On Story: “The Silence of the Lambs”

A word to the wise: never, ever in the course of your life watch The Silence of the Lambs while you’re eating spaghetti for lunch. I made this mistake on the weekend as I was preparing myself to watch the latest episode of ‘On Story’. You see, my parents never had an issue with exposing me to thrillers or horror films at a young age. One of my earliest memories is Bette Davis shrieking in terror as the head of her murdered ex-lover rolls down a set of stairs in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). The last time I watched The Silence of the Lambs, I was just a kid. Thankfully, I didn’t understand half of the plot line and I know my mother shielded me from the most gruesome scenes. So, I was completely unprepared for the content of the film! I would have never whipped up some spaghetti sauce if I had remembered Anthony Hopkins using a real human face for a mask, but I did want to refresh my memory in anticipation of Ted Tally’s interview.

I love knowing the original intentions of screenwriters and directors, especially in terms of the film ending. Between the years 1934 and 1968, Hollywood was subject to censorship as a means of protecting films from government control. The Production Code, or the “Hays Code”, forced many stories to be altered from their original state to suit the guideline and laws of the Code. For example, the film noir classic Double Indemnity (1944) originally ended with Walter Neff sentenced to the gas chamber, but the sequence was cut from the film and Neff dies from bleeding to death, slouched in the doorway of his insurance firm.

The original ending to Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (1944)

So, I find Ted Tally’s initial approach to be fascinating and much more believable than the scene used in the final cut. However, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that people, including Tally, still have a moral censorship even without the Production Code hovering over their heads. There’s a distinct difference in reading something gruesome within the confines of a novel and watching a gruesome scene in a film. As a reader, you can close the book and halt your imagination when the imagery becomes too much. With film, the images are real and imprinted in your brain even if you stop the DVD player; imagination is adapted to reality in film and there’s no stopping it.

Tally also made me aware of the concise nature of adaptation from novels. We’ve all had our little fits of anger when films leave out important aspects of the novel, but then again, how many of us have the ability to adapt the novel? Every film would be as long as Gone with the Wind (1939) if each detail was included… and anytime I recommend Gone with the Wind to friends, they whine about its length, so there’s your proof right there.

If you missed this episode of ‘On Story’, go to their website and find it! I thought this was one of the most entertaining yet; Ted Tally prompted me to go find other behind the scenes details of The Silence of the Lambs. Interesting and funny fact: Anthony Hopkins’ accent as Dr. Hannibal Lecter was inspired by Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn! Listen to him the next time you watch the film, you’ll notice the Hepburn inflections easily.

Join me next Sunday at 5:30PM on KACV for another episode of ‘On Story’ as the comedic writer, director, and actor Buck Henry details his career in Hollywood!


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