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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


VAN NIEKERK, Jacomien  y  VAN DER MERWE, Mart-Mari. The triumph of the silver screen: Christiaan Olwagen's film adaptation of The Seagull . Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.1, pp.108-123. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article analyses selected aspects of director Christiaan Olwagen S critically acclaimed 2018 film adaptation of the Russian playwright Anton Checkhov's play The Seagull (original title: Chayka) In Olwagen's Die seemeeu, the action is set in South Africa in the early 1990s, the time of transition to a democratic South Africa. For the Afrikaans world of the arts, this was a time of upheaval: the existing national arts boards were dismantled and Afrikaans actors and directors lost their state funding and support. Afrikaans theatre adapted to this different context by moving to smaller, independent theatres and especially the new national arts festivals, for example the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) that originated in 1995. Olwagen's film spans four years and depicts this change as it affects Irene (Irina Arkadina), a famous Afrikaans actress. By the end of the film, she hasjust starred in a successful production at the first KKNK. Firstly, the article provides a brief overview of translation theory and adaptation theory and the overlap between these fields. The terms "translation" and "adaptation" are defined. Reference is made to the scholars who concur that adaptation is a form of translation. The concept of "fidelity criticism" is briefly explored as an approach that used to be followed frequently in adaptation studies; the degree to which an adaptation remains "faithful" to the original text was and is studied, in particular when canonical authors are the topic of the investigation. This approach is contrasted with the more recent view that the subjectivity of the adapter is one of the main importantfactors in an adaptation. In this approach, the adapter uses the adaptation as a vehicle for his own thematic and ideological preoccupations. Both of these approaches are relevant for Olwagen's adaptation of The Seagull. In the next section, two scenes in Olwagen's film are analysed: the production of the play written by Konstant (Konstantin Gravrilovich Treplew) at the beginning of the film, and the scene at the end where Nina sees Konstant again. In addition, the film poster and soundtrack are analysed. Konstant's play in Olwagen's film is a rewriting of Konstantin's play in Chekhov's The Seagull.This makes Olwagen's interaction with Chekhov in his adaptation particularly dense and multi-layered. In Olwagen's adaptation, the symbolism of the seagull is made very prominent by giving Nina a pair of wings to wear that she thinks make her look like a seagull, and by adding the line "I am the seagull" at the end of the play. Moreover, the film poster depicts the head of a seagull on the body of a man holding a rifle. The content and tone of Konstant's play, in addition to the heavy-handed use of symbolism, suggest that the original subtlety of Chekhov'splay was not retained in Olwagen's adaptation. The soundtrack is equally unsubtle: a revue of well-known symphonic works byfamous Russian composers. This choice, as well as the design of the film poster (which is reminiscent of Russian propaganda art), is evidence that Olwagen reverted to stereotypes of Russia while presenting a play by a Russian playwright to an Afrikaans audience; whether in a serious or playful manner, it is somewhat hard to ascertain. When one abandons the concept of faithfulness to the original, the above choices are perfectly in line with the subjectivity of the adapter when it comes to adaptation. Olwagen chose to emphasise the seagull symbolism and the "Russian-ness" of his (South Africanised) adaptation in order to make his film accessible to Afrikaans film viewers, and to find some way to harmonise the original context of the Chekhov play with the South African setting. His choices also highlight the tension between stage plays and films: in a time when far fewer consumers will attend an (Afrikaans) play, there is still a market for Afrikaans films, and this is the target audience for which his adaptation was created. Finally, Olwagen's Die seemeeu is briefly compared to his other feature films, Johnny is nie dood nie (2017) and Kanarie (2018). These three films all demonstrate Olwagen's preoccupation with apartheid South Africa and the insularity ofwhite Afrikaners in this period. It is shown that certain aspects of the structure, as well as visual and stylistic choices were guided by the desire to create continuity between Die seemeeu and the other two films by Olwagen. He appears to be in the process of establishing himself as an auteur filmmaker. Olwagen's adaptation of The Seagull is (among other things) a film about adaptation. After seeing Konstant's adaptation of Konstantin's play, Irene asks, "Why fuck up a classic?" The film confirms the theoretical view that the subjectivity of the adapter is all-important: Olwagen has attempted to integrate his condemnation of the ignorance and insularity of Afrikaners under apartheid with a digestible adaptation of a classic work that would please film audiences. He comments on the period of transition in which Afrikaans theatre had to reassess and adapt its practices, and also comments on the current dispensation in which the Afrikaans film industry is booming. In this context, hisfilm represents the triumph of the silver screen where film adaptations are the most lucrative. It is not altogether clear, however, whether Olwagen escapes the insularity of which he is critical, since he restricts himself to themes that are largely limited to Afrikaners.

Palabras clave : Anton Chekhov; The Seagull; Christiaan Olwagen; adaptation; film; auteur; drama; audience; symbolism; stereotypes; subjectivity of the adapter.

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