Today is one of those days in which I’ll be running around all day and feeling scattered before I finally can come home and relax at last. I have an eye appointment out in Metairie–I really need new glasses; my eyes have gotten so bad that the ones I have now just do not work as well as they should, which makes me terribly uncomfortable about driving and so forth–and then errands all over the place. I also have boxes and boxes of condom packs to take by the office, so I can get them out of the house; I was really productive yesterday and may have broken my condom-packing record while watching In the Heat of the Night (the Oscar winning film, not the television series based on it) and then catching up on The Real Housewives franchises that I still watch. (I have some ambivalent feelings about these shows, but will discuss that at greater length when I have more time to spend on writing an entry then I do this morning.) The movie was interesting to watch, and I have some very deep thoughts about that as well; but I will say for now that they did a really excellent job of capturing small town/rural Southern areas of the time and what they were like…and they could have just as easily filmed that movie in the area of Alabama where I am from.
If you are a film fan, I do highly recommend Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris, in which he examines the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1967–the year In the Heat of the Night won–and how those five vastly different films were representative of the enormous cultural and societal shifts going on in the country at the time. It’s fascinating. (The other nominees were Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde,Dr. Dolittle, and The Graduate.)
I still haven’t made my to-do list yet; that’s one of the things I want to get done today; at least one for the weekend that I can revise for next week, and then I want to get back into the habit of doing one every week, knowing that there will be some weeks where I get it all done, weeks where I only get some of it done, and weeks when I won’t get any of it done. I am trying to stay focused and I am also trying to be easier on myself going forward; no more feeling like a failure when I don’t get as much done as I need or want to, no more Imposter Syndrome, no more allowing myself to be easily tripped into dark places that I really need to not go to anymore. It’s strange to be almost sixty and still trying to grow and rewire myself; I would have thought years ago that by now I would have everything figured out. But I don’t–and I don’t think anyone ever really does, to be honest. I also need to remember that I am not perfect, I am human, and humans will always make mistakes…and the thing is to not let the mistakes take you somewhere dark and self-abusive, but to correct them the best way you can and learn from them and not repeat them–which is part of the issue I am having with the Real Housewives shows, I think (but more on that at a later date, like tomorrow).
It’s gray outside this morning–it rained off and on yesterday, mostly from the late afternoon on–and I will probably get soaked at some point while I run my errands; it’s inevitable, really–but hopefully traffic won’t be too bad.
And on that note–as you can tell, I still haven’t quite figured out what I want this blog to be going forward–I am going to call it quits this morning and head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.
It’s gray again this morning in New Orleans, and I have about six boxes of books to take to the library sale today. I also have five or six boxes of condom packs that will have to go back to the office on Monday; which, I suppose, is the easiest way to say that my living room currently looks incredibly cluttered and desperately in need of organizing and cleaning and so forth. I also have a lot of errands to do–the mail, groceries, etc. and need together to the gym today as well. I would also like to get some writing done today–at least a revision of a short story or something–so tomorrow I can primarily focus on the edits of Bury Me in Shadows….and maybe do a bit on Chlorine as well.
I was ridiculously productive yesterday–as mentioned before, I really did a great job of paring down the books last night while laundering the bed linens; Paul was out having dinner with a roommate for college (who was indirectly responsible for our meeting, actually) and so while I watched Smithsonian documentaries on World War II (The Battle of Midway, The Battle of Okinawa, The Fall of Japan, Normandy: 85 Days After D-Day) Started going through the boxes of books I have cleverly concealed beneath blankets so they sort of look like tables, in way, with more books and decor on top of them (we have far too much bric-a-brac in this house, seriously), and when Paul got home we watched the second part of the Aaron Hernandez documentary. (I think perhaps the saddest thing–other than the victims, of course–was how exploited he was for his ability; he was clearly trouble at the University of Florida, so they covered for him for three years and once they’d gotten their use out of him, told him he wasn’t welcome back on the team for his senior year and to enter the draft early; as soon as he was arrested and charged the Patriots–and their fans–turned their backs on him immediately as did their fans…which tells me everything I needed to know about how his coaching staff and teammates felt about him–that was an almost lightning like 180, and considering how many other players have committed crimes and not been abandoned….and while murder is pretty extreme, of course, they clearly knew there were issues there and yet no one did anything.)
I also watched two movies yesterday while making condom packs, and both were kind of terrible. The first, The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, was so unbelievably bad I came very close to turning it off numerous times, but figured you finished Carnal Knowledge, you can finish this. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, known for his violent and bloody films, and based on the novel by Jim Thompson (whom I’ve never read, and I need to correct that at some point), it basically is a dark story about a criminal whose wife gets him paroled by appealing to a corrupt businessman (with her body), so that they can commit a bank robbery and share the money with the businessman. Of course, there are all kinds of double crosses, and the bad guys are after them, as are the cops as well as one of their other accomplices they assumed was dead; there’s a weird subplot with him taking a veterinarian and his wife along with him on the chase for no reason (other than he’s banging the wife); interestingly enough, the vet is played by Howard fro The Andy Griffith Show and the wife/girlfriend (never clear) by Sally Struthers. It’s a mess, really; its only saving grace the chemistry between McQueen and MacGraw (who became involved) and that they are both ridiculously good looking; neither can act their way out of a paper bag (if they can. there’s no evidence of it here), and the score is also terrible and jarring. I know it was remade in the 90’s, I think; but as a noir film, or Neo-noir, it fails. I didn’t care about any of the characters and breathed a sigh of relief when the credits rolled. It’s a definite Cynical 70’s Film Festival entry; that was the time of the anti-hero and anti-establishment thinking…but I couldn’t help but think how much better the film would have been had it starred, say, Paul Newman and Ellen Burstyn, or Clint Eastwood and Natalie Wood, or even Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.
In fairness, they were done no favors by the script.
The second part of my double feature was John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, based on the Carson McCullers novel and boasting a cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Julie Harris and Brian Keith. I read the book several years ago and didn’t much care for it, to be honest–again, maybe I simply missed the point, but I didn’t care about any of the characters and that also translated into the film. There’s never any sense of why they do the things they do, and it’s kind of just a story about sexual hang-ups and frustrations, set around a military base somewhere in the South. Both Taylor and Brando sport really bad Southern accents, and Julie Harris is the only one who really pulls off her role–that of a sad woman who never got over the death of a child and has formed an unnatural attachment to her (incredibly racist and homophobic depiction of a) Filipino houseboy. She also apparently cut off her nipples with garden shears; she’s clearly not well, and yet all around her no one, especially her husband (Brian Keith), who’s sleeping with Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is married to Brando, who chews the scenery at every opportunity (as I watched I couldn’t stop thinking considered the greatest actor of his generation, wow) who is an extremely repressed gay man who becomes obsessed with a young enlisted man who likes to ride horseback in the nude as well as lay out in the sun in the nude. The enlisted man is obsessed, in his turn, with Taylor, breaking into their house at night and watching her sleep while he paws through her underwear and nightgowns, sniffing them but never touching her. Brando becomes convinced the young man feels the same attraction to him, and at the end, sees the young man sneaking up to the house in the dark out a window. Thinking the young man is coming to him, he becomes enraged when he sees the young man–Elgee–sneak into his wife’s room, so he gets a gun and shoots him dead. The credits roll as Elizabeth Taylor screams. The movie is pretty true to the book, which kind of goes to show how not every book needs to be made into a movie. Most of the book is internal, which doesn’t translate to film very well–and I didn’t much care for the book. The movie could have been good–great cast after all–but overall, it fall flat for much the same reasons The Getaway did; I couldn’t muster up even a little bit of investment in any of the characters, other than Julie Harris, who is the only one who comes across well in the film. It did make me want to revisit the novel again, though, so that’s something. And while this is from 1968 or 1969, I do include it in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–as there were many films in the late 1960’s that actually began what I consider the cynical period in American film, where the heroes were now who would have been the villains under the old Hays Code–neither Bonnie and Clyde nor The Graduate (both from 1967) could have been made under the code; certainly Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) couldn’t have been.
I may have to take a break from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival for a bit. The last three films were terrible, and while I am kind of glad I saw them–always wanted to–I don’t know if I can stand watching another dated bad movie.
Maybe it’s time to go back to the Halloween Horror Film Festival.
And since I finished The Man with the Candy, now it’s time to pick something new to read. I came across a copy of Dan Jenkins’ Semi-Tough, of all things, while pruning the books. I read it when I was a teenager, along with Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty, which are two completely different books about the same subject: pro football. Semi-Tough is comic; North Dallas Forty (which I preferred) is dark and almost noirish; the two books came up in conversation on Twitter recently; someone tweeted asking for people’s favorite sports film. I responded with Brian’s Song, and Laura Lippman professed her love for North Dallas Forty. I would really like to revisit the Gent novel and was also thinking I should reread the Jenkins; so having it turn up while pruning the books seemed to me like a sign. I’ll probably hate it–just looking at the first page there are some racial slurs already, and there’s nothing I hate more than the contract sumbitch, which was prevalent in the 1970’s; in theory, it’s how Southern people say “son of a bitch” with their accent. It annoyed me because everyone in my family, excepting my sister (and her children and grandchildren) and I, has a very thick accent…and not one of them ever says sumbitch. It became extremely popular in the 1970’s because Jackie Gleason, playing a corrupt Southern sheriff, says it all the time in Smoky and the Bandit…and I’ve always hated it, and never minded that it went gently into that dark night and no one bothers with it anymore. Being reminded of it sets my teeth on edge, frankly.
I may not, in fact, be able to get through the book. I know it’s meant to be funny and satirical, but….I just opened it at random and the narrator was talking about how it’s very important that we understand that he’s white because most running backs aren’t and….
I can only imagine the misogyny. Sigh.
All right, I need to get this mess under control so I can get everything done. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.
And so here we are, sliding into Wednesday like we’re stealing third base.
I just realized yesterday morning that this coming Monday is Labor Day. A three day weekend! Huzzah! And one that I completely forgot about until Facebook memories reminded me about past Southern Decadence weekends, which are always Labor Day weekend–except for this year, of course.
Maybe, at some point this weekend, I’ll curl up with Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith’s definitive history of the event, Southern Decadence in New Orleans. You should really consider getting a copy–and while you’re at it, you could get the e-book of Bourbon Street Blues, which is set during Southern Decadence. It’s so weird not having Decadence this year–this year has really sucked for everyone. I feel bad for the few people who are having a good year in some way, because the massive suckage has ruined everything–which really makes celebrating those successes all the more important for the rest of us, to claim a small victory over this shitty year whenever we can.
In my sad, almost desperate attempt to find something good in this year, I realized that, failing everything else, I’ve read some amazing books this year; have watched some excellent television shows; and the pandemic work-at-home-making-condom-packs has also enabled me to watch a lot of films I’ve never seen, which has also been not only educational but interesting. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival, for example, has been pretty awesome, and has reminded me a lot of what it was like growing up in that decade of earth tones and mood rings and disco balls and bell bottoms–just yesterday at the office between clients some of the kids and I–I wasn’t the one who brought it up either–started talking about the Bermuda Triangle, which was a thing in in the 1970’s (this was triggered by the storm system heading up the Atlantic coast, which startled both of my co-workers, who’d always thought Bermuda was in the Caribbean–I laughed and said, yes, I’d always thought the same until I read The Deep and this led into an entire discussion of Bermuda’s geographic location which led, as free form conversations tend to do, a lot of jumping around on the topic of Bermuda, which led to the Bermuda Triangle). It wasn’t a real thing, after all; just another one of the many weird conspiracies and so forth that existed and proliferated in that crazy decade–although Area 54 and UFO’s seem to be turning out to be an actual thing (both of which were very popular topics of discussion and wonder in the 1970’s–hence Close Encounters of the Third Kind).
Maybe I should look into the Bermuda Triangle. Hmmmm.
Last night the Insomnia Curse was broken and I slept like the dead. I woke up at five, looked at my alarm, and rolled over and went back to sleep. My alarm–which I hadn’t set–went off at seven this morning (maybe I dreamed it; it was set for six from the last two mornings) and so I was able to shut it off and sleep a bit more. I feel marvelously rested and awake this morning (despite the Internet outage; I am freeloading off the Cox Wi-fi–which I don’t understand; I have access to this as a Cox customer, but my home wireless is out; how can one work without the other? I don’t know and I don’t want to hurt my brain by trying to figure it out). Anyway, according to the Cox website our home wireless should be back up by around 1:30, so I am okay with using this until such time as ours comes back up. It’s okay; there’s any amount of on-line work stuff I can do until the wireless comes back up and I can stream movies whilst making condom packs again–today’s choices range from Bonnie and Clyde (technically a late 1960’s movie, but it was one of the films that signaled the change in Hollywood film), All the President’s Men, and Klute–but I am always amazed at how helpless we’ve become without the Internet or access to it, you know?
I was extremely tired last evening when I got home from the office; I was tired a lot during the day, but kept having these weird spurts of energy, and even had one after i got home from work. I sat down in the easy chair after doing the dishes and unpacking my backpack and rewatched this week’s episode of The Vow, which I kept dozing off while trying to watch on Monday night. It’s a very interesting show–cults have always been of interest to me (the 1970’s, by the way, was a big time for them) and I have always kind of wanted to write about one. When we were living in Kansas, there was actually a local one; the Way. There had used to be two colleges in Emporia, the county seat: Kansas State Teachers College (which evolved into Emporia Kansas State College and finally to what it is now, Emporia State University) and the College of Emporia. C of E was a religious school; Presbyterian, to be exact, but it had gone bankrupt and closed down in or around 1973, after which the campus was purchased by the Way International–which was a cult. When we first moved to Lyon County, since my sister and I were both teenagers, everyone warned us about the Way College of Emporia and to be careful. The members were easy to identify, really; for one thing, they always traveled in pairs, wore Polo-style shirts with name tags identifying them as members of the Way International, and they also wore khaki style pants. They also were always smiling and had a glazed look to their eyes. There were also all kinds of rumors about what went on at the campus; armed guards–and I remember seeing them–patrolled the grounds and the boundaries, keeping the curious away; and of course there were always stories about weird bonfires and ceremonies being seen from a distance, and “this guy I know is friends with a cop and they always get calls from the people who live around the campus about dogs disappearing and hearing screams from the campus and…” you know the type of thing; the story that has grown exponentially from what was originally said so you aren’t really sure what the kernel of truth in the story actually was; I actually have a file folder labeled The Cult in my file cabinet with some research I did about the Way International over the years, with an eye to writing a novel about it some day. (Obviously, The Cult is too obvious a title to actually use for such a book)
Who knew Kansas in the 1970’s was such a gold mine of material for a writer?
I’ve also been researching Chlorine while being too tired to focus on either reading or writing anything–I am definitely itching to get back to Little Fires Everywhere, and when I finish working today I am going to get Chapter Seven of Bury Me in Shadows whipped into shape for sure–and there’s such a glorious wealth of material about the closeted stars and closeted Hollywood of the time; I am kind of surprised no one has done a noir about underground gay Hollywood of the time already. (Of course, now that I’ve said that, there will probably be eighty-five million of them before I get this damned thing done) It was such an interesting period–obviously, there are biographies of the gay stars of the time (Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Perkins, etc.) and there’s even a biography of Henry Willson, the gay agent played by Jim Parsons in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, who represented all the beefcakes male stars of the time–but I am also interested in the ones who never quite made it as movie stars, either, and the clients of Willson who were beefcakes but not gay–like Guy Madison, who was certainly gorgeous and hunky and eventually had a hit TV show. I bet their stories are just as interesting as Rock Hudson’s and the other big closeted stars.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone.
I never used to have trouble with my sinuses, or allergies, or any of that; at least that I recall. But I would think I would remember having these horrible headaches, that reach down into my jaw, or the constant dripping and coughing and the fevers and the eyes burning and all that comes with sinus infections or allergies. I think it was sometime after 2001 that it happened the first time; the weather changed and spring sprung and suddenly I was feverish and coughing and my nose was running and a friend told me it was sinus-related; and that the best way to deal with it was taking stinging nettles. I thought it was weird, but on my way home I stopped at Walgreens and bought a bottle of stinging nettles in capsule form. I took two and within half an hour all of my symptoms were gone.
Like the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination.
The nettles worked so well that I started taking them every day even if I didn’t sense symptoms; along with my multi-vitamins and my workout supplements and other vitamins and fish oil and so forth, I took two capsules of nettles. It worked for years, but as time passed and I grew older, the nettles stopped being effective and I switched to Claritin-D, which is the only thing since the nettles that I’ve found that helps. But you can break Claritin-D down into something approximating crystal meth (I don’t know how it works or how you do it; I’ve never watched Breaking Bad) and so now the government keeps track of how much you can buy; you have to present ID and if its too soon after the last time you bought some…they won’t sell it to you. I’ve never quite been able to figure out how the limit works–I suppose I could research it on-line–but the bottom line of it is I treat my Claritin-D like gold. I won’t even let Paul have one, in case I need one and I’m out and it’s too soon to buy more. I used to try to buy some every time I pick up prescriptions to stockpile it so I will always have it when I need it; I’ve slacked off on that and this recent sinus infection has reminded me of the importance of having stock.
So, much as I would simply like to take a Claritin-D every day during the spring, I can’t because one-a-day is above the government monthly allowance. So, when my sinuses start reacting and we have heavy weather like we did over the weekend, because I am worried I might run out of it sometime when I really need it, I don’t take it preemptively and wind up with yet another sinus infection. So, note to self: when I can, I am going to buy more. And I am going to put a bottle of stinging nettles on the list, too. It can’t hurt to take it every day, supplementing with a Claritin-D as needed.
It’s also insane that anything I can get with a prescription doesn’t work as well. In all seriousness, make it a prescription medication again. Wouldn’t usage being easier to track and people using it to make drugs be easier to stop if there has to be a prescription filed in order for it to be obtained for use?
I don’t know, just spitballing here.
In case you couldn’t tell, Constant Reader, I still feel lousy and I am feeling pretty damned crabby over the whole thing. I had to use two days of sick time and probably two days of being productive in other ways by being sick. Heavy heaving sigh.
I actually feel worse this morning than I did yesterday; my hope is this will all clear up somehow before tomorrow so I can go back to work and stop using sick time. My sinuses feel okay today, so that’s something; but it’s the rest that needs to clear up. My joints ache, I’m still feverish, and I had to get up in the middle of the night to throw up–yeah, that was lovely. I am going to be eating chicken soup today for lunch; I tend to not eat when I am sick, which makes me even weaker.
But I did get to read some more of Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home yesterday between bouts of dozing off and feeling sick; I’d read until I couldn’t focus and then put it aside. I might just curl up in my easy chair today with a blanket and watch movies; Bonnie & Clyde, All the President’s Men, and Deliverance are all available to stream from Netflix, and I’ve been wanting to see them all again. I’ve never seen Bonnie & Clyde in the theatrical cut, only seeing the badly butchered edited for television version, and since reading Mark Harris’ brilliant Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood I’ve been wanting to see all five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar for 1967–some again, some for the first time (I’ve never seen In the Heat of the Night, which won). Maybe if I can’t focus on reading…
Well, I slept much later than I usually do; I did wake up at seven but through nah, too early and went back to sleep, not awakening again until nine-thirty-ish. And yes, that is late for me, but I also stayed up later than I usually do because Paul and I got sucked into a marathon binge of season three of Santa Clarita Diet, which dropped this week. We have three episodes left to go–which will probably be watched this evening–and then we have to decide which of the shows we’d already started we want to finish–either Umbrella Academy or You. There are also some other shows we need to finish, others that look like possibilities, and Netflix also added some great classic films I’ve been wanting to watch again; namely Bonnie and Clyde, All the President’s Men, Deliverance, the reboot of Friday the 13th, and the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. I also intend to start reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home, kicking the Diversity Project back into gear, and I also want to finish reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s for the Short Story Project.
I also need to start doing some sort of promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, but I’m not exactly sure what and how and…you get the picture; again, I don’t really know how I have a career.
I was thinking about the Diversity Project the other day, and I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t think it’s right that I have to turn reading diverse authors into a “project” to make diversifying my reading happen. Even saying The Diversity Project makes it sound effortful, as though if I didn’t make a point of it I wouldn’t do it. And that’s clearly wrong on every level. And I’ve been failing miserably at it thus far this year, no matter how many excuses I want to make for it. This of course has me examining my own prejudices. I’ve bought the books, of course, which is an important first step and every sale helps, but I also need to not only read the books but talk about them. Here it is April and the only one I’ve talked about is Walter Mosley; what kind of an ally am I to minority writers, of which I am one?
Apparently, not a very good one.
I had already softened the project’s goal from focusing on only reading minority writers to interspersing them with others; so if I read a book by a non-minority writer the next one I have to read must be by a minority writer. That hasn’t worked overly well, either; part of it has been due to my own, I don’t know, weird ambivalence to this year–something that’s been going on since around the Great Data Disaster of 2018. I’ve also realized, just this past week, that the Great Data Disaster wasn’t really where it all started. My life has been in an almost constant state of upheaval of some sort or another since late October, just before Halloween. My day job moved from the office where we’d been located since I was hired back in 2005 (the office actually opened in 2000) into a new location, which required all sorts of adaptation. For almost the entire first month of the existence in the new office we didn’t do a lot of testing, which is what my job is, which meant I was working a weird (to me) early morning to late afternoon shift–say, 8-430ish. This freed my evenings and I was going to town on writing and revising Scotty in those free evenings, because the Festivals were also kicking into high gear and Paul was coming home late. Then came December with a readjustment to working a new schedule all over again, followed by the Great Data Disaster, the Christmas holidays, and then Carnival. During that time period I was also working on finishing up my job as a book award judge and diving into a new task for this year, also involving award judging but not actually having to read anything (I really can’t say more than that about it; but it’s a big endeavor and I will leave it at that). I don’t think I ever really got a handle on anything, which is why I felt like my life was happening and I was not actively participating in it.
And softening the goal also makes me question myself and my internal, subconscious prejudices and biases. Yes, I had to read three books to moderate my panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival, which wasn’t easy and really involved a lot of cramming at the end. Why do I automatically reach for a book by a straight white writer when it’s time to chose another book to read? Why will I justify taking that book out of the stack rather than reaching for a book by a minority writer? It is these unconscious biases and prejudices that need to be ripped out by the root and plowed under with salt so they won’t take root again; and not just in reading, but in life.
I think I do a better job with my life than I do with my reading, quite frankly.
I also had thought, when I started on this, that I would expand the project outside the bounds of crime fiction and include other genres as well. I’ve always believed that reading more widely outside of one’s genre will make one a better author by exposing you to different styles of writing, different stories and different characters. Horror is always my immediate go-to when it comes to reading outside of mystery, but I also need to read more fantasy, science fiction, romance, and literary fiction. I also don’t want to stop reading women crime writers, either.
The exposure to other voices, other thoughts, other mindsets, will not only make me a better writer but a better person. What better key to understanding experiences outside my own is there than actually reading books outside my own experience, and to see the common humanity?
My first thought on rising so late this morning was well, you’ve shot your day to hell. But that isn’t true. I can still get things done today as long as I don’t allow myself to bog down on generalities or give up on the day. It would be ridiculously easy, you know, to simply write the entire day off and do nothing, but I really don’t want to waste the day. I’d like to get another chapter of the WIP finished, for one thing, and I’d like to work on this proposal I’m putting together. The kitchen needs work and there’s always filing that needs to be done, and there’s a lot of mess around. I also need to make a quick run to the grocery store as well.
So, on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.
I was a little boy in the 1960’s; I was eight when the decade came to an end. The world was a very uncertain place for a kid during that time period; people really believed the country was falling apart, or being pulled apart. The divide between the generations, the divide between left and right, the concept of American exceptionalism vs American responsibility; the Vietnam War and the opposition to it; the rise of the civil rights movement and the struggle to end Jim Crow once and for all; the rise of the women’s movement; and even the beginnings of a queer rights movement–all in the 1960’s. A president was murdered and men landed on the moon. There was a huge societal upheaval that changed everything that people had come to know and expect; television also began to change and grow up some, which led to some groundbreaking series in the latter half of the decade as well as set the stage for what was to come in the 1970’s. The after shocks from the 1960’s are still being felt today.
It was also a strange time for films; at the beginning of the decade the big studios and the old systems of American filmmaking were starting to erode away. The best picture Oscar winner in 1961, for example, was West Side Story, the film version of a hugely successful Broadway musical that recast the feuding Montagues and Capulets from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into juvenile gangs–one white, one Puerto Rican. (I rewatched this film shortly after the 2016 election, and was amazed at how differently I saw it then I did before) The Academy Award for best picture in 1969 was Midnight Cowboy, to date the only Oscar winner to have an X rating (although by today’s standards the film is remarkably tame), a movie which would have never been made in 1961. (Midnight Cowboy is another film I need to see again, quite frankly; I also would like to read the book it was based on again.)
Mark Harris, a Hollywood historian whose book Five Came Back was made into a documentary which I enjoyed, wrote a brilliant book called Pictures at a Revolution, which looked at how film, and the film industry, changed during that decade through the framework of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967; which, if any year was indicative of the changes being made and the changes to come, was indeed the perfect illustration. Two of the films were old style Hollywood–Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Doctor Dolittle–two were of the new Hollywood–Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate–and the fifth, and ultimate winner (In the Heat of the Night) seemed to straddle the line in some ways, and whose win–and other four wins–seemed to be a compromise between the old and the new.
Harris’ book, which follows all five films from conception to script development to production and then release, culminating in the Oscar ceremony itself, is riveting and informative. You learn who all the players in each case were; you follow along the studio politics and behind-the-scenes deal-making that went into the making of each film, and in each case, Harris brilliantly illustrates how each film represents an aspect of his thesis. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night both dealt with the current issues of race; one as a gentle family comedy and the other through the darker lens of a murder investigation in a small Mississippi town, Dr. Dolittle represented the beginning of the end of the big Hollywood musical; the early part of the 1960’s gave the world the Oscar winners West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music; the immense musical flops of the second half of the decade were ushered in with this epic disaster (there’s also a book in tracing the rise and fall of the big Hollywood musical in the 1960’s).
I greatly enjoyed this book, and if you’re a fan of movies, or have an interest in the industry, this is a great read for you. I’m not so interested in the film industry of today, but I am interested in its past, to be honest; I don’t really care about the Academy Awards anymore and often change the channel while it’s on–there are no surprises anymore, and the ridiculous amount of awards leading up to the Oscars, from the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards to the Writers’ and Directors’ Guild awards, have taken away any mystery or suspense as to who is going to win; it’s much more interesting to read about the old days when they were always kind of up for grabs, and hadn’t become the expensive, overblown spectacle they’ve become today.
The book also made me want to watch these films again; it’s been years since I’ve seen any of them, and in most cases, I only saw them in their edited-for-television versions.