910s, film adaptations were great marketing tools to popularize the movie palaces and lure the middle-class in cinemas (Dragon 2008, 28) Adaptation can be achieved in various fields; it is rather difficult to say a literary or artistic category that could not be adapted to film. One of the most popular types of adaptation is adapting a literary piece into film. Between 1934 and 1954, Hollywood started to transform novels and plays into films in a greater number than before and this meant that the censorship had also a say over it.
In the context of adaptation, there are different types of the process according to Dudley Andrew including that of the “borrowing,” “intersecting” and also “transforming.” (Dragon 2008, 29). Borrowing is the act of taking a previously successful work of art and taking it to screen without or with very little alterations to it. A good example for borrowing is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series (1997-2007) which was adapted to film in the period between 2001 and 2011. Intersecting happens when the movie version “preserves” the “uniqueness” of the original piece of art from which it was taken in a way that its features are recognizable in the adapted version (29). A movie that has intersecting type of adaptation is, for example, The Hobbit book series by J. R. R. Tolkien (1937). The movie series directed by Peter Jackson between 2012 and 2014 follows the original storyline but also adds extra elements to it which cannot be found in the book version/s. The third category, transformation is the total alteration of the source of the adaptation; it is faithful to the original version in the case of some character names or place names but it creates a new plot line. According to Andrew, this is the most controversial category since most critics think that a filmmaker has to reproduce and preserve something from the original text so it can be recognizable for the viewer (Andrew, 2000). There is also the question of fidelity adaptation, which targets the manner in which an adaptation is fidel to the original text or piece of art; however, this is often a biased way of viewing an adaptation (Dragon 2008, 29).
In fact, fidelity is the main source of arguments in the field of film adaptations. There are two types of fidelity adaptation: fidelity to the letter, which means that the adapted work is being faithful to the original one in every sense. In other words, fidelity to the letter requires the adaptation to be the exact ’copy’ of the original work, without any alteration in its script and dialogues. Fidelity to the spirit means that the adapted work is similar to the original but the context is different; tts script and setting do not have to be faithful to the original work. Linda Hutcheon writes, in this context, that she is more interested in “the fact that the morally loaded discourse of fidelity is based on the implied assumption that adapters aim simply to reproduce the adapted text” (2006, 7). Therefore, she suggests that people should view these adaptations as rather new forms of production and not the copy of the already existing ones. According to Brian McFarlane, the attitude of the audience towards a film adaptation depends on how well they know the original literary work it has been adapted from (Mcfarlane, 2007, 6). In other words, if the person who goes to see the film adaptation is “well-trained in literature” they would always want “to find in the film what they valued in the literary work,” not taking into consideration “whether this is the sort of thing film can do” (6). This type of ’well-trained’ audience is “often not interested in something new being made in the film” (6); moreover, they search for are the resemblances the movie has to the literary piece. Therefore, it is hard to please them in every aspect, such as in the case of the characters, since they already have a strong opinion on how their adored protagonist from a certain book or play should look and act like. Critics argued whether a movie should be faithful to the original work of art it was adapted from or it is a better idea to create a completely new plot line with very little resemblance to the original version. McFarlane claims that playing around with film adaptations is “more effective” (6) than sticking only to the original work. However, he also argues that in the case of certain movies, fidelity works perfectly, such as in the Daisy Miller (1974, dir. Peter Bogdanovich) which is “a striking example” of the claim that “fidelity to incident and character connections, to period and place,” does not mean that the film is going to be “poor” or a work “can’t stand evaluative comparison with the novel” (9). However, it would be a failure to claim that a film cannot be satisfying and pleasing to the eye if it does not contain fidelity. Nevertheless, by being a transformation of the original work it is being adapted from, a film is not necessarily poor in content or is a complete nonsense. McFarlane claims, that in order to be able to distinguish a good film from a good book or play, it is essential to understand the differences between adaptation and the original work both in technique and visual context. He writes that he means
here essentially the ways in which the three large classes of film narration— mise-en-scène, editing, and soundtrack, in their various subcategories—put before us the narrative events which, in their bare bones, may have been transferred from page to celluloid. To be ignorant of these is to be ignorant of how film creates meaning in those large areas which pervade a text vertically, as distinct from the horizontal causally linked chain of events. (7)
McFarlane also mentions the three large classes of film narration: the mise-en-scéne, the editing and the soundtrack. Indeed, these three categories differentiate cinematic experience from written literature. Mise-en-scéne means the visual theme of a film production. It is “the surrounding conditions arranged for film scenes” (Cristian 2008, 64), everything that appears in front of the camera, including the lights, the sounds, the scenery, the actors or the composition. It is the term that describes the elements “within the shot itself, as opposed to the effects created by cutting” (Cook 1996, 773). Therefore, it is the director’s responsibility how he or she approaches a story to turn it into a movie. A great example for the mise-en-scéne is the use of lighting in a film; the contrast of the lighting can describe the genre of the production. A film with many dark contrasts and shadows can define a film noir or horror while a movie which has several light contrasts and warm colors can be interpreted as a comedy or a romantic movie. In other words, the mise-en-scéne is a frame and within this frame every element has a meaning and it is what defines the base of the movie. By ignoring its importance in a film one fails to understand the mere concept of moviemaking and movie adaptations. What I mean by this ignorance is the fact that it is a remarkably difficult task to “create meaning” on the screen; for example, there various difficulties the director has to get his or her movie through, such as the angles of the camera or “where to put the camera and where and when to move it” (Mcfarlane 2007, 7). Otherwise speaking, film adaptation has to cope up with the challenges a literary or theatric adaptation does not have to. In this case, the optimal behaviour towards a film adaptation, therefore, would be the focused discussion of the mise-en-scéne instead of the discussion of the fidelity or how much the movie’s plot is being altered from the original work.
The opinions on the value of film adaptations differ from critic to critic due to the fact that the taste of each individual varies. By watching a film adaptation, the viewer lets its senses decide whether it is a production worth watching or there was no point in adapting it. According to Susan Hayward, film adaptation creates a new world with altered, different characters (Hayward, 2000, 4). In my opinion, by watching a film one does not have to use imagination, the sounds are hearable, the scenery and the characters are visible so nearly everything is given. However, by reading a book or a play, readers have to use their imagination and, therefore, they have to create their own characters and scenes in their minds. In a cinematic production everything is settled for the audience, therefore, the opportunity to form the story is not optional but given. The disappointment is due to the fact that the audience, whom McFarlane calls the literary educated layer of society, had already had an ideal picture of how the story ‘should look’ on the screen. Another important question concerning film adaptation is what Zoltán Dragon formulated in his question about “what should a film be faithful then?” (Dragon 2008, 30). Should the director stick to the original text and its storyline without changing it at all? Or would it be a good solution to transform the original work into a new visual narrative? According to Robert Stam, there is a solution for the issue of fidelity in the movies and by introducing the concept of intertextual dialogism, Stam shifts “the focus to the texts themselves” (Dragon 2008, 31). Intertextual dialogism is the connection between similar works of literature where “every text forms an intersection of textual surfaces” (Stam 2000, 64). Moreover, Stam claims that texts are “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” (31). Therefore, the audience should approach the idea of an adapted work through its intertextual value and not based on how faithful it is to the original work.
The French literary theorist, Gérard Genette coined the term transtextuality (1997), an idea which he took from Mikhail Bakhtin’s and Julia Kristeva’s term ’intertextuality’ meaning that a text has no original author; thus different works are connected and constantly shaping the meaning of one another. According to Genette, transtextuality has five subtypes: the first is the aforementioned intertextuality, the second one is called paratextuality which “is the relation between a text and its ‘paratext’ – that which surrounds the main body of the text – such as titles, headings, prefaces, acknowledgements, footnotes, illustrations” (Mirenayat and Soofastaei 2015, 534). The third subtype, metatextuality, “ unites a given text to another, of which it speaks without necessarily citing it (without summoning it), in fact sometimes even without naming it” (Genette 1997, 4). The fourth one is named architextuality which “deals with the relation between a text and a text of its kinds” and refers to “the relationship between a work and the genre that work belongs to it” (Mirenayat and Soofastaei 2015, 536). The last subtype is the hypertextuality. Hypertextuality means “any relationship uniting a text B (hypertext) to an earlier text a (hypotext), upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary” (Genette 1997, 5). Thus, a hypertext can be a sequel or parody. This system of Genette’s broadens the before known intertextual concept and also, gives new perspectives to filmmakers to take into consideration when talking about film adaptations. Therefore, instead of the aforementioned fidelity criticism, Genette’s transtextuality opens a new way of thinking about adaptations.
Elia Kazan’s work, the first Streetcar movie can adhere at first to the fidelity to the letter adaptation, since —despite the severe censorship it encountered—is faithful to the letter and spirit of the original play both in terms of its plot and also characterwise. Both the film’s director, Kazan, and its screenplay writer, Williams, aimed to preserve the play’s original message and atmosphere and strongly opposed any crucial alterations to the plot. However, they had to comply with the censorship of the PCA and so the movie came out less fidel to the original as it was planned. In this regard I would aconsider this adaptation as neo-fidelity adaptation. In this regards, for example, due to the black-and-white coloring of the film, the atmosphere of Streetcar became as mysterious and melancholic as the mood of the play. Moreover, the mise-en-scène involving the light, setting, costumes, composition, make-up, acting, and filmstock) in Kazan’s adaptation seems to have concentrated more on the lighting and on different angles the actors had to stay in. With this technique, Kazan could display sadness or fear by playing with lights and shadows on the screen and not only by telling the actors how to emotionally react in certain moments. In the 1951 adaptation of the Streetcar actors like Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh had a crucial part in making the movie commercially and also critically successful. Kazan uses many close-ups in the scenes with the protagonist and the antagonist, a technique that greatly contributed in the representation of the tension between them. It is enough to take a look at Marlon Brando’s Stanley-face as he is going closer and closer to Vivien Leigh’s Blanche at the beginning of the film and, as the camera moves towards Stanley’s face, the tension between Blanche and him is visibly growing.
John Erman’s 1984 Streetcar is, as I stated above, a fidelity to the letter adaptation since despite the minor alterations to the plot it follows Williams’s narrative structure. Erman uses the colors of “soft-golden” and “sepia” in his version of Streetcar, which “suggest both the past and the paper-lantern lighting that Blanche uses to hide the fact that she is no longer young” (O’Connor 1984, The New York Times). The director places the focus on characters as Kazan did previously and highlights the tension between them with long-shots and close-ups but does not manege to creat such a powerful intradiegetic world as his predecessor in 1951. Glenn Jordan’s 1995 remake of the Streetcar is also a fidelity adaptation as I mentioned earlier, a fidelity to the letter adaptation of William’s play in terms of the original plot. Jordan arranged the scenes to be identical with the Broadway version of the play—and so, to confere a sense of being in the theater. I do not consider this solution as a very creative way of adapting a work; it reminds one of the so-called Cinema du Papa from the onset of the history of the film when all works were fidel to the letter to the novel they adapted since the mise-en-scène cannot give new experience for the viewer. On the contrary, the film, with regard to its mise-en-scène merely and anachronistically repeats its Broadway version. Moreover, by observing the performance of Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin subsequently in the roles of the protagonist and antagonist, it seems that their acting is less original by trying to mime former actors playing the role. Francois Truffaut in his article entitled “Certain Tendency of the French Cinema” (1954) described that a good mise-en-scéne is something when the director is recognizable by the stylistic features and “thematic personality” he or she uses and does not work with a previously crated scenario, which does not need to be altered or formed (Cristian 2008,65). This version of Streetcar has no visible signs of thematic personality resulting in a flat fidelity re-creation of an earlier plot. Jordan’s characters, however, show strong intertextual features to Elia Kazan’s 1951 version rather than to the original play which creates an interesting contrast and connection between the films and the drama.
Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999) is by no means a fidelity to the letter adaptation; on the contrary, it is a film where the director used the concept of intertextuality to creatively insert the idea and the world of the Streetcar in the plot. Almodóvar indeed “gives a remarkable coherence to this complex narrative, through his extremely precise, deliberate attention to the staging, framing and editing of scenes” (Campbell 2005, 30). In terms of its mise-en-scène, in this versions there are several close-ups and long shots which follow the actors through each scene; what is more, Almodóvar plays with various settings and locations by having at least four main spots where characters live their everyday life, placing the two most important spots into the realm of the theatre and into the city of Barcelona. Therefore, as Hugh Campbell writes, “this interpenetration of public and private, this reliance on theatre and ritual, is everywhere evident in Almodóvar’s treatment of Barcelona” (34) and in its display of the vivid makeup and clothes for the transgender characters, which in a black-and-white film would not prevail.
Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) is a more contemporary adaptation of Williams’s play. It is a fidelity to the spirit adaptation of Williams’s Streetcar by having similarities to the original play in the case; the film contains several inter-and hypertextual motifs which can be connected to Tennessee Williams’s Streetcar, such as the inner features of certain characters and in the basic idea of the plot – a woman moving to her sister’s house after losing her fortune and her husband. The protagonist Cate Blanchett greatly contributes to the film’s specific mise-en-scène with her acting skills being the main reason behind Blue Jasmine’s success and also behind its creative adaptation of the original plot. The film’s director paid special attention to the selection of the actors of the film because he believed that Alec Baldwin’s and Cate Blanchett’s name were indeed key factors in making Blue Jasmine successful. Another important mise-en-scène factor was the color of a certain character’s dress, which reflected the mental condition but also her social status. Here, Jasmine wears mostly the white or lighter colors which indicates that she wishes to appear pure and clean similar to the description of Blanche DuBois (described in the play as “white,” “like and orchard in spring”); furthermore, besides white, the color “blue” is symbolic in Williams’s play and encodes the context of all traumatic events, including, among many others, the Blue Moon Casino, the Blue Moon cocktail, the jazz music of the blue piano, the blue of Stanley Kowalsky’s jeans, the blue of the birthday candles, the blue of the baby’s clothes and the Della Robia Blue of Blanches’ clothes when she is finally taken to the mental asylum. What is more, Allen “moves with the characters when they’re quarrelling and stays with them in continuous shots as physical violence erupts” (Denby 2013, The New Yorker) using an intermittent flashback technique which turns the plot creatively adaptive.
Fidelity adaptation is also concerned with the concept of the auteur. The “auteur” is a French words meaning “creator, producer, discoverer, fabricator, constructor, establisher, author, and writer (Cristian 2008, 64). Alexandre Astruc considered film authorship to be as important as authorship in other arts, such as the author in music or in written literature (64). He called this link between the author and the film the “camera-pen” relationship (64) which meant that the director of a film has the power to create a great or dull visual narrative. It depends on her or him how the film turns out because she or he is responsible for every aspect of the film. Put differently, the successful misé-en- scene is his or her responsibility (Stam 85). In France in the first half of the 20th century, François Truffaut, the French director and critic, would put two labels on a film: one was the “cinema de qualité” [quality cinema], whiel the other was the “cinema de papa” [Daddy’s cinema] (65). He claimed that the quality of the film depends on a good misé-en-scene, which can only be achieved if the director has the qualities and the talent to make an interesting and valuable movie. However, André Bazin thought about the director as someone who has a passive role and whose only task is to record the reality and not to invent it (Cook 1993, 119). With the theory of the auteur appearing also in the United States in the 1960s with the work of Andrew Sarris, the idea of the auteur further developed. A good auteur in America was considered, accordingly, a film director “who had discernable style and was able to create a personal artistic profile prevailing over the rules of Hollywood’s studio system” (Cristian 2008, 67).
For a good auteur several elements are needed to make a film successful. It is not enough to create a good narrative line and interesting dialogues but the characters of the movie are crucial part of the movie’s success. More precisely, the actors behind the characters are the core elements, too, because as an artist’s figure and aura can turn a dull narrative into an exciting one through bringing his or her own personality into the characters he or she is impersonating. This is one of the features of stardom.
The rising need for well-known artists in different productions in Hollywood started in the 1910s; before that, the productions usually had anonymous actors (Cristian 2008, 77). This was because the studios did not want to pay more for an artist whose name was well-known; instead, they called their artists by nicknames and the audience could see in the credits only the film studio’s name that produced the movie (77). However, as some actors became quite famous, film studios started to consider giving them more attention. Also, different kinds of advertisement opportunities appeared with the newly formulated star system, such as promoting a movie through the name of the actor, on posters, billboards and in the newspapers (77). Not long after the acknowledgment of how important the artist was to the film, the name of the actor in a movie started to become more at the center, sometimes even before the title of the production itself — it has become a brand. During the studio system days of Hollywood (from the 1940s until 1960s), each actor was “bounded by a long-term contract” (King 2015, 151) to a given studio. This meant that the studio would take care of its stars’ publicity while expecting the actors to behave ‘properly’ as the studio’s off-movie PR face in both their public and private lives. It was important for the studios to establish an ideal, almost idolized character for their artists—this was the ’persona’ of the star. In fact, artists had usually two characteristic features in this context: their so-called personality and their persona.
Barry King refers to the concept of ’personality’ the following way. He writes that
in show business, the noun ‘personality’ refers to a special performer whose fame rests on being him/herself rather than seeming to be someone else. Yet personality can also refer to an impression of a person projected by a fictional character and/or the impression of a person created in social interaction. (151)
The personality of the star meant the artists themselves in their private lives, at least that image they showed to the public combined with the fictional character(s) they played. The persona meant a “durable image manifested repeatedly in the media” which belonged to the person no matter if it was just “an adjustment of the self to the contingencies of media exposure” (King, 2015, 11). It was important, therefore, to give a great performance in a movie since the audience would recognize the actors as the characters they were impersonating and later they would refer to them as such, creating a double identity, a persona for the artist. If the actor’s career was rising, the persona would become “a self-sufficient public image” (King, 2015, 12). It was the studios’ best interest, therefore, to protect the actors’ persona and hide if it was only a pose, an image for the public eye (King, 2015, 12). However, there were times when the artists’ private lives and personalities did not match with their public personas. This mismatch was also a question of identity. But with the rapid development of the media, the appearance of gossip journals and tabloids and the rising number of paparazzi, especially from the 1970s, it was immensely difficult to preserve any such dual identities. Therefore, the star image has become truly complex, including “everything that is publicly available about them” (Dyer 1986, 2) and consisting of the opinion of the critics, journalists, the “way the image is used in […] advertisements, novels, [and] pop songs” (3). What is more, another important factor for a star’s image is the pool of different film genres he or she plays in and the type of characters he or she portrays. In this regard, Richard Dyer pointed out that a star cannot be fully unique due to her or his image that appear (stereo)typical to the audience. Put it differently, “it is never possible for any individual member of the audience to comprehensively know all the textual sources through which a star’s identity is represented” (McDonald 2000, 7) with the only tool which displays them to the world being the media and the different films they play in. Due to various images stars have, they can be put in different categories such as ’stars as capital’ which, according to Paul Mcdonald means that
[….] a star becomes a form of capital because in the commercial film industry, he or she is a valuable asset for a production company. Stars are a form of investment, employed in film productions as a probable guard against loss. The wages of stars account for a major portion of any film’s budget and stars are also a marketing tool, whose images are promoted with the intention of trying to effect the entertainment market. (Mcdonald, 2000, 11)
Stars, therefore, over the years became the key factors behind the success of a movie. Besides their talents, stars—especially from the 1950s when fan magazines such as Photoplay became increasingly popular—needed to have an ‘aura,’ a pleasing look that would attract the audience. A great example for this is Marlon Brando, who became a sex symbol of the 1950s with his charismatic presence and powerful method acting skills. With the appearance of these fan magazines, Barry King points out two important aspects of being a star by saying that “stardom is a quality that is plainly seen in the physical presence of stars” and that these magazines did not care about the stars’ inner qualities (King 2015, 156). In 1974, the People magazine launched its first issue which replaced the previously popular Photoplay magazine and became the first publication that started to display stars in a different manner than Photoplay. As King explains, the
treatment of celebrities is more deferential and reflects a ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ news orientation. If forced by circumstances to address serious breaches of moral conduct, its primary orientation – like Photoplay’s before it – is to preserve and rehabilitate an image, as opposed to letting the logic of debunking run its attention-grabbing course. The implicit lesson is ‘famous people can do bad things, and still be nice’ – indeed, for the most part they are nice. (2015, 159)
By writing about the negative traits of the stars in a rather positive manner, People changed the previously known, ’perfect-persona’ image into a more real, vulnerable image which, in fact, appealed more to readers. However, the magazine did not wish to alter the view that appearance is less important than acting or having creative qualities; on the contrary, it put the look first and qualities on the second place. What is more, actors and actresses began to replace models on the covers of the magazines, such as the cover of Vogue. With such new conditions, People magazine codified that “a name links to a look, and a look fills out a name” and “in this sense the stars become the authors of their own images” (King 2015, 160). By openly writing about their drug, alcohol or sexual scandals, mental breakdowns and private life issues, magazines made stars to be the authors of their own identities, trying to show their most attractive sides they could or fail in doing so (Gabler 1998, 144–151). The latter means, in King’s words, that “if stars become instantly knowable through their appearance, then the career of a star can become a career of appearances without reference to actual motion picture-related involvements” (King 2015, 161).
There is yet another crucial factor behind the popularity of movie stars. With the rise of the television and cinema the number of theatregoers slowly started to decline. Films meant new opportunities for the aspiring actors and actresses even to those who did not attend to film academies before. The most important difference between a theatre play and film production is time: in the theatre the audience experience the plot as it is, in the present while when one watches a film it is happening in the past – even though it decives the viewer by presenting the plot either in the present, past or future. Moreover, a long process of editing takes place before the release of a certain film which lets the director – who can be considered to be the ’auteur’ of the movie—to cut, alter or extend the scenes. André Gaudreult, French philosopher coined the terms ’filmic diegesis’ and ’monstration’ with which he attempts to explain the difference between a filmic production and theatre. Gaudreult says that monstration is the process which “precedes narration, that is, the image comes before editing” (Dragon 2008, 27). According to him, film has two separate levels: the image (mimesis) and the editing of that image (diegesis) (27). Monstration has an important role in shaping the image of a character, for example, Chaplin’s figure “captured by the camera precedes the formation of the Chaplin character as a narrative construct” (27). In other words, monstration and narration are both essential parts of the shaping of an often iconic character like Chaplin.
Decades later, with the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of the social media, the barrier between the public and the private image of stars started to melt down and coerce and the “circulation of words and images” became immensely fast (King 2015, 193). The appearance of social media websites such as Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006) and Instagram (2009) “deepen the molecular circulation of star and celebrity images and para-texts into everyday life and generate new forms of fan association” (193). These social media websites made it possible for their users to share various views and opinions about nearly every aspect of life including the figure and life of celebrities and the context of a great number of films since these platforms contain a ’comment’ section where fans can contribute to the online society with their comments. Furthermore, with the dialogic possibility of sharing one’s opinion, the relationship among stars and fans has become multidirectional. In fact today many stars have their own social media accounts where they keep in touch with fans and where they share personal information about themselves in form of pictures, videos and texts. With these techniques, stars can create the feeling of closeness and intimacy with fans. Through the social media, therefore, celebrities can also gain more attention by self-branding or livestreaming. However, apart from the film stars there are certain individuals, who create their own fame through social media; this fame is known as “micro-celebrity” and is “a state of being famous to a niche group of people, but it is also a behaviour: the presentation of oneself as a celebrity regardless of who is paying attention” (Marwick 2013, 114). Micro-celebrity resembles the star system since it requires a “persona, producing content, and strategically appealing to online fans by being “authentic” (Marwick 2013, 114). Micro-celebrities, accordingly, often have a wider fanbase than certain well-established actors and actresses, who do not wish ’to live’ their lives on various platforms of the social media. The before-mentioned popularity of internet celebrities is constantly growing, which indicates that the real film stars are encouraged to be part of the online society in order to keep their visibility in the film industry, since today’s audiences live their lives, to a greater extent, online. Therefore, “creating a public presence has become a required part of securing and maintaining a job” (161) not only in the star system but also in everyday life.
With the rapid technical developments, the role of fans is becoming more and more important in the film industry. The internet provides different, more or less objective webpages that review and rate movies, actors and actresses, but also directors, and so on. Two of the most famous review aggregators today are the Internet Movie Database (IMDB, with an overall rating of one out of 10) launched in 1990, the Rotten Tomatoes (gives films scores out of 100), which started in 1998 and the Metacritic, created in 1999 and which also gives films a score out of 100, based on published critics’ reviews. These websites have gained an enormous popularity all over the world and their readers count on the opinion its reviewers, who rate the abovementioned topics on a daily and on a weekly basis. Moreover, with the sinking sales of printed media and printed materials on film criticism, too, newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have also developed their own online pages in this regard. What is more, their online archives makes it possible to search for articles and film reviews from the onset of film criticism. Therefore, online journalism has become a new phenomenon especially during the last two decades, making it easier for the people to access certain information about stars, events and film productions. Internet thus has transformed the concept of stardom, making the life of the well-known available by transforming the “images and text about stars a common resource available to anyone who wants to comment online” (King 2015, 168). The wide range of data available displaying both private and professional life seems to has completely erased the concept of the classical star system that was born in the second decade of the 20th century and reached its height in the Golden Years of Hollywood of the 1940s and 1950s.
In this context, Elia Kazan’s Streetcar was the first adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play after its enormous success on the Broadway. Considering the fact that Streetcar was made in the early 1950s when the studio system was in its golden years, the role of the auteur was crucially important since the auteur was “the central figure in filmmaking,” standing “as an emblem for her/his films” (Cristian 2008, 68), which meant that in Hollywood then all wellknown directors had strikingly recognizable stylistic features and directing techniques. Kazan made his name recognizable in Hollywood, too, after the release of Streetcar which was considered to be the first adult film in the USA. The Variety magazine wrote about this adaptation by praising its truly creative mise-en-scéne and by saying that “the camera has done greater justice to the Williams play, catching the nuances and reflected tragedy with an intimacy that is so vital in a story of this type” (The Variety). In spite of the censorship regulations, Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan kept their new Streetcar as an almost fidelity to the letter adaptation of the original play.
In 1984, John Erman reached back for Williams’s Streetcar and directed his own television film heavily based on the play. Erman’s Streetcar has only minor alterations of the plot such as when Blanche arrives to the Kowalski home and she does not wait for Stella at the apartment but goes to the bowling alley where Stella watches Stanley playing. With regard to other, such, indeed small and rather insignificant transformations, the film is considered to be a fidelity to the letter adaptation with Ann Margret and Treat Williams in the leading roles. Erman tried to use a number of intertextual features in his movie, since his characters resemble Elia Kazan’s both in their mimetic way of acting and in their appearance as well. Therefore, Erman’s Streetcar can be called a remake of Williams’s drama since the director aimed to give his characters the same inner and outer features even though Ann-Margret’s Blanche is often described as more radical and tough at times but with no significant features to prove this.
Glenn Jordan directed a new A Streetcar Named Desire film for the CBS network in 1995, attempting to revive the original play. For this reason, Jordan followed the narrative structure of Streetcar word by word, creating a fidelity to the letter adaptation, which was a thorough borrowing process. Jordan did not alter any lines from the play in his 1995 adaptation; on the contrary, the plot is the exactly same as in the 1947 version. What is more, the performance of Jessica Lange, however, strongly resembles that of Vivien Leigh from Elia Kazan’s Streetcar adaptation. Nevertheless, Lange could not provide an entirely new figure of the lost ‘Southern Belle’ and Jordan’s directing turned out to be a less creative in its use of intertextual allusions. All in all, the director’s intention, that of producing a remake of Tennessee Williams’s successful drama was a success in terms of adapting the play but without the aim of create something new in its spirit.
Pedro Almodóvar’s groundbreaking film, All About My Mother deals with the issue of drugs, homosexuality, and AIDS. The director merged his own ideas with Tennessee Williams’s Streetcar into the narrative structure of the film which came out as a fidelity to the spirit adaptation or transforming—since it resembles Streetcar in a decent way but the plot remarkably differs from the play with some resemblances in the features of the characters. A good example for this resemblance is the protagonist Manuela, whose life was strongly influenced by the American playwright’s Streetcar because she used to play Stella in high school. Yet another intertextual feature is the character of Huma, the woman playing Blanche Dubois on the stage in the film. In fact, Huma is saying the famous line of Williams: “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999, 37:3237:34 and Williams 1947, 149) indicating that Huma is a transformed Blanche Dubois not only on the stage but in the real life as well. In fact, Almodóvar uses excerpts from Williams’ play several times, showing how emphatically Streetcar has marked the lives of Manuela and the others in the intradiegetic world of All About My Mother. Almodóvar employs the technique of intertextuality in a way that it does not overwhelm the plot itself, giving the narrative a tone reminiscing of Williams’s Streetcar. At the end of the drama, Blanche asks Stella to give her a few accessories, which are in her “heartshaped box” (Williams 1947, 145). Almodóvar alters the afore-mentioned line and inserts it into All About My Mother; when Manuela watches the play of Streetcar the ’heartshaped box’ appears in the form of a dialogue between Blanche and
Stella. In Almodóvar’s scene, Blanche nervously rushes into the room asking “Where is my heart?” (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999, 48:19-48:21) and her sister Stella, when seeing the confusion on the face of Eunice (who is with them in the room), explains what Blanche meant by her heart, saying “She means her jewel-box, it’s heart-shaped” (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999, 48:2248:24). The next cut shows Manuela as she watches the actors on the stage and then closes her eyes in pain. The alteration, therefore, suggests that Manuela refers to her dead son, Esteban, whose heart was transplanted into someone else’s body after he died.
Almodóvar’s film is a work “in which the characters’ fates keep on reflecting each other, producing a lively collage of women’s experiences.” (Mira 2019, 390). Manuela’s son, Esteban, can be connected intertextually to Tennesse Williams’s world of writing and poetry. One scene is especially powerful in this regards: when they are watching the classic movie All About Eve on the television and Manuela asks Esteban what he is writing, he answers “the future Pulitzer winners” (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999 00:03:23-00:03:25) which is an indirect reference to Tennessee Williams who won the Pulitzer prize in 1948 with Streetcar.
Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) is one of the latest adaptations of Williams’s Streetcar. Although, Allen denies the connection between the two works, the resemblance cannot stay unnotice. Blue Jasmine is the updated version of the Streetcar, a transformation of the Streetcar or a fidelity to the spirit adaptation. Allan altered the narrative structure in a way that it would fit into the contemporary, 21st century scheme, directing a movie about a woman. Jasmine. Her husband, Hal was a wealthy businessman who was connected to illegal businesses which, later on, caused his downfall and imprisonment and, as a result, he committed suicide in jail. The once society woman Jasmine, after losing her fortune, decides to move to her sister, to Ginger’s small flat. Besides Jasmine, who is a neurotic character just as Blanche, Ginger and her ex-husband, Augie resemble Stella and Stanley Kowalski in all regards. In Blue Jasmine, Allen arranged a whole scene around picturing Stella quarelling with Augie and saying that he drinks too much and, in fact, she is fed up with his “Polack jokes” (Woody Allen, 2013, 22:00-22:02). By mentioning the term “Polack,” Allen hints about Augie’s origin, which is the same as Stanley Kowalski, Poland. Moreover, the scene does not have anything to do with Augie’s ancestors or his role whatsoever, its only purpose is to show the resemblance between the characters of A Streetcar Named Desire and the character world of Blue Jasmine. But perhaps the most eye-catching intertextual resemblance in the film is between Blanchett’s Jasmine and Leigh’s Blanche. The two protagonists, although there are more than fifty years between their productions, are very much alike not only with their light colored clothes, blonde hair or the dependence on men and alcohol but also in the ways in which they impersonate the fragile and artistically inclined Blanche. In addition, music plays an important role in the life of both Blanchett and Jasmine.
In Streetcar, Williams’s used music in order to characterize Blanche’s mood, memories and the atmosphere of certain scenes. The drama opens with the description of a steamy street in New Orleans where a ’Blue Piano’ is heard, which “expresses the spirit of the life which goes on” there (Williams 1947, 1). What is more, the motif of the ’Blue Piano’ returns each time a melancholic moment occurs in the plot, such as in the end when Stanley tries to confront Stella after the doctor takes away Blanche and, in the background, the already familiar ’Blue Piano’ is playing. In Mr. Allen’s film, the title itself suggests this intertextual resemblance to Streetcar with the word „Blue” as an epithet for its protagonist in the title, Blue Jasmine). Here, Allen willingly or unwillingly adapts the trope of the ’blue’ music’ as Jasmine “repeatedly explains that “Blue Moon” was playing when she met Hal” (Dargis 2013, The New York Times). With this borrowing, this resemblance widely noticed by journalists and critics, Blue Jasmine mostly got positive reviews. David Denby from The New Yorker, for example, described Allen’s work “as a grateful homage, a brilliant contemporary variation” of Williams’s Streetcar that “may be derived from Williams, but Allen has merged Williams’s fable with the reality of 2013” (Denby 2013, The New Yorker).
II. Censorship and Streetcars Over the Years
II. 1. Censorship in the 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire
The PCA influenced the film industry remarkably in the first half of the 20th century, making the work of the directors immensely difficult at times. The first adaptation of Tennnessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951 ha to observe many of the strict rules of the PCA. However, director Elia Kazan, with the help of Tennessee Williams, who, luckily was also the screenplay writer of the film, managed to convey the work’s original message despite rigid regulations, although, they had to go through the PCA’s procedures supervised by its CEO, Joseph Breen. Therefore, the first Streetcar movie can be labelled a neo-fidelity adaptation because of the alterations Kazan and Williams had to make in order to release the movie with the approval of the PCA.
In this Streetcar adaptation there were three big changes in the film compared to the Broadway version of the play and the original text of the drama. After the success of the Bicycle Thief, PCA started to weaken its paramount influence on controlling films (Cristian 2008, 75). This was partly the reason why Streetcar could finally be released. However, it had to overcome the “C” (condemned) rating it received which meant that, similar to other art films, it could not be booked in major theatres (75) in the US. After several negotiations with Joseph Breen, Kazan and Williams were asked to change three main parts of the drama (Palmer 1997, 218). The first such change was concerned with the representation of homosexuality on the screen since at that time, the regulations of the PCA forbade the representation of sexual minorities. Therefore, the character of Alan Grey, Blanche DuBois’s homosexual husband, was altered into the figure of a man who was described as an unemployed, weak man, which, in fact, appealed to Kazan since he was not a fan of “perversion” (218). The other important element that needed to be altered was Blanche’s excessive sexual behaviour, her nymphomania, which had to be transformed in a way, into a neurotic character that only the older and more experienced viewers would get the idea, so that it would remain hidden from or unnoticed for the younger audience. The third and perhaps the most controversial scene that required changes was the so-called rape scene at the end of film, the scene that shows the sexual encounter between Blanche and Stanley Kowalski. Joseph Breen wanted it to be completely removed from the film but Kazan and Williams were against the idea, saying that it is the central element of the narrative and without it the catharsis would not be fulfilled (Palmer 1997, 218). According to Palmer, the PCA was in a difficult situation since it had to meet the expectations of the rapidly changing popular taste and also, had to continue their path on maintaining the morally acceptable movies in Hollywood (218). Seeing Breen’s hesitation, Kazan decided to keep the rejected script and put it into the movie (218). Nevertheless, after seeing that this scene cannot be taken out, Breen had one more objection concerning the end of the film: he demanded that Stella Kowalski has to leave Stanley, her brutal husband who cheated on her and beat her several times, and so giving a morally valuable message for the viewers. Breen thought that if he could not completely prevent that scene to be shown on the screen he could at least change the ending according to his own will. As it turned out, this was not a bad decision after all; Streetcar became partly a morally instructive movie with a tongue-in-cheek subtlety for those who knew the original plot.
Moreover, the plot of the movie follows the plot of the Broadway production which was due to Kazan’s and Williams’s insistence. The latter in his Memoirs (1975) says that every work of his should reflect him and should be a little bit personal (Williams 1975, 9). Therefore, in his dual role as author of the play and screenplay writer of the film, he strongly opposed any crucial alterations concerning the parts which were not violating the terms of the PCA.
Kazan and Williams, however, did not let the first PCA disapproved theme of the drama, homosexuality, to be completely erased from the adaptation. On the contrary, the director worked out a clever scene through which the audience could get glimpses of why Blanche’s husband might have committed suicide. Allan Grey’s figure was altered into a man with no ambitions, someone who gave up his life due to his run of ill luck in finding an appropriate job for himself. In the drama, Blanche pays special attention to tell her suitor, Mitch, the reason why her ex-husband decided to end his life, not forgetting to let Mitch know about how she found Allan: “by coming suddenly into a room that I thought was empty—which wasn’t empty, but had two people in it… the boy I had married and an older man who had been his friend for years….” (Williams 1947, 103). When Blanche talks about Allan to Mitch, she completely leaves out the details that would reveal Allan’s sexual identity. In fact, unlike in the drama when she tells the entrie story unabridged, in the film Blanche explains the suicide with Allan’s weakness only. Mitch answers to the told traumatic event with an honest confusion by saying “I don’t understand” (Kazan, 1951, 1:12:49) which refers to the narrative coherency and semantic context of the story that Blanche told him (Dragon 2012, 155). This scene, in fact, lacks the explanation behind Allan’s death and even Blanche herself seems confused for the initiated reader of Williams’s plays. Therefore, the secret behind the lines is sensed throughout the whole scene. Kazan played with both Blanche’s and Mitch’s confusion and used them to convey a hidden message to the audience, who knew Williams’s drama and its Broadway version: that there is more to Allan’s suicide than what they can see on the surface.
Besides, Kazan’s clever solution of covering Allan’s homosexuality for the censoring agency, the film has yet another important alteration: the ending. In Williams’s drama, Stella Kowalski remains in the same household with Stanley despite his brutish behaviour. However, the movie ends with Stella grabbing her newborn baby and running up the stairs to Eunice’s flat, leaving her husband screaming for her behind. Besides the moral message of the ending, it also suggests that Stella does not let Stanley get away with what he did (that is, the rape of Blanche). In other words, Stella leaving Stanley is a proof that the rape indeed happened in the movie adaptation as well.
Streetcar successfully persuaded most audiences in the USA and also across the world and critics, too, that it is a drama that is worth watching, because it provides a unique experience. The Variety wrote about the film, not long after its release, in the following way:
there is no wasted footage in a picture that might find some criticism only from the more captious because of the projection of the nymphomania theme. Though it deals with a sex problem that is dangerous story-telling for films, “Streetcar” has not for a moment sacrificed good taste for the sake of realism. It propels the basic story with sensitivity, shading and poignancy. (The Variety 1951)
Accordingly, Streetcar was rated “C” as “condemned” after its first release in 1951 which meant that it was suitable for mature audience only. However, in 1993, when Warner Bros company released the original, uncut version of the drama, it’s reviewed rating received an average of “PG,” (“with Parent Guidance”), which meant that children should only watch the movie with the guidance of their parents only, a remarkably softer rating than what the film had in 1951, then the strictest rating a movie could get in that time.
II. 2. Censorship in the 1984 and 1995 A Streetcar Named Desire
Twenty-four years after the release of Elia Kazan’s Streetcar, director Glenn Jordan decided to revive the iconic play and directed a new Streetcar movie, this time a full-length, uncensored filmic version of the original play, which thus became a fidelity adaptation, instead of taking something from the original play and inserting it to the plot and creating an intertextual connection, the setting and the plot could not give anything new to the audience. The three-hour film was aired on the CBS channel under the program titled “CBS Playhouse 90s,” which was “the network’s anthology series of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s that yielded TV’s boldest, most provocative original drama of that age” (Rosenberg 1995, Los Angeles Times). Despite the network’s and Jordan’s intention to give back the original feeling Streetcar could provide its audiences in the 1950s, I would seriously consider having a television film which is more than two-hours long a somewhat nonsense idea. Moreover, as Tom Shales puts it, even Tennessee Williams “might take the audience’s downsized attention span into account and cut the play to a manageable TV length” (Shales 1995).
The aim of Jordan’s Streetcar movie was to entertain with a classical Hollywood narrative that is one hundred percent similar to Williams’s play, without any alterations or cuts or any censored parts. Paradoxically, this is what caused the film’s downfall. The plot became slow with a single scene being more than twenty minutes long. Still, the length was not necessarily a problem if the story had a good flow, a pace with what the audience could move along with. Despite of the intention to revive the old classic, the 1995 version came our less ‘fresh’ than the original adaptation; on the contrary, it became “a regional period piece, whose wilted attitudes about manners and relationships seem almost antebellum” (Rosenberg 1995).
Considering the fact, that this Streetcar was released in the 1990s, censorship was no longer an obstacle for the filmmakers. Therefore, certain scenes, like the rape scene in the end of the play, could be displayed in a much more explicit manner, showing more details and emotions than the original, 1951 version. However, as the story moves forward, the audience slowly realizes that neither do the characters or the plot have anything new in them; on the contrary, this version attempts to picture, in a classical fidelity adaptation manner, Williams’s play word by word and scene by scene without adding anything new to it. Shales calls the rape scene as “weak,” by saying that it “is really not much more explicitly portrayed than in the Hollywood movie of 44 years ago” (Shales 1995). Morevoer, the 1995 movie lost its mysterious atmosphere with the colored version, since Kazan’s black-and-white Streetcar could create a somehow ambiguous and dangerous atmosphere around its characters. Not being a feature film but a TV movie also contributed to the film’s flat rates and it also showed that censorship can also function as a creative force behind the production team, making adapted masterpieces even more durable due to more metaphorical encodings limitations encoded. The lack of censorship did not ignite such creatively subtle scenes and led to the word-by-word fidelity adaptation in case of this film. Although acknowledging the idea and the attempt to bring back a classic from the 1950s, this Streetcar lost its originality and became another attempt to shine over the first film production of Tennessee Williams’s iconic A Streetcar Named Desire.
Interestingly, eleven years earlier in 1984 John Erman directed the first American television film version of the Streetcar, which used Williams’s plot and characters. The film was aired on channel ABC. Similar to Jordan’s adaptation, this Streetcar was also a fidelity to the letter adaptation and its production was not censored; its mass screenings, however, were regulated by the rating system but this did not affect the production of the movie itself. Therefore, Erman could, for instance, explicitly highlight the sexuality of certain scenes that had to be downplayed in the 1951 version. Erman accurately visualized what happened between Blanche and Stanley with a ‘rape’ scene where Stanley throws Blanche into bed and rips part of her clothes off, taking advantage of the lack of the censoring authorities. And do did Jordan, too, in his Streetcar remake, so the two TV films became, in this regard quite identical to each other, but less creative in their approach to metaphorically (and quite successfully) still showing forbidden issues on the screen as Kazan did.
Television productions had different regulations than Hollywood movies, which were made primarily to be displayed in cinemas. The owner, leadership and management of different television channels had the authority over the films they choose to present and this authority was, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, even stricter than the studio system was before. This meant that the television channels were the ones, who could control what can and cannot be displayed on the screen and not necessarily the director or the censor of the film. However, the government also had an important role in censoring certain content of films (such as sexuality or obscenity) but this censorship mainly referred to the screening and not to the production of films. State censorship was especially remarkable during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s—that is, after the power of the PCA decreased— and in this regard, a good example for that can be considered “when President Nixon attempted to get the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to impose sanctions against broadcasts that criticized his administration”
(Fiss 1999, 1218). One of these sanctions was the withdrawal of “the licenses of stations carrying such broadcasts” (1218). A number of scholars thought that “FCC’s purported authority to regulate indecent broadcast content violates the First Amendment” (Head 2019, ThoughtCo), but in fact, “the FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable” (UK Essays 2018). More than fifteen years later, in 1992, the so-called Cable Act was launched requiring cable operators-companies to transmit the programs by placing “indecent programs on a separate channel, to block this channel, to unblock it within thirty days of a subscriber’s written request for access, and to reblock it within thirty days of a subscriber’s request for reblocking” (1219). These regulations only applied to “leased access channels” (Fiss 1999, 1219). Managerial censorship, however, meant that “every media organization receives significant benefits from the state” since the government helped developing television technology (Fiss 1999, 1223); this type of censorship basically treated all television stations as “autonomous decision centers” which meant that it did not “differentiate between state-financed and privately financed stations” (Fiss 1999, 1224). The commercial stations, however, were not financed by government funds but receives their revenue “largely from advertisements and in some cases by viewer subscriptions” (Fiss 1999, 1236). Therefore, usually FCC decided what could and could not be aired, especially in the case of government owned channels with the television channels having some degree of control over it as well. In 1995, The Parents Television Council (PTC) is founded in order “to encourage government control over television content”, aiming especially at programs that portray lesbians and gays in a positive manner (Head 2019, ThoughtCo). An interesting contrast can be drawn concerning two TV channels in this regard: the ABC and CBS channels. In 1977, channel ABC broadcasted the miniseries “Roots, [which is] one of […] the first [programs] to include uncensored frontal nudity” (Head 2019, ThoughtCo). The FCC did not interfere here at all. However, in 2004, CBS owner Viacom was fined $550,000 by FCC after broadcasting Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” (UK Essays 2018). The aforementioned two examples show the often controversial ways in which the FCC controls certain television programs by fining their owners or, in certain cases, by letting the cables air more explicit content.
However, in the case of airings of TV films, instead of being controlled by one of the censoring companies, they were subject to other types of regulations. Both Erman’s and Jordan’s Streetcar were only under the regulation of the Rating System, which gave the films a PG rating, meaning that some elements were not suitable for children and parental guide was needed during the screening of both movies (“Film Ratings”). However, in the case of Jordan’s adaptation, neither the plot contained vulgar or explicit scenes nor the actors’ performance could be called passionate and raw, so the 1995 remake turned out to be an average television film for the American families to pass the time with. What is more, it did not profit anything from the lack of censorship.
II.3. Censorship in All About My Mother (1999)
The Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar directed a movie, titled All About My Mother, with the title in the original language Todos Sobre Mi Madre which was released in 1999 and was a big success worldwide, receiving an Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2000. Some critics say that All About My Mother is Almodóvar’s most spectacular production, addressing its themes as “ingenious celebrations of formal, generic, and sexual identity crises” (Acevedo Muñoz 2003). What is more, the American release of All About my Mother “helped renew the critical interest in the films of “both Almodóvar (Acevedo Muñoz 2003, 25) and Williams. The movie is connected to Williams’s Streetcar but is not a straight copy of its narrative and plot. Almodóvar’s film creates an interesting intertextual and intermedial world primarily by being a Spanish movie which is not under the regulations of the MPAA (it became under the regulation of the MPAA after winning the Academy Awards in 2000). Moreover, since All About my Mother is in Spanish it can be connected to Williams’s Streetcar for Williams used various Spanish words and expressions in his play. What is more, Almodóvar implants metatextuality in his movie by creating a theatre inside of the film which is the play Streetcar itself. Also, with the character of Manuela’s son, Esteban who was an aspiring writer before his tragic death, Almodóvar cleverly places himself in the film as well, placing Esteban the one who tells the story of the film since he gave the title All About my Mother to his book he was working on. Furthermore, the ending of All About my Mother strongly resembles to the ending of Elia Kazan’s Streetcar which changes the before-known original text-adapted text concept that was popular in the studio era and making the first Streetcar adaptation to be the origin of the scene Almodóvar adapted and transformed — therefore it is a fidelity to the spirit adaptation – or transforming type of film.
According to Acevedo Muñoz, in his films, Almodóvar reclaims the cultural symbols of the Franco regime and “emphasizes them as a masquerade that at once hides and defines the national” (2003, 26) character. Therefore, Almodóvar does not allow censorship’s authority in his movies, especially not in All About my Mother, which is a film of both explicit and vague content, by representing men who are women as well as women who are men by giving the possibility for the characters to rearrange gender and family roles (26) without putting the veil of censorship on the story. What is more, the movie represents the constant search of one’s identity and the possible crisis of not finding it — like the case of Manuela, who is in desperate situation after her son’s sudden death, leaves her home in Madrid in order to find her ex-lover, Esteban, whose new name is Lola. Here, the film’s connections tie up All About my Mother the American film drama, All About Eve, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Bette Davis in 1950. Here, as Linda Craig points out, “intertextuality works at a narrative and aesthetic level but does not encompass the intention” (164). Moreover, Almodóvar made a socalled hispanization of the US cultural icons of All about Eve, replacing “the brittleness of the Hollywood performances with warmer, more positive depictions” (164). A similar conclusion can be made on the other reference, which is Williams’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947).
The drama plays a crucial role in Manuela’s life and Almodóvar lets the viewer figure this it out why slowly by building it into the plot. In addition, Streetcar is the tool which reconnects Manuela with her past by reliving the death of her son each time she watches the play onstage. Williams’ play has become an intertextual element which binds Almodóvar’s film together into a loose adaptation, a transforming transposition of Williams’s drama into film. In the context of these analogies, P. J. Smith claims that, “unlike Blanche […], Almodóvar’s heroines hold on to their sanity to the bitter end” (2000, 194) which is yet another feature of Almodóvar’s technique of using what Stam called the intertextual approach. In this regard, Almodóvar connects Spain with America, making All About My Mother a type of movie what Réka Cristian calls an “inherently transnational medium that appeals to global audiences” (Cristian 2014).
All About my Mother is a work which shows that it is possible to create a film with explicit content without making it vulgar or common — and without a paternalizing censorship ruling over its production team. The eviction of censorship in and outside this Spanish film was especially important to be emphasized, because of the historical traumas of the Franco regime when the press and the media were strictly controlled and heavily regulated, with censorship used daily, especially after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) when “films became an important propagandistic weapon for the recently installed regime’s principles” (Gil 2016, 858) when cinematic productions could only have characters with positive moral values. But unlike the PCA, these were state-regulated and were compulsory for all areas of creative fields.
In spite of being praised for its explicit and daring content which was unique in Spain in the 1990s, All About My Mother received the strictest “R” (“Restricted”) rating from the American MPAA for its representation of “sexuality, including strong sexual dialogue, language and some drug content” (“Film ratings”).
II. 4. Censorship in Blue Jasmine (2013)
Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) is a fairly new, contemporary work, a movie which helped the American director to be amongst Hollywood’s well-known names again. According to some critics, Blue Jasmine is Allen’s best work, displaying pain and loss in an excellent way (Richard Brody 2013). Allen makes a sharp contrast between the wealthy and the poor by showing the two levels next to one another, picturing how a woman who has been living like a real-life ma’am has to lower her standards and make effort to fit in the society that does not consist of the wealthy. What is more, there is a strong resemblance story- and characterwise between Blue Jasmine and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Allen’s film can even be considered to be the modernized or updated version of Tennessee Williams’s play, in other words, it is a fidelity to the spirit adaptation since Blue Jasmine is set in a more modern, contemporary world that deals with the same issues people dealt with in the 1947 play. In this context, it can be considered to be the sequel of the Streetcar which makes Blue Jasmine both inter- and hypertextually connected to Streetcar.
Being a contemporary work, Blue Jasmine does not contain heavily censored scenes; the film itself does not have explicit scenes besides the protagonist use and abuse of alcohol (similar to Blanche in the play) and the aggressive outbursts of Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (who is similar to the drama’s Stanley in this regards). Allen put more emphasis on building up his characters’ – especially Jasmine’s – personalities, showing their desires and fears instead of concentrating on the plot. In this regard, Allen Brody from The NewYorker describes the movie as “pointed and lucid, aphoristic and exemplary,” which “builds its characters from parts that seem pregnant with action and situations that beg for resolution” (Brody 2013, The NewYorker). Indeed, Allen made the plotline more intriguing by putting several flashbacks in it which contribute to the understanding of Jasmine’s background.
Blue Jasmine is by no means a film containing explicit mature scenes with the exception of alcohol and cigarette use. This was no problem for western audiences but India, as the Independent magazine writes, “films and television shows in which a character smokes a cigarette must carry anti-tobacco ads before the movie begins” and, in addition, „whenever a character smokes, there must be a health warning on the screen” (O’Brien 2013, Independent). Therefore, the Indian censors would only let the film played in the Indian cinemas if Allen accepted this condition (that would have not otherwise interfered with the plot or the intradiegetic world of the film) but the director refused. In the US, due to the lack of harsh content, Blue Jasmine received the PG-13 rating, which means that it is suitable for an audience over 13 years of age because the movie “may contain mature thematic material, language and sexual content” (“Film Ratings”).
III. Stardom and Streetcars Over the Years
III.1. Stardom in the 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire
Stardom and star identity became increasingly important in Hollywood by the 1940s and 1950s, with names like James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth, Natalie Wood, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Vivien Leigh, among many others. Marlon Brando, who stood out from the crowd with their charismatic appearances and remarkable acting skills. In fact, Brando was considered to be the ’new kid’ in the film business when he was only 20-years-old at the time he got his first role in the movie The Men (1950, dir. Fred Zinnemann). However, the film that brought him the first big success and could thank his memorable career to was the first movie in Hollywood that was considered an adult film, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, dir. Elia Kazan), the adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire play by Tennesse Williams. Brando had played on the Broadway stage in the play, where he impersonated Stanley Kowalski and gained a name for himself in the theater world.
In the 1950s studio era, many actors had certain labels on them based on the roles they played in the movies. Similar to James Dean, Brando was considered to be the ’rebel’ type, someone who would always get the characters of the mischiefs bringing a fairly new style in the Hollywood movie industry by being “sweaty, swaggering, mumbling, wounded, brutish and beautiful” (Bernstein 2004) at the same time. What is more, with his outstanding performance, Brando could question the star system’s personality-persona phenomenon and so he became the first actor who did not wish to distinguish between his own, private self from the characters he was playing. On the contrary, Brando formed his roles suitable for his personality, as in the case of Stanley Kowalski. Brando’s Stanley turned out such a successful impersonation that it was difficult to distinct his character’s fictional features from his personal ones (Naremore, 1988). King argues, that by being truly oneself on the screen, the actor may suggest that he or she is unable to play different characters or is unwilling to change his or her personality for the sake of the given character (King, 2015). In fact, by inserting his own personality in the character of the play’s antagonist, Brando could give an eye-catching performance in the Streetcar and because of this, he could even get by some of the PCA’s strict rules.
During the casting of A Streetcar Named Desire, producer Irene Selznick had another actor, John Garfield, in mind for the role of Kowalski, but Elia Kazan insisted on choosing Brando for the role because “there was something in him” he could not clearly describe, but which was “some unique kind of magic” (Schulberg, 2005) according to the play’s and the film’s director. Brando’s strong presence in the filmic version of the Streetcar was crucial, especially considering the fact that the movie was under the regulation of the Hays Code.
Ultimately, Brando’s influence was so remarkable that his raw, sexually aggressive impersonation of Stanley Kowalski channeled rather the audience’s sympathy towards him then any form of hatred or rejection. A result of his success was also the fact that, based on his iconic image in this 1951 film, Brando later became a gay icon as well. Moreover, the scene where the desperate Stanley, standing on his knees, shouts the name of his wife, became one of the most iconic moments of film history, making Brando’s name forged with that of male desire and lust.
Besides Brando’s remarkable cast in the role of Stanley, the first Streetcar film had another important name in its cast: Vivien Leigh. Leigh played the protagonist Blanche DuBois and received her Academy Awards prize for the best actress in 1951. Leigh’s name was already familiar for American audiences but also for global ones from the iconic film adaptation of Gone with the Wind (1939, dir. Victor Fleming) where she played the protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara, paving the road to become one of the most well-known actresses in Hollywood and the world. Moreover, according to Harris, Kazan used the camera to look at Stanley with Blanche’s eyes, and was said to be saying that those eyes were secretly the eyes of a gay man, that of the playwright-screenplay writer himself, Tennessee Williams (Harris 2011). Therefore, Kazan made Blanche’s figure (and paradoxically not Stanley’s) the queer one with Vivien Leigh ‘representing’ Williams, who was, himself homosexual (Williams Memoirs). By using Blanche as holder of the feminine gaze, Stanley thus becomes objectified, despite the fact that Kowalski intended to act as the superior character over the fragile and mentally unstable Blanche. What is more, as Harris claims, despite the Production Code days, Kazan still managed to put sexuality, even homosexuality on the screen, by claiming that
any director who, in the space of a decade, put Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Warren Beatty before his camera, two of them in roles that were among the most sexually iconic of their careers, may have contributed more to the (homo)eroticization of the American male movie star than even he realized. (2011, 103)
It is evident therefore that early critics considered Brando the main key factor for Streetcar’s success because he brought a new kind of sexual desire to the screen, one which had never been seen before in this form. Nonetheless, Vivien Leigh, although she was less praised as much as Brando was, had just as an important role in making Kazan’s adaptation memorable as her colleague. Precisely, Leigh’s performance in Streetcar was indispensable for Kowalski’s desire towards her and they were the perfect match for a conflict on the screen.
Leigh’s portrayal of Blanche was called “virtuoso” and “was the year’s finest acting in the femme division,” (Gilmour 1952) according to journalist Clyde Gilmour, who wrote about the film in 1952. Albeit, at times Leigh’s “extravagantly mannered style” went according to some critics, „too far” (Bradshaw 2020, The Guardian) and by that her performance for certain people seemed too theatrical. Either way, Leigh received the Academy Award for the Best Leading Actress in 1951, acknowledging her passionate and dramatic impersonation of Blanche Dubois.
Furthermore, the success behind Brando’s and Leigh’s smooth acts was also the fragile nature of Blanche, which was in straight contrast with Stanley’s brutish character. The sharp contrast between the characters’ and also the actors’ personalities created an intriguing cat-and-mouse game.
III.2. Stardom in the 1995 version of A Streetcar Named Desire
After the weakening of PCA’s power and the introduction of the new rating system, a number of movie directors thought that they would turn to Williams’s play again and the result was a pool of several movies which were based on the play A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1984, John Erman renew Williams’s play in his television film with Ann-Margret as Blanche Dubois and Treat Williams as Stanley Kowalski. In 1995, director Glenn Jordan directed Streetcar’s remake by using the play as a script, word by word, without adding any alterations to it. The possible reason why a film director could decide to adapt a well-known, previously successful work could be the curiosity of how the target audience would react to the remake and whether they would welcome it with equal enthusiasm but also with a curiosity animated by changes in both the filmic world and in the society for over four decades that passed from the production of the first adaptation of the play. The idea behind a new adaptation that in certain cases, the remake could be more successful than its original predecessor.
The other important factor that lead to a new adaptation was the more contemporary selection. In the case of Kazan’s Streetcar, the star aura of the actors also shaped the narrative. More, than twenty years later, when the film industry was transformed by new regulations such as the rating system and the rapid technological developments, the presence of a movie star in any film remained essential for the directors. In addition, stars now functioned also as “living brands” (Mcdonald, 2012, 1831), serving the same commercial function as a product with great demand on the market.
Glenn Jordan’s Streetcar movie, which in contrast to Kazan’s movie is a TV film, also has great names in the cast: Alec Baldwin was Stanley Kowalski and Jessica Lange Blanche DuBois. In fact, Baldwin and Lange had previously played the role of Kowalski and DuBois, accordingly in the Broadway remake of the play in 1992, which had a great success. In the movie version, however, Lange’s cast of Blanche, however, was the downright copy of Vivien Leigh’s Blanche and, at times, even Lange seemed to try hard to imitate the gestures and voice features Leigh had in the 1951 version. Although Tom Shales even claimed that “Lange is every inch a Blanche” (Shales 1995), but I could not find any unique feature in her acting. On the contrary, Lange’s role gave me the impression of a desperate attempt to bring back Leigh’s intradiegetic persona on the television screen—while forgetting Lange’s own. Frank Rich outlined Lange’s portrayal of Blanche as “a weepy, uncertain yet resourceful woman, who has endured some hard knocks rather than suffered a complete meltdown into madness” (Rich 1992, 11). He also claims, that since Lange played DuBois in a rather realistic way “the gauzy lies and fantasies that cloak her as surely as her paper Chinese lantern disguises her room’s naked light bulb, never materializes” (1992, 11).
After Brando’s iconic Stanley Kowalski, it was rather difficult to imagine that any actor besides Brando could successfully play the role of Streetcar’s antagonist. Jordan assigned this task to Alec Baldwin, who did a decent job with the character, although, he did not add anything new to the existing Kowalski character. In fact, his Stanley became a rather mediocre figure with a common personality presence. Shales describes Baldwin’s Kowalski as someone who is easily forgettable and would never be able to outshine Brando’s character. He writes that
Alec Baldwin as Stanley isn’t likely to make anybody but terminal amnesiacs forget Marlon Brando, who electrified the screen and whose performance remains fresh and frightening to this day. Baldwin’s Stanley seems scrubbed-up and watered-down, less hairy ape than shaggy dog. He’s just not scary the way a Stanley ought to be. (1995)
Moreover, Shales praises Brando’s acting skills and, in fact, calls Baldwin a weak version of Kowalski.
However, after the release of the 1995 version other critics had mainly positive things about this TV adaptation by praising not the narrative line or any other issues but, paradoxically, the actors’ work, especially Baldwin’s. In The New York Times Archives, Frank Rich calls Baldwin the first actor who could won the audience’s heart and did not “leave one longing for Mr. Brando, even as his performance inevitably overlaps his predecessor’s” (Rich 1992, 11).
Rich praises Baldwin’s acting skills by saying that he is “simply fresh, dynamic and true to his part as written and lets the echoes fall where they may” (Rich 1992, 11); this criticism is a good example of the fact that the success of a movie is based also on another important factor, on the taste of a given audience in time and culture. Jordan’s and Erman’s adaptations, therefore, show strong intertextual features to Kazan’s 1951 adaptation despite the dialogues which were taken from Williams’s 1947 play. This is why the three procutions overlap and create a bond.
However, by examining Jordan’s and Erman’s Streetcars from the point of view of starcharacters, I would consider the 1984 version a better adaptation than the 1995 one because Treat Williams had the potential to act and look more brutish than Baldwin’s Kowalski figure. However, critics did not consider Treat Williams a better Stanley than Brando’s. John H. O’Connor, for example, says that Treat Williams “lacks the brooding intensity of the Brando performance” seeming “less ominously explosive and, despite a muscular torso that is usually being displayed bare-chested, less menacing” (O’Connor 1984, The New York Times). Although is was tough to compete with a canonized star, Erman’s Stanley came out as a much successful character than Jordan’s antagonist. However, despite lack of censorship whatsoever in the time of their filmmaking, both Baldwin’s and Williams’s Stanley turned out to be failed attempt to shine over Brando’s. Baldwin wished to get rid of the animalistic features Brando brought to the screen by creating a dull version of Kowalski in 1995; additionally, Williams tried way too hard to display the brutal features of Marlon’s Stanley so nothing original was left in his acting of a character too overshadowed by the name and star aura of Brando.
Nevertheless, O’Connor praises Margret’s Blanche, describing her impersonation as “a journey of incredible pain and heartbreaking beauty” (1984, The New York Times). Indeed, Margret won the Golden Globe in 1985 for the best performance by an actress in a limited series or a motion picture made for television with this role. Both Ann-Margret and Jessica Lange won the Golden Globe for the best actress in their role as Blanche, however, Margret’s Blanche was more a more powerful impersonation of Williams’ character. Nonetheless, while Margret’s acting seems very realistic and tough, at times she makes the audience forget about the otherwise fragile nature of Blanche, that Southern Belle whom Vivien Leigh could perfectly (in this regard Leigh, similar to Bando, stands as a milestone, canonized figure of Blanche).
Additionally, both Erman’s and Jordan’s TV film versions lack the originality of creative adaptations; they only attempt to mime the first Streetcar by adapting few contemporary items into the characters’ inner and outer features. The lack of their success in terms of mass screening could be due to their nature as TV films—but this could be also to their advantage for the large audiences they could reach. In the case of these adaptations, the star feature of their protagonists and antagonists, did not, paradoxically, ensure the success of the movies. In other words, stardom was not necessarily important for these television channels. Even though neither the NBC nor the ABC channels were government owned, they had to be careful what they air because the possible (and most probable) FCC interference. Therefore, instead of paying most of their attention to the stars, cable channels aimed at airing content instead that was socially acceptable. The purpose was not necessarily to present worldwide-known artists, but to produce programs and films which provided enjoyable for the target audience without having visually or audially ambiguous elements in the movies they aired.
III.3. Stardom in Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999)
Many critics agree in saying that All About My Mother is Almodóvar’s most spectacular production, addressing Almodóvar’s themes as “ingenious celebrations of formal, generic, and sexual identity crises” (Acevedo-Muňoz 2003). Indeed, All About My Mother’s main themes are transsexuality, grief, prostitution, AIDS and death which are being represented through diverse characters. In fact, Almodóvar has a set of actors, a few names, mainly actresses, with whom he continuously works in most of his films, such as Penelopé Cruz and Cecilia Roth. In Spain, these actors are being referred to as the ’Almodóvar’s girls’ (Epps and Kakoudaki 2009, 246). In All About my Mother, the main protagonist, Manuela is played by Cecilia Roth; Roth was an important character in Almodóvar’s earlier films, for instance in Pepi, Lucy, Bom (1980) and in The Labyrinth of Passion (1982). Similar to All About My Mother, these films were also dealing with themes like AIDS or sexual freedom.
The other important person in Almodóvar’s film is Agrado, Manuela’s old friend. She meets him not long after arriving in Barcelona when she is searching Lola. Agrado is a transgender prostitute played by Antonia San Juan. In fact, San Juan is not a recurrent member of “Almodóvar’s ’girls;” she only appears in All About my Mother. However, Almodóvar created Agrado’s character in a way that her background and lifestyle partly resemble to San Juan’s real life. In the movie, Agrado talks with a Spanish accent used in the Canary Islands and suggesting that Agrado was born there just like Antonia San Juan. What is more, since Cecilia Roth is an Argentinian actress, Almodóvar uses the concept of cultural intertextuality and, as Acevedo-Muňoz puts it, her character represents also Spain, Latin-America and the United States in All About my Mother in order “to rebuild the family and the nation out of its own fragmentation and the trauma of the past” (2007, 1). Moreover, all characters of this film can be described as people “who stand outside conventional life and its rules, and yet affirm them” (Ebert) by being morally correct and show empathy towards each other. Almodóvar put emphasis on how the character is constructed in a memorable scene where Agrado stands out on the theatre stage and talks openly about how she transformed herself into the woman she is now—and what was its cost. At the end of her speech, Agrado says:
As well as being very agreeable, I’m also very authentic. It costs a lot to be authentic. And one can’t be stingy about it, because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed you are. (Pedro Almodóvar 1999, 01:15:04)
This scene demonstrates that the character’s “depth and integrity are largely dependent on presentation: in order to be ourselves, we must present ourselves to others” (Campbell 2005, 32). Agrado’s character, therefore, is the representation of self-acceptance and change; what is more, in real life, the actress Antonia San Juan Fernandéz told about herself the following: “I’m not a transsexual or a transvestite. There’s a lot of confusion about me, but I am an actress and that is all there is to say about that” (IMDB), which indicates the similarities between San Juan and to her character, Agrado.
By taking an overall look at Almodóvar’s actors in All About My Mother, one can notice a very important detail: the Spanish director did not work with worldwide famous actresses and actors. By doing so, he refused to follow the concept of global stardom and used his local and regional (Spanish), European circle of artists, who managed to run the film to its success not because of their star names. However, Penélope Cruz can be an exception since she is a transnational since after her debut in Spain she continued to make films abroad in Italy and France and eventually became a well-known star in Hollywood (Wheeler and Canet 2015, 278). What is more, she became the first Spanish actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress in Supporting Role for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (dir. Woody Allen 2008) in 2009 (Wheeler and Canet 2015, 278). Moreover, Cruz also “appears to be the only actress whose name has been virtually able to guarantee box office success” (Wheeler and Canet 2015, 279) even though, the movies Cruz made abroad were not as successful in Spain as in the United States (279). It is true that Almodóvar often chooses to work with Spanish actresses and actors not widely known and, therefore, with the most famous person in the production of the film being Almodóvar himself, but in the case of Penélope Cruz, this statement fails to be true. Cruz’s success is also due to Almodóvar’s work(s), but the director can also claim his own star popularity of All About My Mother to Cruz.
III.4 Stardom in Blue Jasmine (2013)
Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) has a powerful cast with names, such as Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett. Despite Woody Allen’s strong denial of getting the idea of the characters from A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), the actors unintentionally refuted his claim. Alec Baldwin’s name appeared previously in two Streetcar productions: the Broadway play in 1992 and in the 1995 remake of the 1951 film. In Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Baldwin plays Hal, a wealthy businessman, the ex-husband of the protagonist, Jasmine. Hal has several illegal stock market businesses and owes his enormous wealth to continuous tax evasions. It is rather unclear, however, what was the reason Allen chose Baldwin for this role, because Baldwin’s previous impersonation of Stanley Kowalski on the stage was rather mediocre. Based on the assumption that Allen took inspiration from previous Streetcar adaptations, the director’s choice is somewhat ambiguous, although, Baldwin’s character has very few things in common with Williams’s Stanley. As a matter of fact, Hal is a rather a portrayal of Bernard “Bernie” Madoff, an investment advisor and financier, who made numerous illegal business on the stock market and now is serving his prison sentence. However, by previously playing Stanley Kowalski both on the stage and on the screen, Baldwin’s name merged with that of Kowalski and especially in a film like Blue Jasmine where the intertextual resemblances with Streetcar are quite noticeable. Baldwin’s gave a quite satisfying performance as Hal by being “all smile and no soul, an investment type who has talked high yields all the way to prison” (Dargis 2013).
Before she was cast in the role of Jasmine, Cate Blanchett had played Blanche DuBois at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a 2009 production directed by Liv Ullman (New York Times 2009). The New York Times wrote about her performance there as “heart-stopping” (New York Times 2009). What is more, Blanchett received an Oscar for her performance in the Blue Jasmine at the Academy Awards in 2013, which indicates that her presence in the movie defined its success. In many aspects, Blanchett was the perfect choice to play Jasmine’s role. Despite of Allen’s denial of taking inspiration from Williams’ Streetcar, the mere fact that Blanchett had the role of Blanche DuBois on the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music is without any doubt an evidence that her performance has inspired the film director of Blue Jasmine.
Moreover, Blanchett’s surname has a strong resemblance to Tennessee Williams’s protagonist’s first name: Blanche, the only difference is the lack of the double ’t’ at the end. After the release of the film in 2013, many critic sites and newspapers wrote about the movie, including The Washington Post, which praised Blanchett performance in Blue Jasmine, highlighting her acting skills and also, the resemblance between Williams’s Blanche and Allen’s Jasmine. The article states that
to describe Blanchett as playing Blanche isn’t quite right: rather, she’s channeling Blanche’s contemporary Upper East Side iteration, a sad, selfmedicating sister under the skin whose rapidly fraying mental state is barely camouflaged under layers of Chanel, carefully coiffed hair and frequent applications of Stolichnaya. (The Washington Post 2013)
This suggests that Blanchett managed not only to revive Williams’s Blanch DuBois but also to put her back to the screen in the embodiment of Jasmine, Blanche’s contemporary intertextual ‘sister.’
Allen’s Jasmine and Williams’s Blanche, therefore, have several common features which can be spotted in the first few minutes of Blue Jasmine. During Jasmine’s first class flight to San Francisco, the audience can notice the obvious similarity between her and Blanche for Jasmine has blonde hair, is dressed in white and beige and wears a string of pearls on her neck, just like Blanche Dubois in the depiction of Tennessee Williams:
She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arrving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district. (Williams 1947, 15)
What is more, both protagonists have a somewhat dark pasts surrounded with secrets. Allen used several intertextual features in Blue Jasmine besides the similar looking Jasmine and Blanche, such as their corresponding arrival to their destionations: when Blanche arrives to her sister’s apartment, Stella is not present just like in the case of Blue Jasmine where Jasmine also experiences a mild shock after her sister, Ginger appears and shows her the flat she lives in. What is more, as it was mentioned, both Blanche’s and Jasmine’s mental status is unstabile which is being presented in Blue Jasmine with an intertextual motive: Jasmine tells Ginger that she does not want to be left alone, saying “ I can’t be alone Ginger. I really get some bad thoughts when I am alone” (Woody Allen 2013, 00:10:22- 00:10:25) just like Blanche who tells her sister “I can’t be alone! Because- as you have noticed- I’m- not very well […]” (Williams 1947, 23). The two quotes express the same fear and ambiguity the female protagonists go through.
In this regard, Both Baldwin and Blanchett are strongly connected to previous Streetcar productions, and still while in Kazan’s Blanche and Stanley steal the show together, Allen’s Jasmine is the most remarkable character in the 2013 adaptation. While Brando’s Stanley Kowalski blew up the screen and the hearts of many, the importance of Baldwin’s Hal is forgettable. In addition, Blanchett could create such a strong presence on the screen that there are hardly any articles that would mention anyone else from the Blue Jasmine cast being as mesmerizing and professional as her. Blanchett’s portrayal of Jasmine is dramatic and gives us the feeling of misery and confusion at the same time.
IV. Conclusion. The Streetcar Ride of Censorship and Stardom
The aim of this analysis was to map various filmic adaptations of A Streetcar Name Desire through three main concepts: adaptation, censorship and stardom. I surveyed, in this context A Streetcar Name Desire (1951), A Streetcar Name Desire (1984), A Streetcar Name Desire (1995), All About my Mother (1999) and Blue Jasmine (2013) by highlighting how censorship and stardom shaped the world of each version.
In 1951, when Elia Kazan—together with Tennessee Williams, who was present during the making—directed the first film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, Hollywood movie productions had to undergo strict regulations due to the Production Code Administration, which monitored the entire movie industry and controlled what could and could not be shown on the screen. Therefore, Kazan had to soften the original, sexually more explicit visual narrative into a “morally acceptable” one by cutting out certain scenes. In fact, more than forty years later, Warner Bros released the original, uncut version of the Streetcar in 1993, which contained previously cut-out footages, making the movie five minutes longer. Despite the cut-outs,
Streetcar caused a “firestorm of controversy” for being “immoral, decadent, vulgar and sinful” (Roger Ebert). These cinematic features were quite unusual at that time and Streetcar paved the way for future cinematic productions in having more daring content, making possible for audiences to look under the surface of the visible realm to notice hidden messages in A Streetcar Named Desire and beyond.
The powerful censoring system of the PCA slowly lost its power, partly because the Hollywood studio system declined and partly because of the growing popularity of the television programs in American homes. In 1968, the MPAA established the rating system which categorized films suitable for different age groups according to how appropriate they were for the younger generation. Not being controlled by PCA anymore, John Erman made in 1984 a new Streetcar adaptation in the form of a television film. Ten years later, Glenn Jordan directed A Streetcar Named Desire remake in 1995 for channel CBS in order to revive Tennessee Williams’s iconic play. However, the new Streetcars became a downright copies of the play itself, leaving the audience with nothing new as what adaptation was concerned. By analyzing both the 1984 and the 1995 remake, my goal was also to highlight why Elia Kazan’s adaptation, which was subject to strict censorship, was a better version of the play than the afore-mentioned versions which were not limited at any rate except for the rating system. One could see that Jordan did not censor any scenes or dialogues from the adaptation, which turned the narrative into a rather monotone series of actions with at times more than fifteen minutes long scenes. In the case of the Erman version, his adaptation was somewhat a simpler transposition from the play into the film. However, despite the slight changes in the plot, Erman fell into the same mistake as Jordan did since his adaptation turned out to be another attempt to copy rather Elia Kazan’s 1951 version combined with Tennessee Williams’s play.
Pedro Almodóvar’s movie proved that censorship is not necessary nor it can significantly enhance at all in order to direct a successful film. In 1999, the Spanish director directed All About my Mother, which became one of the first Spanish films that openly treated the issue of transgender, prostitution, homosexuality, drugs and AIDS. Regulated by the rating system in the US but not in Spain, Almodóvar’s drama could be on the cinema screens without any alterations, getting the strictest “R” ratings from the MPAA. At the turn of the century, however, the rating system was still in control over the outcome of movies in America and in 2013, when Woody Allen released Blue Jasmine. The movie was rated PG-13 (“Parental Guidance under the age of 13”) by the MPAA for its mature thematic material, language and sexually content. Censorship here did not pertain to the production of the film rather to the screening and this had obvious effect on its production and reception as well.
Unlike Erman’s and Jordan’s TV films, which were not successful adaptations, Almodóvar’s film, made into the same no-censorship context proved successful by its dialogic nature of intertextual laminations. Moreover, Allen’s fidelity to the spirit, updated version was the most praised adaptation of Streetcar after the 1951 version, which leads one to conclude that liberating films from the censoring of production can produce meaningful reevaluations of a given plot in modern and contemporary contexts. And if this is paired with appropriate stars, whose intradiegetic aura equates with their star image extradiegetically, the adaptation of an older plot can secure also a global success for the film. Following the timespan of the Streetcar adaptations from 1951 to 2013, I also highlighted different adaptation techniques the directors used in order to revive Williams’s drama. The conclusion that can be drawn is that in the 20th century borrowings fidelity to the letter adaptations enjoyed a growing popularity. By looking at Elia Kazan’s, John Erman’s or Glenn Jordan’s Streetcar adaptation, however, important differences could be noticed. While the Kazan-Williams pair of creators managed to turn the Streetcar drama into an intriguing and intensive film adaptation which was also considered to be groundbreaking in its time, turning Streetcar into a neo-fidelity adaptation even with the three major alterations in the plot, fifty years later, neither John Erman nor Glenn Jordan could over-shine the adaptation success of the first Streetcar version. Erman’s and Jordan’s versions were simple fidelity adaptations, while the 1951 version had a pitch of zest in overcoming the rules of PCA with various adaptation techniques. The three above-mentioned works are based on the same adaptation methods: both borrow and follow the drama’s narrative structure and do not wish to alter the main features of the play such as the characters or the setting. Still, Erman’s and Jordan’s unabridged versions could not bring back the pace and intensity of the scenes the 1951 film did. With the lack on any censoring authorities, these films that borrowed heavily from the play and also from the first adaptation, too, could not reach the quality of the adaptation of the first version. Interestingly, Jordan’s adaptation was the last well-known fidelity Streetcar film; later on, both Pedro Almodóvar and Woody Allen used only the concept of Williams’s play interlaced with intertextual features from characters in Williams’s Streetcar in order to produce their movies which came out as transforming, fidelity of the spirit adaptation (Almodóvar) and updaptation (Allen) of Tennessee Williams’s drama. By paying attention to the inter- and metatextual relations the films had with both Williams’s drama and Kazan’s adaptation and using these connections in their movies, both Almodóvar’s and Allen’s films turned out to be successful and could have unique details and scenes unlike the aforementioned two Streetcar adaptations. Therefore, Allen’s film can be called an updated, contemporary version of Streetcar, or the sequel of it which indicates that Williams’s play is the hypotext of Allen’s Blue Jasmine that, in this regard, becomes the hypertext.
The other important factor in this study on the adaptations of Streetcar was the issue of stardom, which also contributed to the success or the lack of it in the adapted works. Brando, for example, brought in the 1951 version a new kind of sexual desire to the movie screen which, even more than fifty or sixty years later is being remembered and imitated by other artists. Being a star was different in the studio era than in the second half of the 20th century and also in the contemporary, 21th century world, but having a well-known name in a film could pave the way towards its increased popularity back then and today as well. However, as I indicated previously, a star does not always bring success to a movie and this was the case with John Erman’s or Glenn Jordan’s Streetcar, where neither Treat Williams nor Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin could revive the fiery performance of Brando or Leigh nor produce a new canonic representation of the two famous characters. In fact, Brando’s performance of Stanley was so remarkable that his name merged with that of Kowalski’s, making Marlon among the very few, who could impersonate Williams’s antagonist in a truly charismatic way. Brando’s performance was one of the main reasons why later on Streetcar adaptations started to resemble more to Kazan’s 1951 adaptation than to Williams’s drama when it came to the shaping of the characters. In the following decades, movie directors, who were not tied by strict censorship rules, attempted to over-shine his performance by remaking Williams’s play but with little success. Ann-Margret’s impersonation of Blanche, however, gained the appreciation of the critics because she did not wish to entirely copy Leigh’s performance from 1951 by borrowing techniques of her own ‘adaptation’ but instead tried to put her own personality at the center of the character Blanche Dubois—in contrast with Jessica Lange’s quite flat character. So, in this regard, impersonation can be considered to be another way of ‘adaptation’. Almodóvar’s film cast had a diverse range of actresses such as Penelope Cruz, Cecilia Roth and Antonia San Juan Fernandéz. The director merged the backgrounds of the characters Manuela and Agrado with the real life of actors, who embodied them: Cecilia Roth and Antonia San Juan. In Blue Jasmine Allen chose to work with names like Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett and adapted a work has been shaped by the constantly changing cultural and technological demands but also by the changing figure and status of the starts throughout the decades.
However, the constant interest in good adaptations remained the same in the film industry throughout the decades with changing censorship guarding the shape of the intradiegetic world. Moreover, from the onset of the third millennium, however, stardom reached another milestone in its development due to the growing popularity of the social media and that affected the image of stars as such. In this context, Tennessee Williams’s drama continues to be a challenging work for movie directors. Elia Kazan’s adaptation put the stakes high for these directors to try to shine through it, but even with the PCA and its regulations in 1951 the first A Streetcar Named Desire adaptation successfully reserved its place amongst the greatest American films in the history of cinema: it has become a canonized, cult movie and a model for many other adaptations.
Not only censorship and stardom affected the success of a film, but also some movies themselves had instrumental effects in transforming censorship and stardom over the decades. By analyzing the aforementioned five adaptations of Streetcar on can see that the amount of influence in the case of both censorship and stardom is different. Elia Kazan’s Streetcar was one of the first film productions which questioned the authoritarian system of the PCA since, despite its objections, it managed to contain many sexual references at both plot and character levels which ultimately led to a substantial transformation in the censoring area. The first step in the process of the weakening of the PCA and, in fact, of the studio system. Also, Brando had a great impact in making the concept of stardom more important to various levels of population by his appeal to all gender groups. What is more, Brando altered the before-known ideal of the man on the screen and by that his persona created a new version of desired male in the star system: the ‘rebel’ type.
Since both Erman’s and Jordan’s adaptations were made for television, regulations for them had to be ‘adapted’ accordingly from those made for the movie theaters. However, despite the lack of censorship per se, neither of the NBC nor the ABC channel wished to display a more ‘daring’ adaptation of Streetcar and because of this attitude the 1951 version remained the most explicit version despite the liberty the two television channels had. The aforementioned channels had the authority over the films which they choose to air (and at times also product) and this authority meant something different than in the case of a movie which was directed for the big screen. Being a television film and not a film for the cinemas, the concept of stardom significantly lost from its importance since the emphasis shifted from the name of the stars to the plot of the adapted work, with this shift trending nowadays also in TV productions.
Pedro Almodóvar was one of the first directors who questioned the importance of the global star system by working with national actors and actresses, who were famous only in Spain and Europe or were not well-known at all. The only exception is Penélope Cruz, who was known in other countries as well. Therefore, he undermined the classical Hollywood-type of stardom, which meant that the success of a movie mainly depends on the presence of wellknown and acknowledged star or stars. Being a Spanish film, this meant that originally it was not under the regulation of the MPAA either. However, after winning the Academy Awards in 2000 All About my Mother became a worldwide famous film production which eventually made the movie rated by the rating system of the MPAA in its screenings for American audiences.
Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine was the only movie out of the five adaptations included in this analysis which was made in the 21st century. Although Allen worked with artists whose names are well-known both in the United States and worldwide, the reason Blue Jasmine became a successful film was not stardom, nor censorship but rather its adaptation strategy.
This movie is a contemporary interpretation of a former plot, exhibiting the ‘symptoms’ of the 21st century society and moviemaking where the importance of classical stardom and modern censorship is losing ground. With slowly vanishing censorship regulations it seems that film directors are not creating the success strategy of the film on the presence of stars but rather shift to more creative ways of adaptation to create something new, more consumable on current, various types of screens.
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