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Event Recap: Books on Film

I’ve secretly always wanted a book club. Perhaps not the Jane Austen kind, but one where a group of like-minded individuals could sit back and debate the pros and cons of a selected piece of literature. However, as a workaholic and avid cinephile (two aspects of my life that don’t always mesh well) I haven’t had time to be part of one. In fact, I’m lucky if I’m able to read more than one book a month. Thus, I was intrigued when I found out about TIFF’s Books on Film program. Taking place once a month (and twice in June!), the series showcases classic, essential tomes and the films into which they were later adapted. Moderated by Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC Radio’s Writers and Company, the events also highlight a monthly special guest who passionately educates the audience on both the film and book being presented that evening. For anyone who is a book and film lover, this monthly program for people of all ages will make us feel right at home.

The most recent Books on Film event guest was acclaimed author Kazuo Ishiguro discussing the James Ivory adaptation of his heartbreaking novel The Remains of the Day. The following are five juicy tidbits I learned from his scintillating discussion with Wachtel.

Director James Ivory was a previous special guest at Books on Film

Now in its fifth successful season, Books on Film coincidentally hosted The Remains of the Day director James Ivory two years ago when he came to speak about his Howard’s End (also starring Remains‘ dazzling leads Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins).

Renowned actor/director cum playwright Harold Pinter wrote the original screenplay

In its original conception, Pinter adapted Ishiguro’s masterpiece, which was set to be directed by Mike Nichols and starring Jeremy Irons opposite Meryl Streep. When Nichols was replaced by Ivory, Pinter left the production, and yet most of the screenplay remained his work. Ishiguro joked with Wachtel that the scene involving the death of Stevens (Hopkins)’s father was originally very “Pinter-esque”, as it included much anger towards the mother figure.

The ending of the book was inspired by a Tom Waits song

(SPOILER ALERT) The ending of the book, in which Stevens admits emotion to himself for the first time, was inspired by the song “Ruby’s Arms” by Tom Waits, Ishiguro admitted. The line “my heart is breaking” were words that the writer then used in the heart-wrenching farewell scene.

The ending of the film was improvised

(SPOILER ALERT) In Pinter’s screenplay, the film ends with a scene on the pier where Stevens emotionally breaks down to a stranger, realizing that he’s made drastic mistakes in his life. This ending was shot, with a very tearful portrayal by star Hopkins, and then cut by director James Ivory, because he deemed it too emotional an ending. The ending in the finished film isn’t in the script at all, but improvised by actors Christopher Reeve and Anthony Hopkins (and later echoed in the Michael Haneke film Amour).

Ishiguro urges filmgoers not to compare films with the books on which they are based

After admitting that he personally is guilty of this deed, Kazuo Ishiguro recommended that one should not scrutinize films and measure them against the books on which they are based. “We need to be able to suspend our knowledge and affection for the book while watching the film” and “try not to make comparisons”. “Watch the film on its own terms”.

The fifth season of Books on Film continues on April 13th when Eleanor Wachtel is joined by journalist Lynn Barber as they screen and discuss Barber’s memoir An Education. Tickets can be purchased at tiff.net or at the Steve & Rashmi Gupta Box Office in the lobby of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel The Buried Giant can be purchased at the TIFF Shop.

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.