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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If Any of My Daughters Grow Up to be Holly Golightly, I May Shoot Myself

I've always liked Breakfast at Tiffany's. And I've always wondered exactly why I like this movie. Holly is a precious, beautiful, irresponsible, adorable idiot, she hangs out with attractive, rich, ditzy losers, no one in the movie amounts to much of anything, and "Moon River" is one of Henry Mancini's weaker efforts, anyway. So what's the appeal? Well, finally somebody--specifically David Thomson, in a review of a book by Sam Wasson about the movie--has set the record straight:

The screenwriter George Axelrod pondered long and hard on how [Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's] could “work” as a movie. Then he got it, and Wasson treats this yielding as a triumph. The guy, Paul, could be straight, but a gigolo. There could be a love story between him and Holly (because love stories are life preservers when the plane goes down), but they could be so busy having sex with other people that they never quite made it together. They were chums. Do you see? I know, this was fanciful even in 1961, but suppose we cast George Peppard as the guy, and Audrey Hepburn as Holly. Peppard is so dull he hardly gets noticed, and Audrey is so adorable we don’t have to think about her. That could work, couldn’t it? With good clothes, and a song? No, there isn’t a song in the book. There usually aren’t.

All of this was done, and Axelrod was a deft, clever, talented man. But he was also a Hollywood engineer who wanted his picture to “go.” The dawning of the modern woman did not cross his busy mind. But with Blake Edwards directing (a late replacement for the edgier John Frankenheimer--and why? Because Audrey and her husband, Mel Ferrer, had not heard of Frankenheimer), with Edith Head and Henry Mancini, the picture went. And with Mickey Rooney--but we’ll come to him.

A more viciously happy take-down of a movie I haven't read in a long time. Stuff like this is good for the soul.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "Walk This Way"

Continuing the loud and black theme....

Run and DMC dress so much better than Steve Tyler.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

As a Parent of Four Daughters, I Need to Know These Things

(Hat tip: Laura McKenna)

The text is a little unfair to Cinderella, whom frankly I think gets a bad rap. (Until her stepmother cruelly destroys her ambition to attend the ball and she completely breaks down, Cinderella's a pretty realistic and tough broad, all things considered.) And, strictly speaking, Belle isn't a princess. Still, everything else is, unfortunately, pretty much dead-on as regards Snow White, Aurora, Jasmine, and Ariel (Ariel particularly so). Note that Pocahontas and Mulan aren't featured, presumably because they break the Disney Princess mold. And yes, I am thinking about this stuff too much.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Morning Videos: "Cult of Personality"

So, ever since June, I've been bringing you lazy, groovy, folky 70s music by a bunch of cool and mellow white guys. Enough of that. Time to go in the opposite direction: music videos of loud music by aggressive black guys. Let's here it for the ultimate libertarian anthem!

I suppose Rush's "Free Will" might arguably claim that title, but I couldn't find a video for it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beatlemania Began Today

Fifty years ago today, in the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany, a band of kids (young adults, really, though George Harrison was still only seventeen) from Liverpool, England, took to the stage to perform under the name "The Beatles" for the very first time. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been playing together since 1957, George having joined them the year after that, but always in the midst of other jobs, opportunities, and responsibilities, always with other musicians and friends rotating in and out of the line-up (sometimes a duet, sometimes a trio, sometimes a quintet), and always under different names (The Blackjacks, The Quarrymen, Johnny and the Moondogs, The Silver Beetles). This, the first night of their first full-time commitment to playing in the Hamburg clubs, the first night of what they all came to recognize in retrospect as the experience which really forged them as a band*, was the first time they'd performed together under the name which came, in time and in popular memory, to define just about everything about an era, a mood, a style of living and consuming and loving and entertaining and thinking. Beatlemania had begun.

True, their first experience in Hamburg didn't end on a good note, to say the least. But they would return to Hamburg a few times after this first, rough experience of playing for hours at a time before drunk, raucous crowds--and of course, it wasn't too long before their own ambitions and commercial opportunities and personal choices and the changing zeitgeist of the 1960s led them to arguably abandon both the stage-hungry ethic and the classic rock-and-roll aesthetic which brought them to Hamburg in the first place. They became, in their own time, iconic, transformative, multimedia and globalized. And then, just about exactly nine years and one month later, it was over. But it was too late, of course; by then the Baby Boomers had bought the albums, and businesses and governments and advertisers and artists and story-tellers--to say nothing of musicians of every possible type--had absorbed their lyrics, their rhythms, their mode of being. A half-century of pop (or should I say "post"?) modernizing was underway. Some might say that it's all ancient history now, but I don't think so--not quite yet, anyway.

So let's take a moment in tribute to a motley group of risk-taking, passionate, naive--and, as it turned out, enormously talented--young men from Liverpool who arrived at the club early that morning cold and nervous and thrilled and bone-tired and broke, and slept on the floor of a storeroom next to the women's restroom. Hamburg made them into The Beatles. They made us into their image later.

*You're thinking: hey, what about Ringo Starr? Doesn't he count? He does, but he wasn't part of the band when "The Beatles" made their debut. Interestingly though, he was in Hamburg at the same time John, Paul, and George were there, drumming with another Liverpool band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. They would catch each others' gigs, and all four of them played together for the very first time in a recording session that October. So there is that, anyway.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lazy Summer Friday Morning Videos: "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)"

So this'll be the last of the Lazy Summer Friday Morning Videos. Next week, back to normal. But for one last bit of laziness, a little song, a favorite of mine, that I don't really relate to at all, but love all the same. If Rupert Holmes's outfit, if the back-up singer's hair, if the lyrics of the song, if the nerdy dude jamming out in his own private world on the guitar, all don't sum up pretty much everything dopey and awesome about the groovy white bourgeoisie of the 70s, I don't know what possibly could. And they even threw in the Village People! How can you beat that?

Incidentally, today is Melissa's and my 17th wedding anniversary. We're planning on getting together with some friends, playing a lot of embarrassing party games, consuming a lot of chips and soda, and staying up late. Maybe we'll even sing this song out loud at some point. Honestly, we missed our era.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Melissa is Right (About Books), As Usual

Over the years, my wife--the one and only Book Nut--has done a lot to open my eyes to the world of children's and young adult literature. Not that I'm blind to such: I was a big reader as a kid and teen-ager, and was quite conscious of the fact that I was a reader at the same time--I wouldn't be able to so easily rattle off a half-dozen children and YA books that have stayed with me over the years otherwise. But I was, nonetheless, quite oblivious to critical arguments about that literary world--particularly, I was unaware of the often defensive border-mongering which keeps kids' books, YA books, and really any kind of "genre" fiction whatsoever, separate from "real" or "adult" fiction. But I'm aware of it now, and with that awareness has come agreement with Melissa: what matters most is plot and characters, and if it so happens that some of the best treatments of such are to be found in tales that borrow liberally and creatively from classic stories and tropes, from fairy tales on down...well, who really cares?

But Melissa, and hundreds of her fellow writers, reviewers, and book-bloggers, nonetheless find themselves regularly stigmatized by the literary profession and academy. No big deal, maybe; the books still sell, and the discussions and book groups still happen. Sometimes it becomes a big issue--such as the controversy when the National Book Foundation gave its highest award to Stephen King--but mostly it just goes along, beneath the surface. Still, it bugs them, and it should. As a friend of mine commented, "everything is some sort of 'genre'." Why assume that one genre, just because its target audience is children or teen-agers, is someone more immature or easier than any other? Maybe a lot of it is sloppy and filled with cheap pathos, true. But a lot of other genres are similarly filled with their own sort of hack-work. Why not just accept that books are for the readers who love them, and quit ranking one genre--particularly one that just happens to speak mostly to kids and young adults--as beneath any other?

Well, this is all by way of introducing an excellent piece from the New York Times, which gets all this exactly right. Melissa and her friends are forwarding it to one another, delighted to see their case made so well in such a prominent place, and they're right to feel that way. Here's an excerpt:

[T]he historian Amanda Foreman, a 42-year-old mother of five and author of “Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire,” was honeymooning when she first read Harry [Potter]. When I asked Foreman about her young adult reading habit, she could hardly contain her enthusiasm. I must, she urged, read Susan Cooper (“incredibly clever”), Eoin Colfer (“a brilliant author”), Rick Riordan (“really, really, really good”). I must! “A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart,” Foreman, who is currently working on a book about British involvement in the American Civil War, said. “But good Y.A. is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. Y.A. authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or ­disappointed people"....

Y.A. may also pierce the jadedness and cynicism of our adult selves. “When you talk to people about the books that have meant a lot to them, it’s usually books they read when they were younger because the books have this wonder in everyday things that isn’t bogged down by excessively grown-up concerns or the need to be subtle or coy,” explained Jesse Sheidlower, an editor at large at the Oxford English Dictionary. “When you read these books as an adult, it tends to bring back the sense of newness and discovery that I tend not to get from adult fiction.”

As they say, read the whole thing. As for me, I've started reading Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson novels out loud to our third daughter, taking a break from Harry Potter. Melissa and our older two daughters have long since read them, and adore them. I expect I will too.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Lazy Summer Friday Morning Videos: "Summer Breeze"

Ok, I've let this Lazy Summer break thing go on for close to a month and a half now, so it's probably about time to start wrapping things up. It's August after all, which for some people is the laziest time of the year, but for academics like myself, it's the time to shake off the summer stupor and get back to work. But still, I don't want to give up that 70s sound quite yet. And besides, it is still summertime, so how could I not include this number?