19 March 2005
Recently I had the opportunity to both read the book and watch the movie Popular Music from Vittula.
Many of the changes made to transform the book into a screenplay were cosmetic-required by the differing demands of the media, but some were structural giving the film not just a different ending but a different feeling from the book.
As happens very rarely, I liked both portrayals.
I was extremely happy that the mouse massacre in chapter 12 was omitted from the movie. That was gruesome enough to read about-seeing it would have been too raw. As I thought back to that section of the book, and what it might have looked like up on the screen, I wondered what impact such a scene would have had if it had been included in the movie.
In the book, Matti's experience was painful and stomach churning to read about. However, I still was sympathetic to him as a character by the end. It seemed a very powerful way of showing the struggle that often happens between adults and children and is frequently characterized by the child yelling “You just don't understand!” In this case the author set up a situation where I was simultaneously repelled and impressed by Matti's actions. At the same time I never lost sight of how much work he put into the mouse project so when Heinz refuses to pay, I come solidly down on Matti's side-nearly cheering as he throws Heinz's manuscript into the fire.
If this section had been shown on screen, I think the images would have overwhelmed the character of Matti, and the movie itself. Some images take on a life of their own in a visual medium. In addition, this section had very little to do with the relationship between the boys and, in the movie, would not have added much to our understanding of them.
This section of the book did underscore ideas that much of what children do is invisible to adults and much of what adults do is either mysterious or invisible to children. It also shows Matti moving from what I think of as the world of children-where a certain timelessness and ability to use the imagination to make up for lack of material goods (for example the difference between `making' their own guitar and reaching the point where only a real one would suffice) into the world of adults.
Why is the above my conception of childhood? Children are certainly represented in fiction as having a different sense of time than adults-an ability to be absorbed in their own play for extended periods of time. I wonder if that is a particularly middle-class conception of childhood. What effect does our economic status as children have on our perception of childhood?
As a child, I never lacked for the basics and only remember one time when I felt like my family was threatened (when one set of Uncle and Aunt were divorcing-something that Just Didn't Happen in our family as far as I was concerned). What has that done to my ability to accept other people's narration on childhood?
If I compare my reaction to some of the `children' in One Night Stands by Rosa Liksom to Matti and Niila in Popular Music I find that I am much more comfortable in Matti's world than in the worlds presented in One Night Stands. There was much in Matti's upbringing that I could relate to. I am also from a small town that is at least a three hour drive to the `big city' of 50,000 and a good seven to nine hour drive from an actual metropolis. And while we had TV's and two cinemas (one the local drive-in), as teenagers we found that we were about five years behind the rest of the country in fashion, slang, and other things that 'mattered.'
Matti's experience with the distorted maps in his school resonated with me because, once I left home, I found out how strange it was to be from Wyoming. One of my friends said, mostly in jest, that he never believed in Wyoming until he met me. Another friend who grew up on the West Coast always confuses Montana and Wyoming.
In One Night Stands much of the setting is very urban and `modern.' For me, even after living in and around Seattle for a decade plus, the urban environment is alien. I remember visiting friends in Seattle when I was at school in Olympia. We went out for a walk and he was telling me where the `bad' part of his neighborhood was. To my eyes city streets all look the same-but when I think back to my own childhood I can remember learning, without being told in so many words, which parts of town were the `wrong' parts.
Now I find myself focusing on the questions raised when adults write about childhood. I do wonder how much of that focus stems from the fact that I have a six-year-old who is in the process of establishing an independent identity. He is constantly in my thoughts and can't help but shape them to some extent.
Reading this book and seeing how Matti's mother and father disappear into the background makes me wonder what my son will remember of his childhood and how his memories and mine will be different. I look forward to finding out in fifteen to twenty years.