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“The Book Thief,” by Marcus Zusak, is set during World War II and effectively combines numerous characters to express the theme of passion and struggle in the middle of the terror. The book was also adapted into a film, which was praised for its ability to depict the horrors of World War II from a unique viewpoint. The following paper shows how I can turn one of the book's scenes into a film and compares my methods to those of the film's maker. In this scene, Rudy is impressed by Owens achievement, who despite being a minority and faces discrimination, manages to win four gold medals in the Olympics. Inspired by his mentor’s achievement, Rudy slips away from the family and goes to the kitchen to apply charcoal on his face to emulate his mentor, who was an African American. He steals his brother’s bicycle and cycles to a field, where just like in a real event, he starts “shaking hands” with his virtual opponents and commentating at the event. Even though a small crowd gathers around, he imagines that it is the size of a stadium where they are all cheering at him. After “winning,” his celebration is short lived when his father finds him and goes home with him (Zusak 113).
This scene is significant to foreshadow the victory that Rudy would experience later and the freedom that minorities would have after the World War. In the book, the author has incorporated a great deal of foreshadowing and revelations of the fate of the characters in almost every section. Marcus Zusak’s ability to adopt this technique is significant to keep the readers fixated about the manner by which Rudy will experience his fate. In addition, painting his face black with charcoal and “winning” the race provides a sense of hope that minorities would win over their freedom back.
In the scene, Rudy is impressed by Owens achievement, who despite being a minority and discriminated against, still manages to win the gold medal in the race. After hearing the news, Rudy slips out of sight and goes to the kitchen where he smears charcoal on his face to emulate Jesse Owens since he was an African American. In the book, the author claims that “In the window, the boy grinned almost maniacally at his reflection (Zusak, 112). In adapting this particular scene into the movie, I would have adopted a point-of-view camera angle in order to allow the audience to identify with the character. It is made clear in the novel that Rudy admires and idolizes Jesse Owens, and by painting his entire face black symbolizes his admiration for him. In this context, adopting a point-of-view shot would enable the viewers to empathize with Rudy’s emotions and his motivation to achieve similar greatness.
When Rudy is running on the track, I would also adopt multiple camera shots to show the action from different perspectives. As he is preparing to begin the race, the book claims that people started streaming from all corners to witness this event. Even though it is evident that only a small group of people had formed, using multiple camera shots would create the impression of a larger audience. The scene should start with a long shot that shows the entire distance that Rudy will be running and then zoomed in on the character’s face to show his anxiety. Further, I would rotate the camera around Rudy to focus on the spectators that have started gathering around the field, in order to get a perspective from their facial expressions. The camera would then swiftly shift the point of view of newly arriving spectators as they struggle to identify what has attracted such a large gathering. This point of view should shift from one spectator to another, to showcase the space within which the event is taking place. The camera should then be a neutral position displaying Rudy as he runs across the field and struggles to get to the finish line. As he is about to finish, the camera should switch to a close up of the spectator's faces, to take special note of their faces and eyes to highlight their curiosity of them winning the race.
Lighting is also another key element that projects the overall mood of a movie. Decisions that involve the placement and intensity of lighting may affect the interpretation and meaning of a particular shot (Koprince 33). In the scene, lighting should be adopted to symbolize the unequal world that Rudy has been consistently questioning. The sequencing of lighting in this scene should be undertaken to portray the gradual change that Rudy experiences from happiness and excitement after he wins the race and the sadness that follows when his father interrupts his celebration. During the sprint, high-key lighting should be adopted by brightly lighting the field and the spectators in attendance. This would set the mood of victory and happiness. However, after he is interrupted, the lighting in the scene should be shot using pale and grayish colors to identify the contrast between Rudy real life experience and the dream life he is anticipating.
The use of sound is equally significant in creating rhythm and pace of a movie. Utilizing sound in this scene will be essential in enhancing the viewing experience of the audience based on the significance of the scene in the novel. The sound that I would create in that scene would be similar to the intense sound that is generated by people cheering in a large stadium. In the background, this sound would then slow down as he sprints, and then gets more intense and louder as he finishes. By adopting a point of view camera angle, the background sound would then transform into that of Rudy panting and breathing heavily as he sets sight on the finishing line. This would enable the viewers to be inside Rudy, feeling the momentum and the excitement that he experiences when he realizes that he finished first. When his father suddenly interrupts his victory celebration, the sound of a large crowd celebrating should then stop immediately. The audience will now be able to change focus and empathize with him.
The director’s camera construction of the scene in the movie has gone a step further by incorporating multiple camera shots from a different footage. This scene of Rudy running on a local track field also contains real shots of Jesse Owens running at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The director has successfully merged these two shots, where their sprinting legs can be seen merging into one. Consequently, both Jesse Owen and Rudy finish the race at the exact time, and Rudy’s commentary follows where he yells: “He’s done it. He’s made history” (Koprince 17). Since Jesse Owens was Rudy’s role model, merging the two scenes is effective in creating a bond between the two of them, and also foreshadowing Rudy’s future victory. He has also adopted a bird's eye view camera angle that allows the audience to experience the event as though it was real.
Consistent with my adaption, the lighting in the scene has also been adopted to draw a contradiction between the past and present. In blending the shots from Jesse Owens and Rudy’s sprint, Jesse Owens footage contained a darker lighting when compared to Rudy’s. This provides the viewer with the ability to contrast between the past and the present with the great imbalances that existed during that period. This contributes to shaping the audiences’ social reality that surrounded minorities during World War II. In addition, after Rudy’s celebration is interrupted by his father, a darker lighting is adopted to show the imbalances in treatment that minorities experienced. The book claims that though Jesse Owens won the race, Hitler refused to shake his hand because he was black, and thus viewed him as less human. Viewers feel sorry for the minorities and resent Hitler’s treatment, while at the same time persuading them that these minorities will be able to overcome the challenges.
Even though my film’s adoption of sound varies with the director’s version, both would have been successful in setting the rhythm of the scene. The original movie’s use of sound has greatly enhanced the impact that the scene has on the audience by exaggerating the sprint, and thus creating a scene that the audience can easily identify with and remember. In the background, also, the original sounds of German commentators have also been incorporated, which rhymes effectively with the scene without interruption. By utilizing real footage and sounds of Olympics event where Jesse Owens won the race, the directors have successfully developed a bond between the fictional Rudy’s sprint and the real footage, and thus giving the film a truth claim. The resulting scene has been able to demonstrate the physical outlook of a historical event in a unique and creative way that fiction can be able to duplicate. Also, the scene is placed in a new context and given a more significant meaning.
Zusak, Markus, The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A., 2006.
Koprince, Susan, Words from the basement: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Notes on Contemporary Literature, 2011.
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