((Written when I was 14. Ugh. But, somewhat funny.))
A Senseless Piece
A Senseless Piece
Imagine Ray Bradberry’s Fahrenheit 451 turned into a Lifetime Original Movie or else a mainstream soap opera. Well, if we were to let A Separate Peace’s Larry Peerce direct a movie for it, chances are that is exactly what will happen. He seems to have great talent for turning classic and thought provoking novels into movies worthy of a Days of Our Lives episode.
To give Peerce credit, he certainly did put his own spin on John Knowles’s novel, and the movie definitely gave me a good laugh, but I don’t know if he was intending to make a parody. However, the result, regardless of his intentions, is absolutely satirical.
One of the clever aspects of this film was the location; Phillips Exeter Academy. This happened to be exactly where John Knowles went to school and undoubtedly where he based the school in A Separate Peace off of. Somehow, however, Peerce managed to use even this good idea in a bad way; He turned the movie into a Exeter Academy drama production, casting only one actor not currently enrolled in the school, and even this actor was making his debut in the production.
The movie starts off with a shot showing a rather sporadic and clumsy Phineas running amuck amongst peers in the beautiful campus. The camera seems jerky, and the grace and beauty that John Knowles so carefully sculpts Finny with are completely lost. Phineas seems whiny, jerky, and more hyperactive than athletic. On the other note, Gene isn’t whiny enough. He doesn’t seem to have any qualms about running around with his friends and being the center of Finny’s athletic attention. Sadly, these incongruencies of character aren’t lost as the movie progresses.
The scene in the movie that struck me as an absolute betrayal or else an ingenious spoof was the scene in which Gene tries to tell Finny what had really occurred at the tree. The first lines were filmed so that we only see one person’s face per line. Even worse than the filming was the acting. Somehow, the actors managed to put the precisely the wrong emotion into every line. I was amazed at their interpretation. As another reviewer put it so perfectly, “Finny looks wrong. What's worse, he delivers his lines in a wooden manner, and seems to get the emphasis wrong in nearly every case. If this actor ever read the book, I don't think he understood it.”
Gene and Finny weren’t the only characters that surprised me. Leper Lepilier baffled me to no end. To me, he seemed almost more sane after he went insane. He never adopted that kind, gentle, tree-hugger persona that the Leper in the books had. To add to this destruction of character, Peerce took out the scene in which Leper shows his gentle side while out looking for beavers and instead replaces it with a strange confrontation between Gene and a Leper who is painting a tree. We never see how Leper enjoys skiing as a hobby and not as a tool for war. We never see how the other boys treat Leper with contempt or how he seems to trust Gene. We never even see if Leper was indeed at the tree on that fateful day. For such a central character, Peerce seemed to shunt Leper aside just as much as the schoolboys in the novel did.
There are a lot of challenges one must overcome in order to successfully make a movie out of a novel, especially one as psychologically deep as A Separate Peace. Larry Peerce’s artistic talent must have suffered a blow similar to that of Finny’s physique, as it is equally unable to get over such hurdles.