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The Proust Screenplay

Posted 4/8/2016 5:35pm by Eugene Wyatt.

I read Harold Pinter's adapted screenplay of Marcel Proust's novel À la recherche du temps perdu called The Proust Screenplay. Here is Harold Pinter from the Introduction:

Early in 1972 Nicole Stéphane, who owned the film rights to À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, asked Joseph Losey if he would like to work on a film version of the book. He asked me if I was interested.

For three months I read À la Recherche du Temps Perdu every day. I took hundreds of notes while reading but was left at the end quite baffled as to how to approach a task of such magnitude. The one thing of which I was certain was that it would be wrong to attempt to make a film centred around one or two volumes, La Prisonnière or Sodome et Gomorrhe, for example. If the thing was to be done at all, one would have to try to distil the whole work, to incorporate the major themes of the book into an integrated whole. We decided that the architecture of the film should be based on two main and contrasting principles: one, a movement, chiefly narrative, towards disillusion, and the other, more intermittent, towards revelation, rising to where time that was lost is found, and fixed forever in art.

In Le Temps Retrouvé, Marcel, in his forties, hears the bell of his childhood. His childhood, long forgotten, is suddenly present within him, but his consciousness of himself as a child, his memory of the experience, is more real, more acute than the experience itself.

Working on À la Recherche du Temps Perdu was the best working year of my life.

The money to make the film was never found.

Collected Screenplays 2, Harold Pinter 2000, Introduction,  pages vii-viii.

As much as I loved his adaption of The Servant (Pinter for Losey, 1963), I find that The Proust Screenplay tries to cover the entire novel—500,000 words, the longest fictional work ever written—and it fails, undoubtably. Reading the screenplay feels like one is glancing over the synopses in the rear of the 6 volumes of the Modern Library Edition; it contains the structure but little of his writing. Harold Pinter rarely quotes what Marcel Proust is celebrated for:

J’étais dans une de ces périodes de la jeunesse, dépourvues d’un amour particulier, vacantes, où partout –comme un amoureux la femme dont il est épris –on désire, on cherche, on voit la beauté.

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurMarcel Proust 1919, Humanis Edition, Loc 14214.

I was passing through one of those periods of our youth, unprovided with any one definite love, vacant, in which at all times and in all places —as a lover the woman by whose charms he is smitten —we desire, we seek, we see Beauty. 

Within A Budding Grove, Marcel Proust 1919 and translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1924, Loc 6279.

Marcel Proust's quoted passage is just before Albertine is introduced. Thoughout the novel she is an enigma. Writing the screenplay, I would have focused on Albertine, spanning Vol. 2 to Vol. 5, and I would have quoted extensively Proust too. To differ from screenwriting per se, I would have the director write the 'screenplay' to detail the camera angles and what the director exposes to the camera: occasionally that will be an atemporal documentary realism (as the author writes nonfiction from time to time) while living with Marcel Proust's V.O. narration.

I would write a shooting script rather than a screenplay, which has been already done by Harold Pinter, and present it to the audience as images, both fictional and non-fictional, in the midst of Proust's quoted voice-over narration for a movie called Albertine.