Summertime is around the corner, so why not take some time away from cell phones and the internet and do something slightly crazy and totally old fashioned…read! With the amount of literary adaptations scheduled for this summer, there’s definitely something for everyone!
NOW IN THEATERS
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy comprises the apotheosis of “Literature.” Several of his books generally fall under the category of “heavily inspires writers who never actually read his work.” This was my first time reading Far From the Madding Crowd and it really showcases the reasons I dislike Hardy’s prose. His novels certainly evoke the time period, with long, rambling dialogues exchanges illustrating country life, but the plot takes a very long time to kick in. It probably explains why past adaptations, including the new one, are hyping the romance triangle involving Bathsheba Everdene (played by Carey Mulligan in the latest film). That facet of the novel plays out as well as you’d expect from the author of Tess of the D’Urbervilles – if you haven’t read that book…the guy’s not a fan of happy endings. The density of this novel makes for a challenging reading experience, and it’ll be interesting seeing how much is outright excised for the finished product. Mulligan isn’t my first choice for Bathsheba, but the character vacillates between strength and waifishness so maybe she’ll surprise me.
ALSO ON SHELVES
When Ryan Gosling was announced in the lead role of dance impresario/director Busby “Buzz” Berkeley, I was skeptical. Not just because this is another in the endless parade of prestige biopics, but because I didn’t really think Berkeley’s life warranted a 2-hour movie. I mean, the man who crafted human waterfalls for Footlight Parade? What else did he do? That’s where Jeffrey Spivak’s biography, Buzz, comes in. Not only is Buzz the source material for the upcoming movie, but it’s an invaluable resource on the ups and downs of Berkeley’s life. Spivak’s up against describing to the reader Berkeley’s visual innovations, no small task. There are parts of Buzz that are best read after watching the movie’s themselves, but it’s amazing how visually florid Spivak is. This isn’t strictly limited to describing Berkeley’s films. The details provided lay a thick foundation for a man who wanted it all, but couldn’t seem to balance a happy professional life with a happy home life. If the Berkeley biopic gets off the ground, I can see the pros and cons of Gosling’s involvement. All I can hope for is he reads the book, as it gives necessary perspective on a director who did more than place beautiful girls “by a waterfall.”
Worthy of an Adaptation?: It’s been over a year since the announcement that the book would be optioned with Ryan Gosling producing, and possibly starring, in the film. I can’t say I immediately see Gosling in the role, but makeup could do wonders. The question is who would play his mother, Gertrude? Julie Andrews? Maggie Smith? And how many marriages do they plan on recounting?
I consider Marc Eliot a good biographer for beginners. Those who want a competently crafted summation of an actor’s life, free of any true negativity or salacious gossip. His books are launchpads, opening the doors for more incisive examinations of Hollywood. I say this have read and reviewed two of his previous books, Nicholson and Michael Douglas: A Biography. While I didn’t praise those two prior writings, American Titan: The Search for John Wayne is Eliot’s best written book to date, correcting many of the previous issues I cited in his earlier books, despite still being a casual examination of Wayne, a “search” with no real findings. This is a great book to read before going over to Scott Eyman’s brilliant biography on Wayne, John Wayne: The Life and Legend. Compared to Eyman’s book – and it’s hard not comparing the two which came out within months of each other – Eliot focuses mostly on the movies. He provides very detailed accounts of plot, casting, and filming, lending an additional quality to this book that’s more filmography as opposed to biography. There’s also quite a bit of set-up regarding Wayne’s early work as stunt man and gopher on the films of John Ford and other B-Westerns of the era. There’s no replacing what Eyman’s already documented, but Eliot’s book compliments it with its limitations towards the film with a bit of light biography sprinkled in. It’s intriguing that there can be such different takes to one man.
Worthy of an Adaptation?: Considering it’s doubtful we’ll find anyone to play John Wayne, I’d say no.
Full disclosure, I have a casual friendship with author Farran Smith Nehme. As a classic movie reviewer, Nehme’s essays and work with Criterion and others in the classic film world is legendary. She’s the type of classic film blogger I dream of being one day. Sycophantic pandering aside, her debut novel, Missing Reels is a cute blend of classic film “what if” and standard romantic drama. The novel follows 1980s New Yorker Ceinwen Reilly (named after a character in the novel version, very important distinction, of How Green Was My Valley) as she tries to unravel the mysterious history of her elderly neighbor that involves a missing silent film. Ceinwen also manages to find love with a stuffy British math professor. Those who visit this site will love the movie angle particularly, and considering Nehme’s background, she’s done her homework. She revises silent film history a bit – playing with the discovery of silent films that are still lost – while weaving it within the dark, cynical world of 1980s New York. Our heroine tends to fall a bit too much into “romantic lead” territory every now and then, but the side characters are colorful enough that you won’t feel this is a slog. It’s a sprightly mix of cinematic history and romantic fiction that’ll appeal to the audience it seeks.
Worthy of an Adaptation?: I could definitely imagine it. Get someone like Britt Robertson to play Ceinwen, Matthew Goode to play the math teacher (also named Matthew). I also see a role for Jane Fonda (the crotchety neighbor with the silent screen past).
After reading Patton Oswalt’s book about how the movies affected his life, I figured those types of tales were a dime a dozen. I mean, it’s easy for all of us to pen a series of essays about what movies taught us and how wrong they were, right? Tara Ison’s Reeling Through Life is the book to read if you’ve ever wanted to attempt it. She analyzes the movies that shaped who she is as a woman, as a Jewish woman, as a writer, and emphasizes both what they get wrong/right, and how they make us think about who we are. These are highly poignant essays that discuss pertinent moments in Ison’s life – her mother’s death, her father’s drinking – as well as how they teach us as a global audiences. I found myself identifying, not with the movies Ison chose, but with Ison herself. Her chapter on what the movies teach women about being single, and how she enjoys single life more than being in a relationship, had me nodding my head in a frenzy. This is a memoir that will leave you wondering the types of movies that taught you about death, or your chosen profession.
Worthy of an Adaptation?: Essay books don’t quite lend themselves to narrative features.