Monthly Archives: July 2018

Ink, Paper, Action!

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Amidst Hollywood’s profusion of bigger-and-better sequels, nostalgic remakes, and “dark re-imaginings,” there’s a longer-standing trend: movies that are based on books. Some of these movies are so iconic – so visually spectacular – their worlds so complete – that audiences may be surprised to learn of any literary origins. (Think The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, Trainspotting, Ready Player One, Mary Poppins, Die Hard…) Other adaptations are not quite so successful. (The Cat in the Hat, anyone?)

An early example of a book-to-film adaptation is a 1924 silent film called Greed, based on Frank Morris’s novel McTeague. The director’s vision led him to make a 9½ hour-long behemoth, but he was forced to cut it down to an “incoherent” two hours. (Most likely, the sentence, “The book is so much better than the movie,” was first uttered around this time.) Greed’s director, Erich Von Stroheim, had tried to be completely faithful to his source material. While that’s an admirable endeavor, it was the film’s downfall. (1)

These days, adapting a book for the big screen is an art form all its own. Just as a novel and a film are completely different mediums, so too are a novel and a screenplay. The team adapting the novel must remain true to the heart of the story. They must also choose which plot points to highlight or omit. Pacing often needs to change completely. Then there’s the daunting task of casting actors and creating worlds. Before any movie, these characters and places materialized inside thousands of readers’ imaginations. Entire fandoms wait in the wings, ready to adore or decry as soon as they glean tiny details from a promo trailer.

Like all art forms, there is going to be a lot of dreck. But there will be some shining examples, too. Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Black Panther, To Kill a Mockingbird, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy – these are some groundbreaking, enduring favorites that all made their first homes on bedside tables and in bookshelves. Each is a good example of how a film can omit certain original details (Scarlett O’Hara originally had two children by other men; jolly old Tom Bombadil was axed from Middle Earth altogether) while still capturing the story’s essence. (2) Andre Dubus III, whose novel The House of Sand and Fog was adapted into a well-received movie, says, “I’m all for giving filmmakers their creative due. As long as [they’re] loyal to the spirit.” (3)

Here we see a couple breaking up due to
differing opinions
about The Shining.
(Probably.)

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, based on the Steven King novel, is an interesting case of adaptation. It manages to polarize opinions like few films do. (If you ask Google, “Do people love The Shining?” you’ll see what I mean!) For its acting and its atmosphere, for technical precision, powerful visuals, and downright scariness, film buffs and horror enthusiasts hold The Shining in a place of reverence. (4) But fans of the book say the movie falls terribly short. King accuses the film’s main character of having “absolutely no arc at all” – quite damning, coming from the author himself. (5)

So it seems that both works are well worth appreciating, but should never be compared. I wonder if that’s true of all adaptations. Writer Bernhard Schlink offers this perspective: “As an author, you can’t expect a movie to be an illustration of the book. If that’s what you hope for, you shouldn’t sell the rights.” (6)

It’s fraught with peril, this business of turning a book into a movie. So why bother? As it turns out, sourcing stories from books is actually quite low-risk – despite the possibility of alienating fans. A popular book turned into a movie “can rise above the noise [and] competition from the internet, video games, and Netflix,” explains Hawk Otsby, co-writer of Children of Men. (7) This is just another way in which we as consumers can get our fill of the familiar. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as there’s still room for original and independent films to be made.

The year may be halfway over, but there are several upcoming adaptations to look forward to. Maybe you’ve heard buzz about Mowgli (a darker remake of The Jungle Book), Bel Canto (based on the Ann Patchett novel of the same name), Ashes in the Snow (a wartime drama adapted from Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys; the title was changed for obvious reasons), or Mary, Queen of Scots (from John Guy’s lauded biography of Mary Stuart, which in the UK carries the wonderful title of My Heart Is My Own). (8, 9, 10, 11)

The faithfulness of these films to their source material remains to be seen. And honestly, I’m ambivalent. A badly-done movie won’t detract from a book I love; and a well-done movie might point me in the direction of an author I’ll adore. Creatives absolutely deserve to be recognized – and paid – for their good work. If it takes a movie to make a great writer famous, so be it!


Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_adaptation
  2. https://gwenonichi.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/gone-with-the-wind-differences-between-the-book-and-the-movie/
  3. https://filmmakermagazine.com/58787-turning-a-book-into-a-movie-an-authors-perspective/#.WyrBX6IpW5I
  4. https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/7mcpcw/what_is_the_deal_with_the_shining/drurpzs/
  5. https://deadline.com/2016/02/stephen-king-what-hollywood-owes-authors-when-their-books-become-films-q-a-the-dark-tower-the-shining-1201694691/
  6. https://ebookfriendly.com/books-and-movies-quotes/
  7. https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/26/14326356/hollywood-movie-book-adaptations-2017-expanse-game-of-thrones
  8. https://variety.com/2018/film/news/mowgli-jungle-book-1202786074/
  9. https://variety.com/2018/film/markets-festivals/bel-canto-with-julianne-moore-ken-watanabe-sells-to-screen-media-exclusive-1202800859/
  10. https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2017/12/26/book-adaptations-2018-movies
  11. https://variety.com/2018/film/news/saoirse-ronan-margot-robbie-mary-queen-of-scots-moved-1202758120/
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Rockin’ Reads For Kids

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

In honor of this year’s summer reading “Libraries Rock” theme, here is a random assortment of rockin’ reads for the young, or young at heart.  In absolutely no discernable order:

Who Are The Rolling Stones? by Dana Meachen Rau  (J92 ROL)

Sanitized for your protection, this book chronicles the meteoric rise and unparalleled success, five decades later, of this author’s favorite band.  As this is a children’s book, none of the lurid details of the many (ahem) colorful incidents that earned The Stones their reputation as the bad boys of the British Invasion are present.  (Also worth reading in this engaging series of biographies for elementary and middle school-aged students:  Who Is Elton John?; Who Was Bob Marley? (to be published in June 2017);  Who Was Elvis Presley?;  Who Were The Beatles?; Who Was Michael Jackson?; and many more music-related titles.)

Jimi:  Sounds Like A Rainbow by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J92 HEN)

A beautifully written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented musician James Marshall Hendrix, later known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earthly realm entirely too soon at the age of 27.  His legacy lives on through his music, and his influence continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri and illustrated by A.G. Ford (J 92 CASH)

Those four simple words were how this man with the deep, soulful, often otherworldly voice would start his shows after “I Walk The Line” became the number one country song in America, and the anthem for how this once dirt-poor man from Arkansas wished to live his life.  Neri captures The Man in Black’s legend in free verse, and Ford’s lush, detailed paintings of the Southern backdrop of Cash’s life make this book one that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Music Lab:  We Rock!  A Fun Family Guide For Exploring Rock Music History by Jason Hanley  (J 781.6609)

If an alien landed in your bedroom one night and tasked you with teaching him/her/it about Rock & Roll, it would be fortuitous if you had this sensational book close at hand.  Written by Jason Hanley, Ph.D., education director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this book offers an introduction to some of the greatest songs in rock history, provides anecdotes about the artists and the social and historical events at the time the songs were written, and provides fun lab-style activities that begin with the basics of rock and move through the soul and punk genres, and then cover dance and new wave.  Best of all are the frozen-in-time photographs and the recommended set lists.  I totally have to throw the horns for this book. (Don’t know what that means?  Look it up.)

How The Beatles Changed The World by Martin W. Sandler  (J 782.4216 SAN)

When the Lads From Liverpool burst onto the music scene in the tumultuous decade known as The Sixties, they charmed and excited millions of fans the world over, and they ultimately transformed and transcended the rock genre.  This compendium of their rocketship ride to musical stardom contains hundreds of stunning photographs that capture the rich, beautiful history of The Beatles.

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed The World by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson and James Levine  (J 920 ROB)

Penned by 4 multitalented music industry veterans, this very cool volume would look right at home on anyone’s coffee table and includes 2 CDs with tracks from such legends as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, and Hank Williams, to name just a few.  The book pays loving tribute to twenty-seven groundbreaking artists whose innovations and creations altered the music landscape for generations to come.

Strange Fruit:  Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216  GOL)

At the time of “Lady Day’s” death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, she was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time.  Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the civil rights movement.

What Was Woodstock? by Joan Holub  (J 781.6609 HOL)

Well, duh, Woodstock was the sweet little yellow bird who was Snoopy’s best friend.  Right?  Charles Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip publicly acknowledged in several interviews during the 1970s that he named the bird after the music festival held at Max and MiriamYasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, over three days in August of 1969.  (Artwork from the festival features a bird perched on the neck of a guitar.)  My favorite part of this clever little book is the page of “Sixties Slang.”  You dig?

Shake, Rattle & Roll:  The Founders of Rock & Roll by Holly George-Warren  (J 781.66 GEO)

A whimsically-illustrated introduction to 14 of rock & roll’s groundbreakers and earthshakers, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and more.  In the words of Chuck Berry:  “Hail, hail, rock & roll!”

Rock on with your bad selves, and happy reading–


As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way representative of WCPL, its employees, or their parents who may have shouted at them to “turn that infernal noise down!” at some point in their lives. To that end, you may have to speak up a bit when talking to the author, because she spent many hours next to a Marshall stack in her flaming youth, and last week.

Pinocchio Syndrome: AI, Robots, and Fear

Created by Yul Jorgensen aka deviantart artist FATBM

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

I and most people in their thirties and forties grew up in an interesting time when it comes to robots and Machine intelligence. Robots are the automated devices that build our manufactured goods, the programmed tools that weld, test, and gauge everything we use. They may even for a few lucky ones have been something we got to play with as kids in school robotics labs, programming multi jointed limbs and pincer grips to move small objects from one side of the table to the other. For me, they were the first peek into Machine language. This was not, however the only way I saw robots. They were also the shining metal sidekicks, the implacable companions, and often the comic relief of some of my favorite books, movies and television shows. I could go from watching a sci-fi film on Friday to playing with an old Unimate PUMA at the local community college’s Saturday kids program the next morning. I almost didn’t see them as even similar versions of the same thing. Now that I’m an adult however I can look back and see my old Saturday morning friend was the Homo Habilis to today’s Homo Erectus. We are still in the early days of robotic evolution, but the pace is quickening and the robot who wants to be a “real boy” could be just around the corner.

IBM 7090 computer and personnel from 1961

You can’t take a look forward and appreciate the amount of journey ahead without knowing how far you’ve come. True electronic computers go back to the old vacuum tube run models that took up the same space as an entire gymnasium and were programmed with punch cards. Then came central mainframes with dumb terminals, mini systems and finally the personal computer we know and love still. In that time we migrated through magnetic tape and cartridges, through the innumerable floppy discs and hard discs to the thumb and hard drives of today. The robots have changed a bit as well. Aside from the science fiction progression we’ve seen from the Lost in Space robot to…well…um… the Lost in Space robot (1965 and 2018 respectively) there has been a huge swing from the early mechanical arms to the more modern, and yet still 18-year-old, Asimo.

Pepper is a semi-humanoid robot, manufactured by SoftBank Robotics, designed to read emotions

The future of robots is heading down two main tracks, Humaniform[1] and non-traditional robots. The Humaniform robots are learning (more on that in bit) to respond to human emotion. In some cases they are working on mimicking facial expressions with plastic and servos. It is among this variety of robot that scientists are working on human like movement. The non-traditional types are just as surprising. Military vehicle=s and drones are where the largest strides are coming from. Self-guided autonomous devices are delivering supplies and personnel. Dangerous missions are being performed with pinpoint accuracy by computers that are learning to modify their tactics. They might not look like C3P0 but the military machines are where we see science fiction meeting reality. Let’s just hope it’s more Bicentennial Man and less Skynet.

Artificial, or machine, intelligence is a different story. Until today the general maxim for working with computers is that they do not make mistakes. They do only what we have programmed them to do. Any errors are really the fault of the programmer. Going into the future we may see computers that are capable of extrapolating their own options and acting outside of initial human programming. This artificial cognition has a lot of people excited, good excited and bad excited. Advances in computing ability are allowing for computer scientists to attack the problem of A.I. in many different ways. They are approaching the problem from the angles of symbolic learning and human brain simulation among several others.  They are also using the latest tools, networks to simulate neural pathways and statistical models to build decision making. One big question in artificial intelligence is the ability of man to create a moral structure for the A.I. brain to exist within. Many do not believe we can safely create a friendly A.I. with the level of knowledge we currently possess. That might explain why fiction has a lot more HAL 9000 clones than Commander Data.

Good vs Bad… who will win?

The real future that many of us hope for is one that brings these two things, artificial intelligence and robotics, together to make a robotic being that will help us forward. Like many of the advances we have seen our imaginations are directed by the stories we hear and see and read. Advances in both fields will lead to the point where a breakthrough occurs, and it will be sooner rather than later. The only questions left to ask are will it be a benevolent discovery and are we worried about if we can rather than focusing on if we should.

[1] The terms humaniform and non-traditional are ones that I have chosen. Humaniform is a term I have lifted directly from the work of Isaac Asimov.

Further Reading (and since it’s Friday the 13th, have 13 books):

  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (F ASIMOV)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (LP F DIC)
  • Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (eBook)
  • The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (eBook)
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson (F GIB)
  • Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (F WIL)
  • “Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne M. Valente (808.838762 MOR)
  • The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez (F MAR)
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (F BAC)
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons (F SIM)
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (F HEI)
  • Otherland by Tad Williams (F WIL)
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (F LECKIE)

Beatlemania revisited – Fifty-five of the Fab Four

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

My boys, ages 9 and 13 love to sit down on a rainy day and watch Help!. The goofy antics of the four Liverpudlian lads have an entertainment value that transcends the decades. It’s not odd that people like the Beatles today, but it is an interesting change in the mindset of Americans. Most people do not listen to, let alone become avid fans of, the music of their grandparents. While I do enjoy big band and swing music, I would consider myself more exception than rule, even with the millennium era revival of Swing. My parents’ generation certainly did not listen to ragtime. So why do my kids, and many other of today’s children still love the Beatles? The answer is simply because they suffer from the epidemic that was called is Beatlemania.

The Fab Four started out as a fab five: John, Paul, George, Pete and Stuart, and were originally known as the Quarrymen, then Johnny and the Moondogs before moving through several variations of the name we all know and love, before settling on just The Beatles. They got their start in Liverpool, but played in Hamburg, Germany for a time before they all had to leave for one reason or another (Harrison was an unaccompanied minor, Best and McCartney were deported over an arson charge, and Lennon left of his own accord.)They played Liverpool and acted as a backing band and even returned to Hamburg before returning to England and starting to record their own music. Stuart Sutcliffe returned to his art, and the other three replaced Best with a drummer named Richard Starkey, Ringo. The rest of the story is known to music and pop culture fans the world over. They took England by storm in 1962 and 63, then America later that year followed by their first visit in 1964. It was the spark of the British Invasion, and the moving of a phenomenon from Europe to American shores. Beatlemania had made its beach head in the United States.

The outpouring of affection and devotion dedicated to the Beatles took the world by surprise. It was never observed before and really has not been repeated since. Many bands have been called the next Beatles, from the Bee Gees to Oasis to One Direction, but no one has ever lived up to the name. No one had or ever has caused wholesale hysteria among fans like the Fab Four, although Elvis had come the closest. The best explanation that anyone can seem to come up with is that the Beatles tapped into a confluence of factors that hasn’t occurred before or since. The large number of potential fans brought about by the baby boom, the safe appearance (despite the scruffy band stories we all hear their androgynous haircuts, suits, and simple movements while playing meant they were far less threatening than the overtly masculine and sexual Elvis), and the unsure world brought about by the height of the Cold War and death of President Kennedy, made teens everywhere ready to latch on to something. They fell to that with a will. Screaming, fainting, panicking and occasional rioting were more than just a trope from the beginning of A Hard Day’s Night, they were the reality of day to day life for the guys.

The lasting effect of the Beatles, in my opinion, is not the pop culture phenomenon. It is what they brought to music and more importantly musicians. Many people make fun of the Monkees as a manufactured Beatles rip off, but what many people don’t realize is that many bands were structured in the same manner. Even the Beatles were told they were going to play certain songs and not others. Rock and Roll was very much like today’s country music where songwriters made the songs that would sell and musicians played what they were told to. The Beatles began playing songs that were commercially viable. This meant basic formulaic songs and covers. As they increased in popularity, they gained more bargaining power so that by the time Help! (the album) came out, they only had one cover and were able to add more experimental songs like “I Need You”, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, and “Yesterday”. The greater their popularity, the more control they had, and it’s evident as you go through Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The experimentalism of The Beatles (more often known as “The White Album”) shows the power they had been able to amass. They were the first major band to tell a big label that they would play what they liked and make it stick. This changed the way rock and roll worked from that day on. That’s not to say that the manufactured band had ended, but it meant that a band with good songwriting chops and a strong following was more important than record executives market analysis, and bands have used this to innovate ever since.

I really think that the best testament to the power of Beatlemania is that the 55 years of fanaticism it caused is only based on seven years of collaborative work. Four Generations have grown up with the Beatles’ music and they are loved by members of all of them. Bands like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and U2 have been playing together for a much longer time and released a great many more albums, but have not reached the iconic stature of the Beatles. They have changed the state of modern music for their era, but still had less impact than the Beatles. Their fans and their impact stem from the inroads made by the Beatles and, while their impact is not cheapened, it is diminished by the fact that the Beatles had already planted their flag in those lofty heights first.


Further Reading:

  • Dreaming the Beatles: A Love Story of one Band and the Whole World by Rob Sheffield 782.4216 SHE
  • The Beatles: All These Years by Mark Lewisohn 782.42166 LEW
  • Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World by Steven D. Stark 782.42166 STA
  • Beatles ’66 The Revolutionary Year by Steve Turner LP 782.42166 TUR
  • How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler J 782.421660922 SAN
  • The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull  J 782.42166092

Sources:

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