Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Tipping the Velvet [film]

So these are just my impressions of the mini-series version of "Tipping the Velvet" and my comparison between it and the original novel. Spoilers Abound for the film and the novel!

First Impression
At first I wasn't too sure about the score choice - but I hadn't seen what the tone of the series was yet. The music seems typical of what I've seen of other BBC series', but I just assumed since TtV is a period story that it would have period music. But by the end of the show, the music had grown on me and I kinda like it now. Heh.

Another first impression: Nan's hair. I don't know what it is with me, but in most books I read, I always somehow miss the part where the author says what color the protagonist's hair is. When I read TtV, I pictured Nan's hair as blonde. Off the top of anyone's head, do you know what color it was in the book?

Series style versus the book mood
At first I wasn't sure how to feel about the fact that the series is SO much lighter than the book. The novel is so dark, brooding, and erotic whereas the series shows these dark things but makes dark humour out of it with the music and Nan's narrative and expressions. (Ok, it's not as dark and erotic as Kushiel's Dart or either of Sarah Waters' other two books, but I just mean in comparision to the series...)After seeing the whole thing I realised that if they HAD done the series with the same mood as the book, with the same drama, it probably would never of made it to television - at least not with more cut out and an NC-17 rating. And this was more or less referred to by Sarah Waters as well, at least in her suprise that TtV was going to be made into a series on the BBC.

I liked the gal who played Nan (I'm bad with names, I don't remember who it was). I thought she had good body language and was into the role - maybe I'm just jaded by American TV mini series' and the crappy acting they can have, but I was warmly suprised. She also had a good voice to play Nan - she could convincingly lower it to sound more masculine. Combined with the way she carried herself, she made a good pair with Kitty like in the book... How Nan looked TOO convincing as a male, way better than Kitty, so they had to tone her down.

My only small gripe with Nan was that she was still too feminine - her arched eyebrows, her very feminine eyes and shapely lips. I don't think they could of done a WHOLE ton to change that to make her like the Nan in the book, who was NOT distinctly female. I know women who look like boys and she was not it. The only thing that really saved it from totally pissing me off is the fact that the way a lot of things were portrayed in the film were symbolic - the cartoonish special effects, the obviously plastic roses, the music.

One thing they had NO excuse for, though, was putting Nan back in a dress at the end! In the book, she decides what is comfortable for HER. This time it's not her boss's decision, it's not her empty stomach demanding, and it's not her mistress's command -- it's Nan's decision to wear men's clothes. I found this element of the book significant because it represents Nan's coming to terms with herself and her past and how she represents herself thus in the real world. And there was no reason at all that they'd NOT do that in the series at all - I mean, they were halfway there when Nan narrates the part where she gets mens clothes in which to do housework and she gets her hair trimmed. After that I fully expected her to stay in men's clothes from then on like in the book.

This is just me, I always pictured Kitty as a bit less feminine in apperance, but I thought she was striking in the role, particularly when she would prepare for the tossing of her rose. And combined with Nan in their double act... wow.

Perfect. Although I don't remember Diana ever saying anything about love in the novel - it was all about control and power, not about love. I think they changed it up a little in the series for two reasons - one, to lighten the doom/gloomness of how it really was living with Diana Lethaby. Secondly, to make Nan's leaving more of a triumph rather than the skidding of a street sex junkie hitting bottom like it was in the book. Because in the series, the story was more about Nan's eventual and gradual triumph over life's shit. More on that later.

whoops, forgot him. Of course, his role was really minimized, but he was too old! Eeeewww! Although, Kitty was older in the series, too, so it wasn't so bad. ;) he was good, though - just the right parts of nice and a bit sleazy.

Florence was the only person I really had a problem with, but it has to do with the way they totally flipped her part around in order to highlight Nan's triumph in the series. In the book, Flo was much more standoffish and rigid toward Nan. In the film she came off as inexperienced - which she was. But in the book, she knew MORE than Nan did about the REAL world. Nan had only ever experienced life through the fantasy worlds of the stage, of the underbelly of the street, and of the slavery of living under Diana Lethaby's thumb. None of these places were like the real world and none of them had REAL people in them either. In the book, it is almost a shock when the reader and Nan hit this straight stretch of normality. Housework. Politics. Regular social activities. Family life. Nan had forgotten how to behave in that kind of world, and she especially had never been queer in the real world, either, which was the biggest change, I think.

I think they changed Flo because of what the series was going for. If they had totally copied the book, it wouldn't of worked. Novels can get away with things, with the lengthy descriptions and emotions that just don't work with the limited time frame of television. So the pacing was changed considerably - it picks up the pace, which also picks up the mood. And so the end result of the story had to hit a higher note than the novel.

The pacing, the plot changes
In the novel, Nan is rarely an instigator; she's a follower. She didn't really have big dreams. She had a boyfriend because that's what you're supposed to do. Then she saw Kitty and the obsession began - and she followed Kitty to London. She followed Kitty's advice and the instruction of Walter in becoming Nan King, the performer, and when her heart was broken, Nan ran chaotically to the streets. Without any guidance, she simply roamed until, once again, upon the 'invitation' of another person, she was persuaded into a new occupation, a sex worker. Then she was basically kidnapped by Diana, held hostage by her desire to BE desired, to run away from the memory of Kitty by spending all her time in another woman's arms. And when Nan finally stands up for herself she's thrown out in the street where she wretchedly hits absolute bottom until she finds Florence. Struggle after struggle...

It's funny how she ended up staying with Florence - kind of the same way she ended up with Kitty, by constantly being around until the other person simply can't do without you, and KNOWING this is what you're doing.

and then the final big responsibility of choosing where to be, where to live, who to be friends with and then confronting the people from her past who changed her the most. Confronting and triumphing in spirit and destiny. This is how the novel works.

And it would of been rather boring as a mini series, if you think about it.

So in the series, Nan is a bit more proactive in her destiny. Nan wasn't bitter about being kicked out by Diana - not like in the book. And it's Nan who is wise about the world in the end, not Flo. And the end - the end was perfect. With the single toss of a rose, Nan cuts off her past completely to start life anew.

I'm always a larger fan of the book than of the film as far as these things go, because it seems no matter how they do it, the characters in the books, the emotions, are much more personal and intimate. But they did a really good job with TtV. It usually seems there are three possible results with tv movies made from books. They either come out EXACTLY like it, and thus dull; they come out SO different that there's not much relation between the two and thus the book-fans are completely alienated; or it just comes out cheesy. And luckily, TtV is none of those.

The stage performances
Oh! I forgot to say - another great thing I liked about the series, another thing Sarah Waters mentioned in the interview. The singing and dancing! I'm normally not a musical fan, but it's like Sarah said - in the book, the performances are spoken of, but you don't get to see it, to hear it, to see the reaction of the crowd. Its a totally different experience that was great to be able to see. I got a much better idea of what that kind of performance would of been to an audience back then.

I also loved how the WAY the songs were performed changed to kind of fit the story and mood... In the beginning we have the lone Kitty Butler, and she's good. Light, sleek and charming. A strong first impression. Then we get the duo of Kitty and Nan, the teamwork, the connection, the DANCE, the lighthearted joy. Next we get the utter bottom-feeder performance between Kitty and Walter with Kitty portraying Walter's son. It was just WRONG in the book and it was just wrong in the series. In both formats, you could feel Nan cringe upon seeing it and I did, too. Ugh - where is life going to?

And finally, we have Nan's comeback performance. She was SO timid in the beginning and every single ounce of strength she'd gained through all she'd been through came out in that performance. Compare it to the first performance by Kitty and Nan just blows it out of the water. She's far more confident and bold. I'm not sure if this was intentional, if they toned down the past performances, or if the gal who played Nan was seriously just better than the gal who played Kitty, but I think it really clinched the ending.

The sex
I was pleasantly suprised by the quality of the sex scenes. I'm so tired of halfhearted lesbian performances that come off like straight male fantasies. I'm tired of over-the-top "oooh, I'm so into you" acting that just ruins the humanity of what is going on between the characters. Yay for sex! :D

The flashbacks
I also really liked the useage of the flashbacks Nan would have of Kitty. It really helped highlight Nan's perpetual heartache and keep it emotionally true, like in the book. I could relate to that. So that when we got to the end and Nan makes her choice between Kitty and Flo, the choice is that much more dramatic. I actually found myself wondering over who she'd choose, though I knew damn well that Nan chooses Flo in the novel. ;) So that's a mark of good storytelling in my book. :D

No comments: