Oscar’s Week: Books at the Movies

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On Sunday, February 28, 2016, the Academy Awards will be presented to actors, directors, videographers, music makers, costumers, special effects masters, sound engineers, make-up artists,  . . . oh, yeah, and a few writers. Two actually: one for best original screenplay and one for best adapted screenplay.

Yet where would the silver screen be without the men and women who put the words, the scenes, the feelings and atmosphere on the page to be interpreted? Let’s give some credit where credit is due.

This week, I’d like to focus some attention on books and the movies. Today’s entry: books about the movie industry.

BlondeBlonde, by Joyce Carol Oates. The interior life of a bleached blonde bombshell movie star whose career is a lot like Marilyn Monroe, though Oates always calls this a work of fiction and not a biography. It is heart-rending: the torturous thoughts and abusive treatment of this woman who finds her worth determined by the men around her, their use of her body, her face, her aura . . . and it is never enough.

“I live now for my work. I live for my work. I live only for my work. One day I will do work deserving of my talent & desire. One day. This I pledge. This I vow. I want you to love me for my work. But if you don’t love me I can’t continue my work. So please love me! – so I can continue my work. I am trapped here! I am trapped in this blond mannequin with the face. I can only breathe through that face! Those nostrils! That mouth! Help me to be perfect. If God was in us, we would be perfect. God is not in us, we know this for we are not perfect. I don’t want money & fame. I want only to be perfect. The blond mannequin Monroe is me & is not me. She is not me. She is what I was born. Yes I want you to love her. So you will love me. Oh I want to love you! Where are you? I look, I look & there is no one there.”

A Touch of Stardust, by Kate Alcott. Star-struck young woman moves from the Midwest to stardustHollywood, land of dreams, not to become a star but to become a writer! She finds work as Carole Lombard’s assistant during Lombard’s marriage to Clark Gable while Gable was filming Gone With the Wind. A behind-the-scenes, intriguing look at Hollywood in the thirties and how women like Lombard, who had power, and those without, managed to stay and make their mark in the game.

“Movies teach us how to do that,’ Carole had confided. ‘Create a set, sprinkle a touch of stardust. Who gives a shit if it’s real? Just make it good enough to believe.”

AudreyBeing Audrey Hepburn, by Mitchell Kriegman. This coming-of-age book centers on a young, Manhattanite who tries on Audrey’s Breakfast at Tiffany‘s Givenchy dress and changes her life. Not my favorite book about the movies, or about Audrey Hepburn. But it qualifies.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. Now this, THIS is a book. I’ve exalted Jess Walter’s glorious BeautifulRuins_small-330-exptome before on this blog. In summary, this is a big, gooey, interlocking glory of a book with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Italy, Hollywood, screenwriters, actors, producers and World War 2. My goodness, if you haven’t read it, buy it right now. Full review here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/simply-beautiful-beautiful-ruins-by-jess-walter/

“Weren’t movies his generation’s faith anyway- its true religion? Wasn’t the theatre our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? A million schools taught ten million curricula, a million churches featured ten thousand sects with a billion sermons- but the same movie showed in every mall in the country. And we all saw it. That summer, the one you’ll never forget, every movie house beamed the same set of thematic and narrative images…flickering pictures stitched in our minds that replaced our own memories, archetypal stories that become our shared history, that taught us what to expect from life, that defined our values. What was that but a religion?”

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Get Shorty
, by Elmore Leonard. Want a quick, funny, off-beat take on the movies by

America’s master of funny, off-beat crime novels? Chili, a Miami loan shark, decides it’s time for him to get into the movies. From there, chaos ensues.

tycoonThe Last Tycoon, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s great unfinished novel about America’s obsession with movies, stars, and money. “You can take Hollywood for granted, like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don’t understand. It can be understood, too, but only dimly and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads.”

Crowned Heads, by Thomas Tryon. This actor-turned-writer is most famous for The Other, a best-selling horror novel from 1971 turned into a movie. But Crowned Heads is the book that haunts me. I read it in high school (warning: do not give to young readers) and the story about the movie star with a warped relationship with her plastic surgeon haunts me to this day.

1-louise-brooks-ca-late-1920s-everettChaperone, by Laura Moriarty. An unfortunately lifeless tale of the woman who
accompanied Louise Brooks to New York City as she became a star. Full review here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/on-the-way-to-hollywood-louise-brooks-and-the-chaperone-by-laura-moriarty/

 

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The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

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With the grand assurance born of generations of exceptional breeding, Jay Gatsby assures star-struck neighbor that one can, indeed, relive the past. That he, Jay Gatsby, can seduce Daisy Buchanan and spoil her with his ill-gotten gains and marry her, reliving the past and reshaping it to align with his own view of his future.

I went to see Leonardo DiCaprio throw his body and soul into the role of the golden man last Friday, the first day of release for Baz Luhrman’s chaotic carnival of a movie. I loved it. I loved Leonardo’s smile, Carey Mulligan’s languid, limpid expressions, Isla Fisher’s drunken hoyden and Joel Edgerton’s physical and mental meanness. The music — eh. I wasn’t impressed with the “1920’s rap” but the feel of the parties certainly honored Fitzgerald’s writing.

In light of the movie, and perhaps some of the thoughts it gives rise to, I’m updating my earlier review of the book.

I’ve always considered Gatsby to be the great American novel.

If it is the great American novel, what makes it so?

Is it the snapshot of America’s own coming of age, the Roaring Twenties?

It is the purely American, up-by-his-own bootstraps tragic hero whose flaw is his own belief in himself; that American ideal?

Is it the concentration on America’s one true post-Native American, native art form?

My book club’s discussion touched on and argued for each of those distinctions.  And there were a couple of people who believed there was no such thing as the great American novel, or if there were, Gatsby is not it.

I find myself in the other category.  In less than 200 pages, Fitzgerald creates a classic love story, two adulterous relationships, an ill-fated summer fling, a self-made man, a seedy, criminal endeavor and tragedies of failure, loss, death and murder.

Most of all, Fitzgerald created a tragic, optimistically flawed hero, who cannot believe that after all he has done, he will not win.

From Gatsby’s brave pink suit to his glittering palace built to win his one true love, I find the novel more compelling with each read and like Gatsby, end reaching my arms to the green light across the bay for greater understanding, comfort; for the happy ending that won’t come.

My menu suggestions are all champagne based.  Champagne with kiwi rounds (in honor of the green light), champagne-poached chicken breasts (Sorry Myrtle, but I had to go there) on a salad of tender, baby greens with champagne vinaigrette, crackers with carraway seeds (are you seeing a punny pattern?).  And champagne cupcakes …. here’s a recipe:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/champagne-cupcakes-with-italian-buttercream-recipe/index.html.

I found this interesting Salon article: http://www.salon.com/2012/11/08/is_the_great_american_novel_still_relevant/

Perhaps, for me the most compelling image, and one recurring image from the movie that worked perfectly, is that of Jay Gatsby, hand reaching nervously toward the water, toward the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. His reach, his vision so far beyond his grasp that he doesn’t know how wrong he is.