Shifting media: from literature to film
Narrative structures in Czinner’s work
Visual narrative instance
Linguistic narrative instance
A small difference? Literary adaptions and their original
Abstract: Film adaptions of literary work struggled to be recognized as their own art form for the longest time. The status as secondary media has been abolished by now. Under this newer perspective, it is fruitful to study criticized movies through contemporary lenses. Therefore, this paper examines Paul Czinner’s “Fräulein Else” from 1929, both as an adaption of Arthur Schnitzler’s novella of the same name and as an individual project. The aim is to analyse how visual choices highlight the narrative and how elements of the original story are introduced into the new media.
Shifting media: from literature to film
Films are an interface between writing and image in many regards. Starting from the screenplay, one can observe many functions of written text in movies. Therefore, transmediality is inherent to film. A special form of this correlation is adaption.
In the media-historical picture that Gundolf Freyermuth paints in his "Theses on a Theory of Transmediality", he writes the following:
„Adaptation wiederum kompensierte den Mangel, der aus der Separierung der Medien rührte, indem etwa Literarisches inszeniert, vertont oder zur Bildgeschichte wurde, Theatralisches textuell oder visuell ‚festgehalten‘, Malerisches literarisch nach- und auserzählt oder dramatisch nachgestellt.“i
He refers to the different possibilities of representation of different media practices. However, these unique possibilities of mediation also entail special limitations. This gives rise to various questions: Which stylistic devices can be adopted in which way, or how can they be adapted? And how do these changes affect the structure of the story?
These questions can be investigated by comparing different media. The present work deals with the adaptation of a literary template in a film. It examines two very different interpretations of the same material: Arthur Schnitzler's novella Fräulein Else from 1924 and the silent film of the same title by director Paul Czinner, which appeared five years later.
The discussion about the film's independence from its literary source is broad in contemporary discourse. It is the „‘Transformation eines medienspezifisch fixierten Produkts bzw. Produkt-Substrats in ein anderes, konventionell als distinkt wahrgenommenes Medium‘ definiert, wobei ‚nur letzteres materiell präsent‘ ist.“ii
Yet, in the period when the novella was written and adapted, film adaptions were not typically seen as independent art forms. Therefore, it can be assumed that Czinner was actually attempting to depict a story as similar as possible to Schnitzler's. This work will therefore examine whether and how specifically the change of media is responsible for the different interpretations. The focus will be on how the medium influences the depictions of the narrative instances through visuality. This is significant for the present work as narrative instances expresses themselfes, according to Kuhn, primarily on a visual and a linguistic level.
First, the difference between narrative instances in film and literature will be examined in a theoretical part. This will be based on Markus Kuhn's narrative model. Interesting approaches can be drawn from the work of Sandra Poppe’s research on film adaptations and visuality as a connecting element between adapted work and adaption.
The narrative instances of novella and film will then be examined for differences and similarities. The aim is to get an overview of whether and how the special type of narrative situation in Schnitzler's work was visually incorporated into the film.
Narrative structures in Czinner’s work
Large parts of the film are from Else's perspective. Thus, the adaptation corresponds to the novella, which is an inner monologue, i.e. an epic without a narrator, which seeks to directly reflect the state of consciousness of a person.iii For this purpose, Schnitzler uses an autodiegetic speaker with “no distance between narrator, experience and character."iv The Inner Monologue limits the reader to the perception of one character. It is therefore difficult to see how subjective projections, associations and memories can be distinguished from the actual circumstances.
Having shown which footsteps Czinner had to follow, we will now examine how the director instead designed his work. First of all, it is interesting to note that
„selbst eine einfache Variante einer Ich-ES im Film komplexer als in der Literatur [ist], weil das erlebende Ich nicht wie in der Literatur einzig das erzählte Ich ist, sondern sich aufspaltet in das durch die SEI vermittelte erzählte Ich sowie das durch die VEI vermittelte gezeigte Ich in der Szene[…]. Die SEI und die VEI können im Fall einer derartigen Ich-ES vergleichbar fokalisieren und in einen sich ergänzenden, verzahnten und überlappenden Verhältnis zueinander stehen, sodass die sprachlich vermittelten Gedanken des erzählten Ichs eindeutig dem gezeigten Ich zugeordnet werden[…]. Die Instanzen können allerdings auch verschieden oder widersprüchlich erzählen und fokalisieren.“v
Meeting these requirements, especially when film was a relatively new artform, was a challenge. Czinner chose different approaches, the timeframe, for example. In Schnitzlers work, narrative time and the narrated time coincidevi because Else’s past is presented in flashbacks of her memory. Czinner tells the same story coherently, therefore choosing a less complex narrative situation.
This simplification is fortified by the additioal perspectives of Else's parents. This leads to a dominant zero-focalization, which Markus Kuhn proves to be the most common procedure in film.vii He calls this technique, following Hickethier, "identificatory proximity", which means that the knowledge gained through the different levels of characters serves to perspective the impressions of the main character.viii Schnitzler, on the other hand, specifically denies perspectivations by the means of Inner Monologue.
In Schnitzler’s work, all previously mentioned psychological processes become clear only from Else's perspective, which reinforces the impression of her loneliness and defencelessness. The film decides against such an expression in favour of different perspectives. The focus of events shifts. Czinner gives great importance to showing the plight of the father and thus justifying the daughter's prostitution. Despite this prominent position, it is ultimately not the father but the mother who sends the letter leading to Else’s downfall. Significantly, it is the father who faints, not Else, as in Schnitzler’s work. The unconciousnes expresses the same symbolism in book and film: powerlessness in the face of external circumstances. However, the father is not unconscious in this sense. In the film he put his family in the unfortunate situation that leads to Else's social and physical death. The passages about the father are apologetic, without putting the character and the power he holds over his family in a critical light.
The probably biggest change is in Else’s character. Schitzler's Else is an intelligent young woman, who shows hysterical traits. This form of illness is caused by the social corset into which she sees herself forced. She is also a sexually curious being in a time when women were not allowed to be that. Additionally, Else's relationship with her father characterizes both him and her in many ways. He is a man of action and more appearance than reality. Nevertheless, Else shows a deep affection and devotion towards him. The mother is a flatter character, but this is a calculated decision and characterises the mother-daughter relationship. Else thinks her mother is stupid and tries to compete with her.
Schnitzler's Else is vainer than Czinner's interpretation, which results in different endings in film and book, according to Henrike Hahn. Schnitzler’s character has a desire to expose herself, while Czinner portrays Else as an innocent girl without such a ‘flaw’.ix Hahn concludes from this that only the film-character would be aware of the social suicide revealing herself would be. However, this is also clear to Schnitzler's Else. She may be toying with the idea of showing herself naked, but she is alwas in control of these thought games - and that is exactly what they are: thought games. She is aware that the alternative life plans she develops are not realistic. For Schnitzler's Else, showing herself naked is also social suicide.
The intelligence and social competence that Schnitzler attributes to his character was not evident in Czinner's interpretation before this scene. The film tries hard to portray Else as a doe-eyed innocence who is only interested in winter sports and a nice holiday. She doesn't suspect anything about the precarious situation of her family (in contrast to Schnitzler's character). Therefore, her clear understanding of the extent and consequences of Dorsdys wish is rather unconvincing. The problem of a young woman and the awakening of her sexuality is completely ignored in the film. In Schnitzler's case, the mother's letter expresses the pressure of an impoverished parental home and social duties into which Else is forced, completely untrained to deal with such complex issues on her own. Czinner reduces this central element to a secondary idea, which is necessary for the climax.
So while Schnitzler is an (extremely) personal first-person narrator, the film is an authorial ES, a heterodiegetic narrative instance with zero focus. Although criticism of the adaptation of the original material is understandable, analyses should always bear in mind their distinct genesis and objectives.
Visual narrative instance
In his reflections on transmediality, Gunther Freyermuth assumes that the camera indiscriminately captures everything that is currently in front of its lens.1 However, he overlooks the fact that a film as a work of art never arbitrarily documents everything. Starting with the mise-en-scene, elements in front of the camera care carefully selected. Freyermuth also believes that recordings in particular capture important as well as unimportant things, foreground and background noises2 in equal measure. But even these “background noises” are choosen as a certain part of the event to be shown in the finished product. Similar to literary visuality, filmic representation combines the fields of semantics and aesthetics. Camera angle and perspective, lighting, film material as well as colour effects help to shape the cinematic representation.3 Sandra Poppe summarizes that without
Figuren, Räume und Objekte von zentraler Bedeutung […] keine Handlung entwickelt werden kann. Durch die visuelle Gestaltung der fiktionalen Welt wird jedoch nicht nur ein Hintergrund geschaffen, vor dem eine Handlung ablaufen kann, sondern die Visualität in Text und Film dient vor allem auch der Bedeutungserzeugung und Sinnvermittlung.4
This emphasizes the importance of the visual narrative instance, especially in the silent film examined here. This procedure could have produced interesting results if the original had been 'translated' into filmic language. However, it was largely omitted to portray an emotional journey of the young woman. Instead of a creative visual representation, Czinner works with pretty motifs.
Although contemporary critics have said that "the creation of the inner monologue would have had the greatest effect in the film", Czinner limited his adaptation to close-ups of Else's face, which refer to her inner self.x The depiction takes place on a figural level which does not provide any further insights. Hahn, too, comes to the conclusion that the inner perception "is realized primarily through the acting and charisma of Elisabeth Bergner".xi This is further reinforced by the subjective camera (point-of-view shot) in order to "let the cinema audience see through the eyes of Else".xii
It is interesting to note that literary texts are considered "cinematic when cinematic narrative techniques (setting size, camera perspective and movement, montage figures etc.) are applied to”xiii them. In her work on Schnitzler's films, Hahn was able to analyse that the author often used such cinematic means, for example "a kind of verbalised close up"xiv of faces. Furthermore, Schnitzler worked "with frequently recurring light-dark contrasts, which are used as a kind of light direction in the literary text"xv and tried to dispense with intertitles through visualization. He also wrote typecast female characters such as hysteric, whore, sweet girl, femme fatale, wife "as a 'self-explanatory constellation'" which "determines the silent film of these years."xvi Else falls off the grid here in her literary form. She is just caught between these typecasting representations that Hahn enumerates. Socially she is supposed to be the 'sweet girl', while she herself is flirting with the position of femme fatale. She is pushed into the position of a whore by Dorsday and her parents, while she also wishes to exist as a wife and is potentially perceived as a candidate by Paul. It is precisely these recurring expectations that cause her hysterical symptoms. In contrast to this complex psychogram, her cinematic counterpart fulfils the shallow stereotype of sweet innocence.
Nevertheless, the film uses some interesting visual language. For example, Hahn examines the statue with which Dorsday shows Else that he demands to see her naked. "According to Peirce's typology of signs, this statue is an icon: a sign that indicates its designated object by the feature of similarity."xvii Hahn sees this as a symbol of empowerment by which Else “degrades Dorsday to a slave and appoints herself mistress."xviii This interpretation cannot be followed. Else is still at Dorsday's mercy, as his absence from the room forces her to be publicly exposed. If she had accused him in front of the people there, this comparison would be more accurate. But in this way, Else remains powerless innocence in a white fur which illustrates her virginity.xix
It has previously been explained how the relevance of her mother's letter to Else is emphasized as a complex speech act. This is further enhanced by a visual dimension, in that Czinner had the film material subsequently coloured blue by means of viragiation. "Blue was the dramatic language of night and moonlight."xx Since there are several night scenes, but only this one has this film technique, it underlines the relevance of this section. "Through the semantization of the emphasized image and equipment level as well as its special accentuation in the montage, a special form of conveying meaning visually is created".xxi This importance is underlined by other film techniques. For example, Czinner chooses close-ups of Else's face, which refer to her inside and presents the surrounding through the subjective perception of the character.xxii
The mirror scene is equally important. While Schnitzler’s Else admires her own beauty, Czinner’s character is looking at herself out of desperation. Her looking at herself in the mirror shows her loss of connection to her surroundings.xxiii While Schnitzler’s Else remains in touch with herself at the very least,xxiv her film counterpart is depicted without this self-reference. She only looks at herself in the mirror once. But Czinner's Else is also aware of her own beauty. She notices Dorsday's importunateness even before he offers her his ‘assistance’. Again, it is Bergner's acting that conveys the inner life of the character to the viewer.
Aurnhammer writes about Schnitzler's other work in the Inner Monologue, Lieutenant Gustl:
Dem Vorbewusstsein, in dem Wahrnehmungen Erinnerungen und Assoziationen auslösen, sucht Schnitzler mit einer diskontinuierlichen, elliptischen wie parataktischen Syntax zu entsprechen. Zahlreiche Pausensignale, Gedankenstriche und Auslassungspunkte rhythmisieren den Inneren Monolog. Neben Nominalsätzen illustrieren reihende Satzanschlüsse (»und«, »auch«) den vorbewussten Status der Syntax. Zugleich ist die Syntax des Inneren Monologs psychologisch variiert. Das wechselnde Verhältnis der Satzarten, von Fragen und Ausrufen, spiegelt Gustls unterschiedliche Erregungszustände wider, die eine zyklische Struktur ergeben.xxv
These assumptions can be applied directly to Schnitzler’s Fräulein Else but seem lacking in Czinner’s adaption. The mere reliance on the leading actress to portray the psychological depths the literary original offers did not suffice. However, this omission may not have been only due to a lack of understanding of the literary material. It is important to note how challenging translating a first-person narrator from literature to film is. Kuhn explains that the first-person narrative in a film can only be achieved by supplementing the visual narrative instance with a homodiegetic instance of speech. This "presents both reflections of the narrative and thoughts of the narrated self."xxvi
Although the visual instance is the primary mediator of narration, especially in a silent film, it falls rather flat in Czinner. The complete fixation on Else, which makes Schnitzler's work interesting, is dropped. And even where the character is in focus, hardly any innovative visual language is used.
1 Freyermuth: Thesen zu einer Theorie der Transmedialität. S. 110-111.
3 Ebd.. S. 68-69.
4 Ebd. S. 11-12.
i Freyermuth, Gundolf: Thesen zu einer Theorie der Transmedialität. Köln 2007. S. 109.
ii Poppe: Visualität in Literatur und Film. (S. 90-91)
iii Hahn. Verfilmte Gefühle. S. 107.
iv Ebd. S. 106.
v Kuhn: Filmnarratologie. S. 102.
vi Ebd.. S. 182.
vii Kuhn: Filmnarratologie. S. 101-103.
viii Vgl. Ebd.
ix Vgl. Hahn. Verfilmte Gefühle. S. 156-158.
x Hahn. Verfilmte Gefühle. S. 150.
xii Ebd. S. 154.
xiii Ebd. S. 90.
xiv Ebd. S. 91.
xv Ebd. S. 91.
xvi Ebd. S. 91.
xvii Hahn. Verfilmte Gefühle. S. 160.
xviii Ebd. S. 161.
xxi Poppe: Visualität in Literatur und Film. S. 68-69.
xxii Hahn. Verfilmte Gefühle. S. 186.
xxiii Ebd. S. 185.
xxiv Ebd. S. 117.
xxv Aurnhammer: Arthur Schnitzlers intertextuelles Erzählen. S. 87.
xxvi Kuhn: Filmnarratologie. S. 102.
- Quote paper
- Carolin Will (Author), 2020, Inner Monologue in Film. How Paul Czinner adapts Arthur Schnitzler’s Narrative Mode in "Fräulein Else" (1929), Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/923365