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Which is the Best Movie Version of The Picture Of Dorian Gray?

by Zachary Efron

I'm on a hunt for good movie versions of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, sometimes erronously called "The Portrait of Dorian Gray", is a story by writer Oscar Wilde, a genius writer whose life ended badly and disgracefully because of what he called "the love that dare not speak its name", which was as he said, "in this century misunderstood"; instead of dying a man richly rewarded for the rich contributions he made to literature that is still enjoyed to this day.  

Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man who serves as inspiration for artist Basil Hallward to paint a masterpiece portrait of Dorian.  Influenced by the views of Basil's friend Lord Henry Wotton who believes beauty and fulfillment of the senses are the only things worth pursuing in life, Dorian makes a wish that he could stay young and beautiful like this picture of him in the portrait, instead of having to grow old and sickly, always looking with envy at the portriat image Dorian that shows him as a young man.

Unexplainably, his wish is granted.  Years go by in which Dorian does whatever he likes, and no matter how much he enjoys himself and how much he steps out of line, his body remains young and beautiful while the image of him in the portrait becomes that of an old, ugly, evil man. 

Eventually Dorian just goes too far.  At first proud of his individualism which is half the fascination of it all, he later cannot stand the now hidden portrait of himself, showing his true self and decides to kill it.  

Over the years quite a few motion picture versions have been made of this story.  How to choose the best one?  Well, obviously that depends on your taste, but in my opinion there is really only one decent version, though your opinion may differ.  Let's take a look at a few of them that I have watched.  

- DORIAN GRAY (2009 / 2010):

This version shortly titled "Dorian Gray", released in 2010, is at this time probably the newest version.  It is the most technically advanced version, in fact as most modern remakes are it's technically flawless. 

Dorian's house is very beautiful and impressive, and so are some of the cgi-assisted shots of London. 

The only problem I have with it personally is that, as most modern movies are, it is presented very impersonal.  It's like the characters are up there on screen, but I never get to care for them because they're not particularly charming or warm.  They can die and I don't care.  I never cared or lived myself into the shoes of any of the characters in this film. 

Another impression you might get from watching this film is that it's one big orgy.  It literally feels like 50 % of it is sexual scenes, between women, men, straight, gay, Dorian with young daughter, Dorian with young daughter's mother, Dorian with adult man Basil Hallway, Dorian with young homosexual man, Dorian with his party guests, Dorian with prostitutes, Dorian with Sybil Vane, Dorian with many women and it kind of continues like that to depict Dorian's life of pleasure mainly as a life of sex. 

This movie also never really starts feeling big and comprehensive.  It's like everything happens in a small spot in London.  Dorian never goes to his country house like in other versions, and also James Vane never has this long hunt for Dorian that concludes when he is shot on Dorian's country estate.  It basically all just quickly happens in London too when he attacks Dorian and chases him into the subway tunnel, only to have a train run over James Vane and that's the end of that.  

Probably a movie you will watch once and not feel inclined to again.  I think it lacks soul.

- THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1973):

This version I have not seen yet, but will comment on it once I have and will update this section. 

In the meantime, here is someone else's review of it:

"Not only does the screenplay and eerie soundtrack lend an ominous, "Dark Shadows" feel to the proceedings, there has been a concerted effort to downplay the homo-erotic subtext of Wilde's work. Gray is transformed into a Jack-the-Ripperesque, Jeckel and Hyde figure, preying on women, living the life of a rock-star or playboy. Shane Briant does have a bit of a Freddie Mercury/David Bowie quality about him, but any suggestion that he might be involved with other men is minimized to a few lingering glances and innuendo.

Without Wilde's subtext, some plot points and characters no longer make sense. Here Sybil kills herself because Gray deflowers her and then abandons her -- in the text it is a split over aesthetics in a much more profound and psychological encounter. This Gray is simply an insensitive cad, not worthy of the picture becoming so twisted. Wilde's Gray is a self-consumed aesthete who tires of people and throws them aside when he becomes disillusioned. This is far more damning to one's soul.

The tell-tale test for me was the handling of Alan Campbell. Compare this rendering with that of the BBC version just three years later. Again this one doesn't make much sense. Nor does the relationship with Beatrice, again I feel as an attempt to "straighten up" Dorian.

Certainly this production is more ambitious than the BBC version, including remote shots and crowd scenes, but what good are production values when the script is fatally flawed and the mood is reduced to melodramatic horror.

Watch the BBC version with John Gielgud and the far superior Peter Firth. Not only is that cast more attractive and has a better grasp of the work, it's to be chosen primarily if you want to come anywhere near Wilde's spirit and intention. "

Another, philosophilizing one says:

"I am so glad that Oscar Wilde's genius prose was made into movie form. The cast is excellent. I have always loved John Karlen. I started watching him when the daytime horror-soap "Dark Shadows" was popular. He, along with Shane and Nigel, give a too true- to- life portrayal of Wilde's mixed characters battling their own curses and demons that life seemingly has bestowed upon them.

However, it is not exactly circumstances which mold us into who we are, but our choices and how we handle conflict.

I had one of my English classes watch this movie so that they could see that everything we do and say eventually makes us who we are, and we can never undo or repair the damages of ill deeds, greed or lust. It's a frightening thought.

Sometimes it's more difficult to take the hard right than it is to take the easy wrong, as Al Gore so brilliantly suggested in his 2000 Democratic Convention speech.

The fact that man would literally sell his soul for youth teaches us that our priorities are still out of order.

The conflict of man versus himself is the power point of this book/movie. Sometimes we truly are our own worst enemies.

While the character Dorian continues to do as he pleases despite hurting others, his portrait changes, grows old and reveals all of his past sins.

This effect is pure genius, and it really makes one stop and think about his/her own life and choices.

Everyone should watch this movie at least once a month....it's that powerful and meaningful.

I also believe that Oscar Wilde saw himself in many of his characters. He had a difficult life along with the world judging him harshly, but he too made choices that cost him everything.

In conclusion, sometimes the hardest thing in the world is self-reflection. "

- BBC'S THE OSCAR WILDE COLLECTION:

Here you have a collection of 4 Oscar Wilde novels in 4 plays for video featuring British actors.  This collection includes The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

This is obviously a much lower budget production, that has that old soap opera made on video with simple electric lighting look. 

Still, it has some kind of charm to it, and watching this collection for a while kind of draws you in if you let it. 

In this version, Dorian Gray is more the emotional nervous type of person, which might be more true to Oscar Wilde's novel.

True to the British, none of the actors are really beautiful or striking, but more normal people.  

None of Dorian's "sins" are ever shown, so you have to make up your own mind about what it is he actually does that is so bad.

I would watch this version of The Picture of Dorian Gray only if I was out to watch a few versions of the story.  Which I was.  This version doesn't have all the bells and whistles of some other versions, but still something can be said for it.

- THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945):

This is so far the most fantastic version of The Picture of Dorian Gray that I could find. 

It may be a shame for some people that it's in black and white, but maybe that helps give it that MGM Hollywood charm of 1945.  The inserts of the portrait though was for some reason filmed in technicolor, so you have this black and white film that uses color only for "special effect". 

Obviously very high budget, in this version Dorian Gray is not the emotional blonde guy from the book.  He's a darkhaired, well groomed rich aristocratic type young man.  His house is one beautiful MGM set that has different levels and decorated superbly.  

Different from the book or other movie versions, Sybil Vane is not a Shakespearean actress who can't act anymore because she's in love with Dorian Gray, but instead she's a singer in a sort of pub with a small stage for entertaining performances.  

She sings a song that will stick with you forever after watching this film:  "Goodbye Little Yellow Bird".  

Almost none of the original homosexuality or other sex deeds from the novel and other movie versions is depicted in this version.  Some may say that robs it of authenticity, but some, like me, would say it makes this version the good taste version.  Aside from Basil's murder scene, it also leaves lots of room for most of Dorian's transgressions to be invented by the viewer's own imagination, instead of showing everything graphically. 

Different from other movie versions, you may find that you can watch this version over and over.  There are also very subtle things you probably didn't know, for example every time Dorian kills someone, their initials are found on small little blocks in his old school room upstairs.  The big D of course stands for Dorian.  There's also a lot of symbolism if you start looking for it, like grotesque faces and figures hidden everywhere in plain sight, as well as an "all seeing eye" sometimes in the same room as Dorian. 

Presented as a simple story, this movie has a much bigger impact than any other versions I've seen.


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