Crystal

Friday!

It’s gray outside this morning; and the temperature has dropped since the rain of the other night. Yesterday’s high was in the 60’s; today’s apparently will be as well. I don’t mind this–surprise!–because I was a bit concerned about it already climbing into the 80’s in March already, which didn’t bode well for this coming summer. So this cool break is a bit nice–and it’s also nice to not go get into my car and start sweating because the sun’s been shining into it all day plus it being hot outside. Yesterday was also a bit nice because 1) Paul was able to get his second vaccination for COVID-19, and I spent the day making condom packs and doing other, various work-at-home duties. As my fingers and hands worked through the condom packing, I spent some time thinking through what I need to do with the book this weekend, which is always helpful. I also got caught cup with this week’s episode of Superman and Lois, which I am greatly enjoying; the television adaptations of DC Comics continues to outshine the film universe. I am debating where I want to spend four hours watching the Snyder cut of Justice League–four hours is a big commitment–and I also discovered, browsing through my many streaming apps last night, any number of films to add to my watchlists.

(Aside–they are hanging new gutters on the house next door and I can see them going up and down those shaky, rickety extension ladders–whose bases are braced against the wooden fence between the properties. As they go up and down the ladders shake–which is one of many reasons I will never climb an extension ladder–and watching the corresponding movements/shaking of the wooden planks in the fence. I should also add that Michael, our neighbor to the front with his partner John, has retired from his job and has started working on the flower beds that run alongside the fence, which have been disaster areas ever since Katrina, and is doing a very nice job making them look pleasant and appealing and all cleaned up.)

As I looked through HBO MAX looking for something to watch for the rest of my condom packing, I came across Inside Daisy Clover, a film from the mid-60’s that is supposedly one of those “gritty insider looks at Hollywood”. It stars include Natalie Wood, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Redford; and I vaguely remembered Ruth Gordon was nominated for an Oscar for it. I also had a vague memory that the character of Daisy Clover was, in theory, based on Judy Garland, so I thought what the hell and queued it up. This morning, I cannot believe I sat through the entire thing–it was really that dreadful and pointless–and it really was squirm-worthy. When the story opens Daisy is fifteen, leaving in a trailer along the boardwalk at Angel Beach with her not-quite-all-there mother (Ruth Gordon) who has a great natural singing voice, records it and sends it to Swan Studios. Daisy has basically, for all intents and purposes, been raised by wolves, has no manners or filters, and while she is quite pretty beneath the grime and strange haircut (those eyes! Natalie Wood was so beautiful), her getting signed by Swan Studios and being groomed by studio head (Ray Swan–played to odious perfection by Plummer) seems a bit of a stretch. She is marketed as “America’s Little Valentine” and immediately becomes hugely successful. She also becomes involved with another star, Wade Lewis (Redford), who is heir to a vast fortune and a completely one-dimensional cad–which becomes really creepy on two levels–first, she’s supposedly a teenager (Wood was at least in her late twenties by then) and Wade is in his late twenties/early thirties, which is creepy to say the least (studio head Swan refers to her as “America’s Little Jailbait” in one cringeworthy scenes), and then, after he deflowers her, is ordered to marry her or be arrested for corruption of a minor. (The second creepy part is Wade lives on a sailboat anchored just off the coast; seeing Wood on a sailboat or heading to and from one on a motorboat, given how she died, is foreboding and squirm-inducing) They do marry; they spend their wedding night in a motel in some remote location in Arizona, and when she wakes up he’s left her there without a word, stranded. After her mother’s death, she has a breakdown of sorts on set and is unable to continue working, which delays the picture and puts her at odds with the studio–which has spoiled and indulged her so far, but not anymore. The movie’s ending is neither a conclusion or an actual resolution, not a real end; it just….ends. We don’t know what Daisy is going to do–but again, it’s cringy. Inside Daisy Clover could have been a chilling and realistic exposé of the old studio system; it could have shown how an innocent but strong-minded young woman is corrupted and changed and turned into a monster by the system because of her talent–the film does none of these. Daisy is still the same impulsive, emotionally needy mess at the end that she was at the beginning, and such an incredible waste of Wood’s talent. She plays the character without any depth or interior; she plays her like an uncontrollable brat, and the performance doesn’t really ring true. All I kept thinking as I watched was that Wood was miscast–the lip-syncing was especially bad–and about half-way through I thought, this script is terrible and the direction equally bad, but Liza Minnelli could have killed in this part; it was perfect for her. The truth was the title was a misnomer–at the end of the movie we’ve not gotten “inside” Daisy at all but rather skimmed over the surface….and to make matters worse, by the end of the movie she is only seventeen.

America’s little jailbait, indeed.

It is a shame; Hollywood did some amazing films that exposed stardom and the Hollywood machine quite expertly; think of Sunset Boulevard and even though it was set in the theater world, All About Eve. Quite frankly, both book and movie of Valley of the Dolls handled the same subject–the coddling of talent resulting in the creation of a monster–much better.

I started reading The Russia House by John LeCarré yesterday while I waited for Paul to get his shot and then wait to make sure there was no reaction to it; it’s quite good–the writing in particular and voice are exceptional; it’s also world-weary, snarky and funny–and am really looking forward to getting back to spend some more time with it. It will depend on how the work goes, of course; my priority around my day job is going to have to be the book until April 1. (although…April 1 is the day before Good Friday and in theory, I could use that three-day weekend to finish the push to finishing the book; or I could finish on time and spend that weekend relaxing and preparing myself for the next project on the list)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow morning.

White Christmas

Well good morning, Constant Reader, and I hope your Saturday is off to a lovely start. I actually missed blogging yesterday–I had started the entry, but wasn’t able to finish before I had to start my work-at-home start time, and by the time I was finished for the day, it was time for the gym, and somehow I never got back here to finish. Deepest apologies, Constant Reader.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but the sun is bright and shining and it looks absolutely beautiful outside this morning, which is kind of cool. I don’t have to leave the house all weekend other than the gym tomorrow, which is lovely, and I’m hoping to get some good work on the book done today. The last two days I was low energy and unable to think about getting much done, let alone do anything, so today I really need to press my nose to the grindstone and push myself to get back on track. Chapter Eighteen is proving a very tough nut to crack, but I am very pleased with the book (for a change) and am looking very forward to getting back into the groove with it.

LSU’s final game of the football season is today, against Mississippi (I refuse to call them ole miss anymore) and this can go either one of two ways: the Tigers can show up ready to play, for each other, Coach O, and the fanbase; or they can be cocky and overconfident after the Florida win, and get punched in the mouth. I’ll be watching, laptop in my lap, under my electric blanket (honestly, last night I honestly felt that human evolution, progress and civilization all culminated in the invention of the electric blanket), and hoping for the best. It’s a rivalry game called the Magnolia Bowl, and Mississippi hasn’t beaten LSU since 2015, so you know they’re hungry under their new coach, Lane Kiffin. LSU loses and they have their first losing season since 1999; win and they finish 5-5 in a crazy season.

But whatever happens, nothing can take away that win over Florida and ruining their season last weekend, which I am just petty enough to really enjoy.

We finished watching The Flight Attendant Thursday night, and the final episode was perhaps the best one of the entire run; as I have mentioned before, Kaley Cuoco is quite charismatic and likable, like Jennifer Aniston, and even though her character is primarily not very likable, she always is, and that’s an important quality for an actress…although I am rather curious about their flight schedules, because unless things have changed, I don’t think flight crews would work Rome flights as well as Bangkok. There was also a really convoluted secondary subplot that apparently only existed as a reason for one of the other flight attendants to have a gun which he needed to have, in the season finale (it was an incredible length to go to avoid the appearance of contrivance, actually; one almost has to respect the authorial commitment to it), but all the main story was properly wrapped up by the end of the finale, and there was even an opening left for a continuation of the show–also not probable, but it was kind of a nice bow tied up on the final package.

And of course, last night was the conclusion of The Mandalorian. No spoilers, but it was a pretty epic way to end the series, and I am really looking forward to The Book of Boba Fett. I think the series is now officially over–they certainly tied everything up neatly and concluded the story of the Child and Mando–and that pleases me if it is the case; the show was absolutely perfect, and as someone said on Twitter last night, “The best Star Wars movie is The Mandalorian” and I cannot disagree with that sentiment.

It’s hard to believe Christmas, frankly is next week; but this entire year has been a weird one, time has seemed to drag more than any other time, while at the same time it’s almost a relief to have made it this far. 2020 was a deeply unpleasant year, but there were some bright spots. I see everyone doing their “best of 2020” lists and I frankly can’t remember what I’ve watched and what I’ve read, other than I enjoyed almost every bit of it. I had long dry spells where I didn’t write anything, and long spells where all I wrote was the first 500 to 1000 or so words of short story before being stopped dead in my tracks. I still need to get this book revision finished so I can finish my story for the MWA anthology submissions deadline. This final part of the book is the hard part, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that it’s kind of kicking my ass.

This week was a double-feature for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, beginning with The French Connection, an Oscar winning film (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman) which doesn’t, I’m afraid, play well through a modern lens. I can see why the film was so impactful and impressive back in 1971, but now it plays like a lesser episode of NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues. It was a gritty, dirty, almost documentary-like movie about a drug investigation, based on a book about a real drug bust–with the cops’ names changed to protect them. Gene Hackman is terrific as Popeye Doyle; Roy Schieder is equally good as his partner..but all I could think as I watched was, “well, that’s a violation of their civil rights” or “ah, nothing like glorifying police brutality” or “well, that entire scene was a fairly accurate depiction of racial profiling.” Popeye is an unashamed racist; the n-word pops up every now and then, and of course ethnic slurs abound–Little Italy is referred to as “Dagotown”, there’s some anti-Semitism, and of course, the French are referred to as “frogs”–but it does also have some great moments: the chase scene involving Popeye trying to catch a fugitive on an elevated train was pretty impressively shot and edited. Hackman is terrific in the role, even if Popeye is the kind of cop who would think nothing of killing a suspect in his custody….The French Connection ultimately is a pro-police violence film that tries to justify the behavior of cops who violate civil rights and are violent and abusive as necessary, and that, to me, is problematic. As far as awards go, among the films it beat out for the Oscar are The Last Picture Show (which is one of my favorite movies of all time), Fiddler on the Roof (the kind of big-budget, lavish musical that would have won the Oscar a few years earlier), Nicholas and Alexandra (another big budget extravaganza I started watching but quickly got bored with–and would have been a shoe-in for Best Picture in the 1980’s) and of course, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Second up was the 1974 film version of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, which was the eighth Bond film and the second novel in the series. It’s also one of the few Bond films I ever saw in the theater, and was my first Bond film. It was Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond, and it was also when the tone and tenor of the Bond films switched, IMHO–I’d have go back and watch the Connery ones again to be certain. But while Connery occasional got off the clever quip or one-liner, the films were very serious and almost grim; Moore had more of a comic sense of the character and with him in the role, the character became more cartoonish and the films more outlandish (Moonraker was completely absurd) and there are many moments in Live and Let Die where, if you think about them too long, don’t make sense: how did he know to bring a deck of tarot cards with him in which all the cards were “The Lovers,” and where did he get that deck in the first fucking place? (And this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that he basically manipulated Solitaire’s belief in the cards to get her into bed–which is rape because she was deceived into giving consent, PROBLEMATIC) There are any number of these contrivances in the plot of the film; but at the same time Live and Let Die also gave cinema it’s first Black Bond Girl, Rosie Carver (played by Gloria Hendry) and Bond’s first interracial romance, as well as the series’ first Black villains. The movie isn’t nearly as racist as the book–but it’s not exactly an achievement the Bond series should be proud of, either. But it gave the under-appreciated Yaphet Kotto a good role as Prime Minister Kananga, and introduced Jane Seymour to the world. I think I may need to read the book again–I should revisit the original Bond series, really–but one thing about Live and Let Die I do appreciate is that parts of it were filmed in New Orleans and along Bayou Des Allemandes; Louisiana looks beautiful, as does the Quarter–and this is one of those early influences on my youthful mind where I first felt the pull of New Orleans and Louisiana.

But it also boasts one of the best Bond theme songs, by Paul McCartney (or rather, Wings); it was the first time a pop band was selected to do the theme song, and it was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

Yesterday I got my copy of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler in the mail yesterday, which is the final piece (or one of the final pieces) of Chlorine background research I need to get started on the outline/plotting. My main character is a pretty boy with not much discernible talent who has a Henry Willson-like agent, whom he shares with the murder victim; I have to say the entire story of Willson, his pretty boy clients and their sexuality, endlessly fascinates me, and I am really excited to be writing a period piece gay Hollywood noir–well, eventually, at any rate. I started dipping into the book some last night and am enjoying it thoroughly. I also got a copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology From Sea to Shining Sea, which is crime stories inspired by ‘great American paintings’, and am really looking forward to digging into that. I also got a copy of Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson, because you can never have enough ghost stories around to read.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold, a dishwasher to unload, and writing to do–so if you will excuse me for a moment, Constant Reader, I am going to head back into the spice mines.

Picture to Burn

Thursday, Thursday, is today’s child full of woe? I used to know that rhyme when I was younger–one of those things that would pop out of my mouth and brain every now and then when I wasn’t expecting it to–and now I cannot seem to summon it from the depths of my memories. I think it was Tuesday’s child, anyway; was Thursday’s child full of grace or something like that? Possible, I suppose.

Another good night’s sleep was had yesterday evening, which is lovely. I have to go into the office today and run errands on the way in.  I’m just glad to be feeling more rested, to be honest, and then tomorrow is a work-at-home day, and then I slide into the three day weekend, which is kind of nice. I hope to finish reading  Little Fires Everywhere this weekend, start reading The Coyotes of Carthage, and perhaps dip my eyes back into the Short Story Project–I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the end table as well as the new Lawrence Block anthology, and so many others I’ve not finished reading–and of course, I want to get a lot of writing done. I want to spend some time on Bury Me in Shadows, as well as maybe get some short story writing done, which would be lovely.

One can certainly hope, can’t one?

But I’ve also learned my lesson about over-planning for the weekend; I know I need to just make a list of things to do that need to be done and not overly pressure myself to get it all done over the course of the long weekend, while recognizing that I also need to recharge my batteries and I also need to do some cleaning; perhaps even work on that damned file cabinet which I never finished working on.

Yesterday’s Cynical 70’s Film Festival choice wound up being nothing I was considering. Instead, I choose to rewatch The Exorcist, which I’ve never seen other than the “edited for television” version. The Exorcist was a phenomenon at the time, and most people still, to this day, consider it the scariest film they’ve ever seen and it regularly pops up on lists of best horror films ever made. I read the book at the height of its popularity, when I was in junior high school, and while it didn’t precisely scare me, it was lurid–we all read it for the lurid parts, like the crucifix masturbation scene and so forth; there was something sacrilegious about reading it, like actually reading it was an act of subversion. The film broke all box office records of the time and was nominated for a lot of Oscars, and the soundtrack–Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”–always brings up mental associations with the film. It was the first outright horror film to get that many Oscar nominations, or to be nominated for any, really, other than Rosemary’s Baby, which wasn’t nominated for a lot; William Friedkin, fresh off his Oscar winning outing with The French Connection–which is also on my list–directed it. A more traditional entertainment, The Sting, wound up sweeping the Oscars that year. A few years ago, I reread the book to see how well it held up, and as an adult who is also now a writer and has been a reviewer, and has read thousands of other books in the interim, I can say it doesn’t hold up well at all–it really isn’t all that scary, either; it was a product of its time and it might not even get published were it written today. The characters were very cardboard and one-dimensional and behaved in ways that made no sense whatsoever; the focus was on the sacrilege, really, and the shock. I wondered if that would be true of the movie, as well, in its unedited version.

The acting was fine, really; Ellen Burstyn is never bad in anything, and Linda Blair was also fine; but the truth is the direction of the film doesn’t really develop the characters enough to make the viewer empathize with them, or identify with them. The scares weren’t as scary as they were; it’s hard to be scared when you know something is coming and you’ve already seen it, after all; part of the thrill of a horror film is not knowing when the scares are coming, so rewatches never have quite the same effect. I watched this time in a more analytic way, rather than as a viewer–but while others I’d seen before–Aliens comes to mind–really hold up incredibly well, The Exorcist doesn’t; I don’t feel like I got to know enough about Chris MacNeil or Father Karras enough to care about either one of them; and I found that I had more questions about them and who they were than I did when I viewed it as simply an entertainment. I think had the film been filmed more intimately, rather than from a cold distance, it would have held up a lot more; I don’t know, I am neither a filmmaker or a critic. But it didn’t trigger much of a reaction in me, and that’s rather telling. I think the problem, from a story-telling point of view, is that it couldn’t make up its mind whether it was about the MacNeils or Father Karras; although the title would tend to make you think the focus was on Father Karras; it should have been titled The Exorcism, really, and that, I think, was the end problem result for me: the book and film were really about Father Karras and his struggle with his faith, but only touched on that issue glancingly; because it also wanted to focus on how dismissive we are of spiritual issues in our modern scientific world, and wanted to show how an atheist, irreligious woman would try to get her child scientific treatment and slowly come around to the idea that in the modern world, something rooted in past superstition was the issue. Both are great stories, but for me, it failed in trying to tell both and wound up just skittering across the surface like a needle on a warped vinyl record.

Ultimately, though, The Exorcist–both book and film–are important works in both disciplines; along with Rosemary’s Baby, ushered in the 1970’s revival and rejuvenation of horror, in both film and literature, and that influence cannot be denied. Without either of those books, would Carrie have been published, or Peter Straub’s first horror novel? It was The Exorcist, after all, that first really introduced me to horror.

And I absolutely loved the television series inspired by it.

And on that note, tis time for me to return to ye old mines of spice. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you again tomorrow.

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Do You Know You Are My Sunshine

Monday morning, and the first full work week of the new year, and the first in over two weeks. It looms large, doesn’t it? Particularly in the enormous disappointment the Saints served up yesterday–outside of sexy Taysom Hill, who looks amazing in those all-white color block uniforms. This was probably the most ambivalent I’ve been about the Saints since before we moved here and become full time Who Dats; I’m not going to rehash any of the preseason stuff about Drew Brees, but yeah–it just never felt the same this year. Hopefully next year I’ll move past it.

At least I have my Sundays back from now on.

Plus, it’s Twelfth Night and the official opening of Carnival. I get to eat king cake now; I bought one on Friday so I could have it with my coffee this morning. Huzzah for king cake!

Overall, I had a very productive weekend, and this is pleasing to mine eyes. I didn’t read much on the Reread Project–although technically reading these Holmes stories is a part of it, I suppose; but I don’t remember much of them from my junior high school days so it’s kind of like reading something new, so I am not counting them as part of the Reread Project.

I read another Sherlock Holmes story yesterday; “The Gloria Scott,” in Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Like the Lyndsay Faye pastiche I read on Saturday, this story is almost entirely told in dialogue; only this time, it is Holmes recounting the story to Watson; which is interesting; odd that two stories I’ve read back to back are told in similar fashion. I doubt very seriously that my Holmes story will be told that way; but I also haven’t written it yet so who knows? I did start writing it yesterday, however; which is a lovely start. I also revised two more chapters of Bury Me in Shadows, and I also got vaguely started on my website writing. I came up with another story idea, “Just Another Night on Bourbon Street,” which was inspired by my reading further in Bourbon Street by Richard Campanella; we’re now up to the arrival of the Mafia in New Orleans. I don’t know much about the Mafia in New Orleans or organized crime; I do know the mob used to own the gay bars in the Quarter, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of then are still used to launder money.

I don’t know that, I just said it wouldn’t surprise me. Particularly when you see how empty most of them are most of the week,

The sun is rising through the trees–I love how it seems like the sun rises over the West Bank, which is actually due south from the Lost Apartment–another one of the geographic nonsensities created here by the twists and turns of the river.

We watched the Golden Globes last night, which was really kind of a waste of time. Paul and I have gradually grown tired of, and bored by, awards shows. We haven’t really stopped watching many of them, we just don’t really get excited about them anymore. The Globes are more fun than the Oscars, because anything can happen there and there’s no real way of predicting who’s going to win–I would have thought, for example, Eddie Murphy was a long-overdue lock, yet the winner was Taron Edgerton for playing Elton John in Rocketman; I don’t think it means he’ll win an Oscar or even be nominated–but after Joaquin Phoenix’ bizarre acceptance speech, I’m not so sure he’s such a lock on the Oscar either. But that’s really about it; that and Renee Zellweger’s also weirdly awkward and slightly embarrassing acceptance speech were the uncomfortable moments of the evening. But it was nice to see 1917 get some attention; I love that one of the main characters is played by the kid who played Tommen on Game of Thrones, and that’s a film Paul and I actually want to see.

And now, back to the spice mines. Have a lovely post-holiday Monday, everyone.

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Desire

It’s a lovely morning, with a blue sky and the sun shining, and it might be a bit chillier than it was yesterday–but the high is forecast for the seventies and there’s no rain in the forecast.

I slept deeply and well last night, partly from exhaustion. Paul, of course, is in the final weeks before the Festival so has been working late at the office and then staying up till the wee hours of the morning working at home, so yesterday he was catching up on sleep most of the day so I was, alas, without my trusted parade route partner as I wandered down to the corner for the Pontchartrain and Choctaw parades. I did well for myself with bead-and-throw catching, but it started sprinkling while I waited for the third parade, so I walked back home. As soon as I sat down in my easy chair, however, exhaustion set in. My legs and lower back were aching, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to skip the next parade. As Sparta and Pygmalion were coming later, I started watching Versailles and actually got through three episodes. Paul got ready for the night parades…and it started raining. There was also thunder here–which also means lightning–and I decided that it simply didn’t make sense to stand in the rain and possibly catch a chill that would ruin the rest of the season, so I remained ensconced under my blanket in my easy chair and watched television: the CNN docuseries The 2000’s is very well done. This morning my back is still a bit sore and all the joints of my leg–hip, knee, ankle–ache a bit; but I have far too many friends riding in King Arthur to skip that one today.

And I also go on my little staycation on Wednesday, so there’s that, as well.

I do love parade season, I have to say. I may even have to write another Scotty-at-Mardi-Gras book at some point.

Or just some Mardi Gras set book. I could write a hundred books or stories about Mardi Gras and never really cover it all, you know.

How I do love New Orleans.

I also managed to revise a chapter of Scotty yesterday; I should be able to do another this morning as well. I read some more of Lori Roy’s superb Gone Too Long while I was grilling yesterday; it’s most excellent and you need to preorder it immediately. I also managed to get some emails cleaned out; hope to do some more this morning as well as reading the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, and perhaps another Norah Lofts ghost story.

I suppose I’ll watch the Oscars tonight after the parades. It’s really not much fun anymore, as all the pre-awards kind of take all the suspense and excitement out of the Oscars. The acting winners will be Regina King (who deserves all the awards), Mahershala Ali, Glenn Close, and Rami Malek, barring the every-once-in-a-blue-moon surprise. I’ll probably read while it’s on…although I’d love to see Olivia Colman win; not only was she amazing in The Favourite but her acceptance speeches are pure gold. But Glenn Close is way overdue; she should have won for both (or either) Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons, which I’d actually like to watch again.

And now, I am waking up and needing some sustenance; perhaps some peanut butter toast or a bowl of honey-nut Cheerios?

And then it’s back to the spice mines.

Happy Carnival, all!

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Cherish

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.

pictures at a revolution