Lit Flicks concludes Sept. 12 with a free screening and discussion of the film, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” based on the play by Tennessee Williams.
Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor co-star in the 1958 film as a married couple in the South struggling with issues of homosexuality, alcoholism and mendacity.
It’s the final installment in a series of film adaptations put on by UCR Palm Desert’s MFA program director Tod Goldberg.
A resident of the Coachella Valley since he was 14, Goldberg started the series to give locals a culturally stimulating and entertaining event to attend during the summer, which traditionally is slow.
Many in the valley may be more familiar with the back story of an aborted, local “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” production than with the film. Last year, Palm Desert High School officials cancelled their play citing moral questions about its content. Students and some in the community complained about what they deemed censorship.
A year later, both sides will have an opportunity to be heard after the screening. Goldberg, who’s written 12 books, and I recently chatted over coffee about “Cat,” the controversy and other film adaptations.
What’s the best film adaptation you’ve seen?
GOLDBERG: “Godfather” and “Godfather II,” two of the greatest films ever made. The interesting thing is they came from not a very good book. It’s pool reading.
There are also films like “Jaws,” which is completely different from what the book was.
My personal favorites are “Shawshank Redemption” based on the Stephen King novella and “Winter’s Bone.”
So a successful film adaptation doesn’t depend on how closely aligned it is to the book or original work?
“The English Patient” book and film – both are excellent and completely different from one another. It’s a narrative choice the filmmaker has. The best work invariably has to do with a person relating to another person. That’s what all artists want.
What was the most surprising thing you heard about the controversy over Palm Desert High School’s decision last year not to put on a production of “Cat”?
All that I know is what was reported. The concern seemed to be that high school students were going to see the play, with its homosexual subtext, and become homosexual. In this community, it’s like living in the desert and being afraid you’re going to be sunburned.
The homosexuality is almost entirely on a subtextual level. It’s a play about not living your true life. It is a cautionary tale about not being your true self. High school principals have every right to control the media that goes on in schools. But to censor a play for the moral principles a principal or school board might have reeks of the Deep South.
I don’t see anyone complaining about teen suicide in “Romeo and Juliet” or patricide in “Hamlet.”
Controversy aside, how does “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” rate as a film adaptation?
The film downplays the more obvious things in the play, like the homosexual component. It’s far more subtextual in the film than in the play.
Elizabeth Taylor is at her finest. She was never better than she was as Maggie the Cat.
It’s a great snapshot at America at the turn. It was before Vietnam, the Summer of Love.
I wanted to show the community you don’t need to be scared of a film and a story that was written 60 years ago. I grew up here and in the Bay Area. I was never afraid of gay people.
One of the arguments was that parents felt it was their place to introduce the theme of homosexuality to their kids.
High school students have been introduced to it long before parents have wanted to talk about it. It’s on TV.
This is what Tennessee Williams was fighting against his entire life. He wrote because he had no other outlet for the emotional things he was going through. (I don’t believe most people write what they know. Most people write what they don’t know.) You’re looking for clarity in your head.
Whatever your truth is, that’s what you’re fighting for. Kids are so smart, they get it.
Art gives you that empathetic response. My fear is, you cloister kids away from art that helps them understand their station in life.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Screening of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with 15-minute discussion before and 15-minute Q&A afterward
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sept. 12
WHERE: UCR Palm Desert, 75-080 Frank Sinatra Drive, Palm Desert
PRICE: Free, but reservations encouraged at http://palmdesert.ucr.edu/programs/events.html or (760) 834-0800