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Multiple authorship in Anna Karenina (1935): Adapting Tolstoy’s literary classic in the Hollywood studio era

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Among the numerous film adaptations of Anna Karenina, the 1935 version produced by David O. Selznick for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer remains one of the most acclaimed and celebrated ‐ undoubtedly owing to its high production values and the performance and ‘star presence’ of the legendary Greta Garbo. However, the film has also been criticized for distorting and simplifying Tolstoy’s literary classic. In this article, I focus on the process of transposing Anna Karenina into the Hollywood screen version, locating causes of the adaptation process in extra-textual factors. Specifically, I address the economic and industry discourse represented by the MGM studio and its house style; the censorship discourse represented by the Production Code Administration, Hollywood’s self-regulatory body headed by Joseph Breen; and the star discourse represented by Garbo. In the process, I identify and describe the industrial, economic and cultural determinants which brought about MGM’s version of Anna Karenina. At the same time, by perceiving Selznick, Breen and Garbo as co-authors of the film, I redefine and complicate the issue of authorship.

Keywords: Anna Karenina; David O. Selznick; Greta Garbo; Hollywood studio system; Production Code Administration; adaptation; censorship; stars

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000112453953Palack√Ĺ University

Publication date: December 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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