Category Archives: movies

An [Imagined] Oral History of Oral Histories

Annie Coreno -- September 3rd, 2013

To mark today’s publication of the much-anticipated Salinger biography by David Shields and Shane Salerno and the release of the accompanying documentary later this week, I decided it was time to further explore the book’s format and the “oral history” book fad.

As those who have taken on the topic before know, it begs to stay true to form. So here is how I imagine a written oral history of oral history books might sound–errr–read.

PW EDITOR: It was the summer of 2011 that I really started to see this trend emerge. At first we were all a little confused by it. An oral history in written format? Is that even possible—it sounds like an oxymoron. But as it turns out, it can be done and actually has been around for a while—more so in magazines and eventually the blogosphere. But it wasn’t until 2011 that it really started to pick up in the book publishing world. First came the the ESPN book, then I Want My MTV the following year.

REVIEWER: It seemed to be especially popular for music and television related books. Please Kill Me and Live From New York being the books that really lead the way for the ESPN, MTV and Nickelodeon histories. They often take on a gossipy, behind-the-scenes feel.

READER: I’ve read several of them. Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests is definitely one of my favorites. They are always entertaining though sometimes a bit long. Usually pretty easy to get through—because you’ve got all those different voices in there.

HISTORIAN: Good history books usually incorporate multiple first-person account—and in a more authoritative fashion. These so called oral histories aren’t exactly books in my opinion! They are more like a bunch of transcripts copied and pasted together, no coherent voice, not enough analysis. If you want to read a history book, read one of Robert Caro’s book–now there’s a man who can write history.

CULTURAL CRITIC: I personally love the format. It feels very fitting for the times. The internet provides an avenue for anyone and everyone to have a voice.

POST-STRUCTURALIST: It’s easy to forget that the interviews are taken out of context and woven together. Every response is directed by an answer that is not always made obvious in the narrative. Remember there is no truth. Everything is a social construct…

HISTORIAN: Sighs Here we go again…

REVIEWER: They definitely tend to cater toward trade publication, less academically focused. The author is not defining history as much sewing together a narrative. It’s up to reader to assess story along with the credibility of its sources.

READER: I plan on reading the biography and seeing the documentary and then comparing the two!

Of course, this is all heavily based in my imagination, but who knows with the publication of Salinger and Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age among others in the upcoming weeks, there may be some REAL voices to form this narrative.

Fast Devices, Walled Gardens

Peter Brantley -- November 5th, 2011

Something about Amazon’s release of the Prime Lending Library for Kindle owners finally made me realize that both e-book retailers and publishers confront vital new struggles. The conflict is immediate for e-book retailers, yet more fundamental for publishers; neither has much to do with publishing, but far more to do with the Internet and technology.

From my perspective, the lesson of Amazon’s lending service is not that publishers might not be getting a fair compensation model. Rather, the problem is that Amazon’s new tablet, the Kindle Fire, combined with the Amazon Prime program, provides access to “18 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, and books.” And in that, it is not the free books that are a problem for book retailers and publishers: it is the movies and the music. Continue reading

Non-fiction, Cinema, and Libraries

Peter Brantley -- October 11th, 2011

The release of Amazon’s Kindle Fire has ignited a great deal of discussion about the emergence of a mass market in enhanced e-books. In The Atlantic, Peter Osnos described the appeal of the enhanced version of Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedywriting: “Until now, enhanced e-books have really been the domain of iPads. But with Amazon’s announcement last week of the Kindle Fire, a seven-inch touchscreen tablet at a price that is substantially less than half the iPad, the competition between these major companies will quickly add millions of consumers to the potential audience and drive the pricing for devices and the content on them in the months ahead … . ”

A notable aspect of these newer enhanced books, which provide audio and video content as a central and integral component of the storytelling, not as an afterthought, is that they demonstrate production quality that matches or exceeds  the best of what academic scholarly initiatives have heretofore delivered, such as the path-breaking ACLS Humanities E-Book program. As large trade publishers add transmedia, gaming, and film/video departments to their rosters, the number and quality of commercial enhanced e-book offerings will expand quickly.

Continue reading

Is the Screen Always Worse Than the Page?

Rachel Deahl -- August 26th, 2011

The critics have been rather unkind towards One Day (unfairly so, if you ask me), but all the hullabaloo about the tepidly-received adaptation of David Nicholls’s novel has made a favorite parlor game bubble to the surface: can movie versions of books ever compare to the original? (At NyMag.com many fans are talking about books that Hollywood shouldn’t touch;  The Atlantic took One Day as an opportunity to discuss some of the eternal problems with romance on screen.)

As Slate critic Dana Stevens noted in her (mostly positive reviews) of the current Graham Greene adaptation, Brighton Rock, there is “some pretty robust evidence” proving great literature does not usually become great films. Of course, as Stevens then goes onto explain, Graham Greene, and this thriller in particular, has proven unusually fertile ground for many filmmakers.

For awhile I had a theory that literary novels were the toughest to translate to film. Genre works—a dicey and tricky description in and of itself—were the way to go. This, I assumed, accounted for the fact that so many of my favorite science fiction films are based on Phillip K. Dick novels (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall); that a few of my favorite Hitchcock novels are based on Daphne Du Maurier works (Rebecca and The Birds); and that Anthony Minghella, a director who is no stranger to turning popular, bestselling literary works into films, was at his best working off of a Patricia Highsmith novel, with The Talented Mr. Ripley. (I should note, though, that anyone who watches Hollywood science fiction films has probably enjoyed something from Phillip K. Dick, given his all-over-the-map-ness in this area—the dude has well over 100 film credits to his name!)
Continue reading

PW at the Movies: A Review of ‘One Day’

Rachel Deahl -- August 17th, 2011

I know what you’re thinking: PW stopped going to the movies! It’s a fair assumption-the last time we got all critical on a cinematic literary adaptation was, cough, 2010. But we have been going to the movies…and we’re still as critical as ever. We’ve kept you waiting too long so, without further ado, your favorite book-review-editing-and-news-covering-and-sometime-movie-reviewing duo, Rachel Deahl and Mike Harvkey, give you the skinny on One Day:

Rachel says: I have a love-hate relationship with romantic comedies. Love-hate might not even be the right term—it’s more Jekyll and Hyde. I love a cloying love story as much as the next gal, and I’ll watch drivel in the name of a decent meet-cute, but the bar with romantic comedies has been set so low that most genre offerings these days feel like an affront to female actresses and female viewers. Romantic comedies entered a dark age somewhere in between the time John Cusack ruined teenage girls for all other men in the 1980s as Lloyd Dobbler and Julia Roberts convinced us that hookers really could be carefree and downright buoyant, in the early ‘90s. That Hollywood has issues with women being funny—see the myriad stories about all the producers in Tinseltown who said Bridesmaids would never make a dime because it was headlined by an all-female cast and, gasp, features chicks doing such dude-like things as being sexually aggressive and flat-out gross—is one problem. The other problem seems to be laziness: if audiences already know what’s going to happen (boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy regains girl) what’s the point of filling the gaps along the way with multi-dimensional characters or, you know, humor?

By the aforementioned standards, One Day, which some people might classify as a romance more than romantic comedy—I say it’s the latter—is a joy. It’s not terribly inventive, the plot device of following a friends-to-lovers couple over the same day for 20 years is particularly forced, but it works. The second feature from Random House Films (after the disappointing 2007 film Reservation Road), One Day, based on David Nicholls’s novel of the same name, shows a surprising amount of humor and depth.

British university classmates Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) have a brush with a potential one-night stand on a boozy night after graduation but, instead, start a decades-long friendship that is always skirting the line between friendship and something more. As their lives diverge but continue to cross—the bookish and self-deprecating Emma blossoms while the womanizing Dexter slips into an indulgent life of drugs and B-list celebrity-dom—the snapshots provide a glimpse into the evolving relationship as well as the changing characters.

Although the structure is contrived, it sets a welcome pace. The jumping-around also offers a bit of relief for some unexpectedly dark, though also pat, episodes involving Dexter’s downward spiral.

Nicholls wrote the screenplay and one of the strongest elements of One Day is that, even at its most expected turns (and there are a few), it maintains an air of legitimacy through above-average dialogue and nuanced characters. One Day also does a fine job of subtly capturing the ‘80s and ‘90s, through a British prism. Director Lone Sherfig, who skillfully evoked the London of the ‘60s in An Education, ably brings us through the years of mix tapes, combat boots and coke without losing sight of her focus: Dexter and Emma.

Mike Says: Being a guy, though not necessarily a dude (or, yet, a man, sadly), I don’t really have a love-hate bond with the rom-com. Basically I ignore the genre entirely until the wheat separates naturally from the chaff and one movie more than all others simply must be seen this fall, spring, etc.—or I go all selfless and suggest to my wife that we see that nice fluffy flick playing around the corner, a flick she may have mentioned in passing, a flick that she will not exit crying at the horrors of humanity, as typically happens when I make selfish cinematic choices, as films like Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs, or The Killers are more my speed.

Thus, my take on One Day differs a bit from Rachel’s, though ultimately I agree: it works. Boy, does it work. It’s the Million Dollar Baby of Romantic Comedies; its efficacy simply won’t be denied. Resistance is futile. George Lucas once said, “Drama is easy. Grab a kitten, hold its head in a puddle,” or words to that effect. Love him, hate him, or both, he’s right, and it is this level of drama—and nuance—that One Day achieves. Which is fine. Not everything has to be subtle, deep, profound. The book wasn’t, and Lone Scherfig has captured its spirit in her medium. One Day is a Tragic Romance. A film told in a year at a time can’t capture subtlety; it’s simply not in its DNA. It exists to capture the big events, the major successes, the crushing defeats. Life! Catharsis means “to purge” and One Day is like an emotional Heimlich maneuver.

For me, it’s the details that make One Day break down (though it hardly matters). Why does Lone Scherfig continue to cast Americans to play Brits? In An Education, Peter Sarsgaard could actually speak the Queen’s English without looking like he’d just come from the dentist. He actually did a great job. The same can’t be said for Anne Hathaway, whose accent veers wildly and never seems to settle. And look, there’s Patricia Clarkson, doing it too, and achieving the same level of unease. Scherfig is Danish, not British, and like many outsiders, seems to lack the ear for the subtleties of the English accent. Finally, I simply don’t get Jim Sturgess. Why is he having such a great career? I’ve never seen him in anything where he didn’t appear to be acting. In The Way Back, Ed Harris swept the forest floor with him. He and Hathaway don’t really have much chemistry in One Day, which in any other film would be deadly; in One Day, which is more machine than film, we accept that the chemistry they obviously have is a foregone conclusion. Because it is.

Vintage has 265,000 copies the movie tie-in edition in print, and 400,000 copies of the non-tie-in edition.

Rachel Deahl is senior news editor at PW; Mike Harvkey is deputy reviews editor.

PW at the Movies: A Review of ‘127 Hours’

Rachel Deahl -- November 1st, 2010

Brought to you, commercial free, by PW news editor Rachel Deahl and online reviews editor Mike Harvkey.

Spoiler alert: the review below may, depending on your opinion, contain spoilers

Rachel: 127 Hours is, ostensibly, about Aron Ralston, the outdoorsman who earned his 15 minutes after, in 2003, he hacked off nearly half of his arm because he got it caught behind a rock in Canyonlands National Park. But director Danny Boyle’s film isn’t really about Ralston, it’s about that arm.

Based on Ralston’s 2004 memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Atria), 127 Hours—the title refers to the amount of time Ralston was trapped with limited water (and even less food)—initially seems like something of a cinematic experiment. How do you create an arc, and dramatic tension, in a story about one character, stuck in one place, where viewers, by and large, know the outcome? To his credit Boyle, and his charismatic star, James Franco, do a more than serviceable job on this front. 127 Hours moves at a steady click and never feels boring or claustrophobic.

Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), who’s known for frenetic camera work and bright pops of color, brings that trademark style to bear here. And, surprisingly, shots that might have come off as canned vistas of the American West—there are more than a few swooping takes of a blue sky against the dramatic browns and reds of the breathtaking Utah desert—work to good effect, reinforcing the bleakness of Ralston’s ‘in the middle of nowhere’ situation. (His hand got caught, on a lark, when a rock fell and trapped him as he was descending into a cave-like area.)

And Franco is excellent as Ralston. Talking at turns to himself and into the video camera he’d brought with him—it’s perched on the rock that looks likely to cause his death—Franco brings a sense of playfulness and levity to the film. He also gives the seemingly flat Ralston—an engineer who works in a camping store and moonlights as a search-and-rescue volunteer—some depth, focusing on the 26-year-old’s painful realization that his selfishness put him in this fatal situation. (It was the fact that Ralston told no one where he was going that ensured no rescue team would be sent to find him.)

Continue reading

The PW Morning Report: Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010

Craig Morgan Teicher -- September 23rd, 2010

All the links you can drink:

Forbes on Burkle: The magazine wonders why he even wants B&N so bad.

Book Cafes: They’re the new hip thing in China–cafes for reading! From Sify News

Wellesley Booksmith Sold: Wellesley, MA’s only indie bookstore has been sold to new local owners. From Wicked Local Wellesley.

Bayonne’s Bookstore Bye-Bye: In sadder bookstore news, Bayonne, NJ, is losing its only indie bookstore, Unique Books, which is closing. From The Jersey Joural.

Blockbuster Files for Chapter 11: It’s the end of an era in terms of how we rent movies. From the NYT.

Bookscouting: Publishing Perspectives talks to an accidental book scout.


My Favorite Literary Cameo of the Fall

Rachel Deahl -- September 7th, 2010

It’s a dorky pastime, one I’m guessing only and people who work in book publishing engage in, but I’ll admit it, I get a kick out of seeing people read on screen. While Lost was one of the few shows that actually sparked sales after featuring of books, it’s still fun to see books appear on screen, even if it’s for a few brief seconds and no sales ensue. On that note, I recently saw one of my favorite literary cameos of the fall, in the upcoming Sundance hit, The Freebie.

The Freebie, which opens in New York on September 17, is about a hipster-ish thirtysomething LA couple that decides, in order to invigorate their stagnating sex life, to allow each other to have a one night stand. Katie Aselton (wife of Mumblecore mainstay Mark Duplass) stars and directs, and her hubby is played by Dax Shepard (yes, he of Punk’d fame).

While the biggest revelation of the film may be that Dax Shepard can actually act, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that his character is seen reading, in one of the first shots of the film, Dash Shaw’s The Bottomless Belly Button. It was a nice little moment of character development, or maybe just smart window-dressing, to see the male half of this aimless couple reading Shaw’s celebrated graphic novel, which was one of the “in” books of 2008. And, with its very distinctive cardboard-style cover, it was cool to see Shaw’s book in living color, so to speak.

On that note, what are some of your favorite literary cameos?

Who’s The Better Lisbeth Salander?

Craig Morgan Teicher -- September 7th, 2010

Yesterday, The Wrap released photos of Rooney Mara in her new role, as Lisbeth Salander in the US film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Of course, Noomi Rapace had the role first in the Swedish version.  So, Stieg Larsson fans, take a look at the pics below (and click over to The Wrap for more).  Which actress is the better Lisbeth?

Rooney Mara

or

Noomi Rapace

The PW Morning Report: Monday, Aug. 9, 2010

Craig Morgan Teicher -- August 9th, 2010

It’s the beginning of the next week of your life.

Eat, Pray, Love: The Pilgrimage: Unsurprisingly, you can now join other intrepid travelers who are recreating Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey with the help of their travel agents.

Kindle Vs. iPad: This weekend, the NYT compared the two devices, and likened the long-term survival of one of the to the life of the dedicated word-processor.

DeLillo Speaks: He gave a rare interview to the Observer.

Are These Writers Overrated?: HuffPo churns out another list, this time of 15 “Overrated Writers.”  Do you think they’re overrated?  Most of them are actually pretty darn good (or so thinks one Morning Report Putter-Togetherer).

Susan Orlean, iPad Geek: The New Yorker writer and author of Adaptation talks about her newfound love for her iPad in Macworld.

Blair’s Expensive Memoir: To cash in on his memoir, former British PM is hoping to sell a 150 Pound limited edition version, which the Mail thinks is steeep.

Bieber Conquers Another Genre: This isn’t about books, unless you’re willing to call Justin Bieber an author, but just to follow up on the other week’s popularly hated coverage of Bieber’s upcoming illustrated memoir, he’s also going to be starring in a movie about his life, set for release in 2011. From MyCentralJersey.com.