We’ve noticed that the library is just chock full of stories built upon stories. Books become films. Comic books become films. Films become films. Also: fairy tales are fractured, classics are reborn, characters evolve, one story inspires another wholly new. At worst, the old made new is a little awful, and leaves us wistful for the original. At the very best, though, remakes and reworkings offer bold and creative new worlds at play with the old. Our July staff picks explore the idea of everything old made new again.
Case study: The Haunting of Hill House. Shirley Jackson’s unsettling novel was made into the 1963 black-and-white film The Haunting, in which super-scary wallpaper (uh-huh) and terrifying sound effects psychologically mangled me every Halloween of my childhood. So good! Then The Haunting was remade with cheesy CGI (no subtlety = no fear) in 1999. I felt an incredible sense of loss and dismay. Would anyone ever know how great the original film remake of the original book was?
Which brings us to July 2016…as Ghostbusters just became Ghostbusters! I’m looking forward to catching this newest of remakes this week. I’m sure it won’t be as scary as The Haunting, but I bet the blazing comic talent of Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon will truly shine. Like ectoplasm.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – Science fiction meets classic fairy tales in clever ways. One of my favorite YA series of the past five years (and I’m not alone); if you haven’t read these yet, you’re in for hours of addictive adventure, romance, and one seriously evil queen.
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier – the Twelve Dancing Princesses has been my favorite fairy tale since childhood, and this adaptation is just lovely inside and out. It’s clear from the sweeping text to the glossary in the back that the author did some serious research into Transylvanian folk tales and customs. A classic.
Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones (book), Hayao Miyazaki (film) and a dreamy, brooding wizard voiced by Christian Bale. This adaptation sure has my number.
Old-fashioned as this choice may be, my picks for a book-and-film-original-and-remake-duo are the lovely and irrepressible A Room with a ViewandA Room With A View (the Merchant Ivory version) which both make me beam, whether I am re-reading or re-watching. Forster’s heartwarming chapter titles show up in the book (of course), but also helpfully turn up onscreen in the film as the scenes change. Chapter 13: How Miss Bartlett’s Boiler Was So Tiresome. Chapter 14: How Lucy Faced the External Situation Bravely. Chapter 15: The Disaster Within. In the film, you also get to see George climb up a tree in Italy and shout “Beauty! Life! Poeeetrry!” in a deeply beautiful and silly and life-affirming scene, while Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful as a mustachioed and stuffy Cecil. Poor Cecil.
Back to the book. In one of the best chapters in literature (Chapter 19: Lying to Mr. Emerson), you really get to sink into Mr. Emerson’s sweet advice to Lucy Honeychurch as she’s trying to sort out her life and her heart. I would quote his kindhearted wisdom here, except it’s scattered over eighteen pages. It has to do with not getting stuck in a terrible muddle, making the wrong choice, and ruining your life. You should read it, because the whole scene is much better in the original: the book. (But how nice it is to have to choose between the good movie and the good book).
Hamlet on Harleys
It may not fit the quiet, thoughtful librarian stereotype to admit this: I love the FX show Sons of Anarchy. It is loud and filled with mayhem, but man… is it good! So good. The acting is spot on and the story line is intense (to say the least).
Here’s the twist: SoA is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Show creator Kurt Sutter has admitted it is not a version of Hamlet, but it is definitely influenced by it. “I don’t want to overplay that but it’s there. It was Jax’s father who started the club, so he’s the ghost in the action. You wonder what he would have made of the way it turned out.”
The show includes a discontented prince (Jax), a treacherous stepfather and an honorable dead father whose voice we hear guiding Jax throughout the series. There are further theme similarities regarding external symbols vs. internal truth. Numerous episode titles refer to Hamlet including Burnt and Purged Away, To Be, Act 1, and To Thine Own Self.
So for the more erudite library users, you can feel A-OK about binging on the tales of this outlaw motorcycle club because it is based on the Bard, after all.
When you finish, get back to me on which character you think best exemplifies Ophelia.
It seems as if Hollywood spends a considerable amount of time remaking perfectly good shows and films. Such as Broadchurch, a British miniseries starring David Tennant. I didn’t watch the US remake, Gracepoint, starring David Tennant (see what they did there?) because I wasn’t too keen on the original. Aside from television, Hollywood just can’t seem to come up with original blockbusters (that aren’t based on comic book heroes).
A few years ago, my uncle (a PI turned nurse) told me of this fantastic movie based on the life of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger.
“Martin Scorsese is a GENIUS!” he shouted. “Martin Scorsese is a thief,” I retorted. The Departed, by all accounts, is actually a decent movie. However, it is not a work of genius. It is almost a shot for shot remake of the brilliant Chinese movie Infernal Affairs starring Andy Lau. Any implication that this is the story of Whitey Bulger’s life is purely coincidence. A few weeks after our initial conversation, my uncle and I sat down and watched Infernal Affairs. “Holy Cow! That’s a much better film,” he yelled with his thick Boston accent. I had finally won my argument.
Now I’m not saying, that Hollywood CAN’T make decent remakes. The Departed really is a great film. You just have to remember that it’s not original. I’m just saying: sometimes you really should see the original… Now just don’t get me started on the remake of The Wicker Man starring Nic Cage.
Rear Window and Planet of the Apes, Simpsons-style
Rear Window, the Hitchcock film starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, was remade in 1998 as a TV movie starring Christopher Reeve as the wheelchair-bound hero. The movie was remade again in 2007 as Disturbia starring Shia LeBeouf as a young man under house arrest. My favorite remake was done by The Simpsons, in Season 6, Episode 1, titled “Bart of Darkness.”
The Simpsons have remade, referenced, or spoofed dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of stories (including the Ghostbusters) from classic and popular culture. Another favorite Simpsons remake is Planet of the Apes as a musical starring Troy McClure (Phil Hartman), featuring the lyrics, “I hate every ape I see/ From chimpan A to chimpan Z.”
As always, thanks for reading! For more suggestions from the PPL collections, check out our booklists for Adults, Kids and Families, and Teens.
What happens when an aging Italian filmmaker realizes that women no longer look at him with desire? He makes a film about the experience, of course.
Gianni e Le Donne, or The Salt of Life, is a semi-autobiographical film that follows the film’s hero, played by the filmmaker himself, in his hapless (yet always polite) attempts at romance and flirtation. Charming, poignant, slightly melancholy, and funny in a poker-faced way, the movie is also a feast for the eyes with its lovely scenes of Rome.
Audre Lorde in a film still from director Dagmar Schultz’s “The Berlin Years: 1984-1992.”
Sister Outsider was published in June of 1984, and more than thirty years on, Audre Lorde’s essays and speeches around racism, sexism, homophobia, and on many other themes—women’s relationships, anger vs hatred, communication, responsibility, love—remain as powerful and empowering as ever.
From The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action
“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect…
And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger…
In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear- fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live.
…For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition…
The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”
Lorde died of cancer in 1992. Re-reading her work this June, I wonder what she might write about today…reflecting and calling as strongly as ever for individuals and communities to grow, break silence, recognize, and hear one another?
“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?”
I don’t know the last time I read something that I loved as much as Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This happens to be her debut novel, which blows me away. If you love family sagas that make the family trees in the opening pages necessary to refer to, this is the book for you.
Gyasi, who was born in Ghana and immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of 2, said she was initially inspired to write this book after she visited the Cape Coast Castle. In Homegoing she introduces us to Effia and Esi, half-sisters born in 18th-century West Africa. While Effia becomes the bride of a British slave-trader and goes to live in the Cape Coast Castle, Esi become a slave living in the dungeons of the castle awaiting the trip to the New World. Homegoing then follows generations of their descendants, free and enslaved, on both sides of the ocean. Each chapter follows the story of a different character, moving forward in time from one generation to the next. From these stories of Effia and Esi’s descendants grow “two branches split from the same tree.”
Extraordinary for its beautiful language, Homegoing is a portrait of what it means to belong, both to a nation and to a family, and the forces that shape those nations and families. Gyasi packs so much into each of the short chapters and she accomplishes it all with the astounding efficiency of just 300 pages. Trust me, you won’t be able to put this book down.
“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”
When I read Roger Rosenblatt’s work of fiction Thomas Murphy, pre-Orlando but post- so many other, earlier mankind-vs-itself horrors, this quote grabbed me. It is posted desk-side where I can read it anytime my eyes wander from workaday whatevers:
“That’s all civil rights means anyway—returning to a state of natural dignity.The movements are called revolutionary, but they are really restorative.”
The italics are mine because important things assume italic formation in my head, but the bold-ness of the statement (if not of the typeface) comes from the main character, Thomas Murphy himself.
Thomas is a character, all right: a poet whose memory is likely failing (he awaits clinical proof), possessor of a meandering mode of expression (oh! how I love a fellow meanderer!), blessed and cursed with a cast of acquaintances, living and dead, that makes for an extraordinary ordinary life. For a fictional fella, he makes more sense than he ought.
Perhaps it is only in fiction that a statement of the obvious, like his regarding civil rights, can hope to stand without assault. Perhaps it is up to real folk like us to take his assertion into the world and see the sense it makes.
Fiction is a vehicle for truth. Nonfiction can mislead. Tragedies are tragic. Love is love. We are what we are. We all yearn for the restoration of our natural dignity.
Imagine that Peter Pan wakes up in Neverland one day feeling uncertain about his signature stance on adulthood, and the only way he can process this identity crisis is to make three jangly punk records. I go through regular phases where the only albums I want to listen to are these, preferably while driving, windows down. Bonus points for sunglasses that make me feel tough, but like, in a sensitive way. These smart and bittersweet power pop classics are available to stream with your library card via Hoopla along with the rest of the Replacements’ catalogue. (If you prefer CDs, Let It Be and Pleased to Meet Me can be found in PPL’s collection, but you’ll have to go through ILL to get your hands on Tim, my personal favorite).
There are also some experiences I will, I know, share with others (and still, we’ll experience them so differently): illness, probably; loss of loved ones, and the end of life. I’ve been drawn lately to writers sharing these sorts of stories (see last August’s staff pick: Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World). This interest, I hope, isn’t too morbid. It feels part of the curiosity I have for all that I don’t know about—what lies close around me, or far from me, and what might lie ahead.
Here’s three from a booklist of memoirs on these themes: Roger Angell writes beautifully, wryly, intelligently on life in his nineties, along with “a dog’s breakfast” of other collected writing in This Old Man: All in Pieces. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (and now memoirist) Tracy K. Smith writes about so very many things, including race, history, and faith, radiating from the death of her mother in Ordinary Light. And Katharine Norbury writes slowly, luminously on grief, family, and the wilds of Great Britain in The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream. One day, in her meditative wandering outdoors, Norbury’s eye is caught by a bright gravestone…it’s a small moment in the book, but the simple last words carved on the stone stay with her, and also remain with me: Glad did I live.
One of the sculptors that I had learned about early in my art career was Alberto Giacometti. THE biographer of his life was acknowledged to be James Lord. His early piece, “A Giacometti Portrait,” was considered seminal, so imagine my joy when Lord did his opus: a massive tome on Giacometti’s life. I read the entire thing while bedridden with the flu. Lord’s writings are not the usual dry renditions of “first the artist went there, then he went over here.” Instead Lord manages to help you picture Giacometti’s life, as though Giacometti was not a legend, but a man you could identify with, and follow, until his breakthrough with the sculptures that he is famous for.
Maggie Nelson is a master of interlacing literary forms and defying expectations of genre. With last year’s memoir, she seamlessly moves across blurred boundaries of theory, poetry, and deeply personal reflection. The Argonauts queers everything you thought you knew about motherhood, gender, family, and the body while treating you to some fiercely gorgeous prose.
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” ― Nelson Mandela
Honestly, if this book doesn’t lift you up and encourage you to get out and make a difference – I am not sure what will.
My choice is Girl in a Bandby Kim Gordon, because she has been a hero of mine since I was 12, both for style and substance. Sonic Youth is my life.
One unique aspect of this musician bio that I really enjoyed was that Gordon never talks about learning how to play bass. At one point in her life she doesn’t play music, and then she does. There is no explanation necessary. At first this bothered me, but then I got it, man.
This is also a book about dissolution of a long musical and romantic partnership, but Gordon keeps it classy and minimal. She somehow makes you feel the pain of betrayal with just a few key sentences peppered throughout.
This is an incredible story that I most recommend as an audio book. Hirsi Ali provides the narration herself, and her delightful accent infuses her experience of Islam with supreme gentleness. Hirsi Ali’s life was remarkable, and her courage and stubbornness served her well. This book is a history lesson in Muslim and African culture, and the author describes how she was able to learn many languages as her family moved to different locales in search of political asylum. She is a force to be reckoned with as she navigates her life and walks a thin line between terror and truth. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about the outcry against violence and oppression of women. Hirsi Ali is a heroine for those who are voiceless.
What struck me the most was the fine writing, vivid detail, the stories themselves, the unbelievable characters (i.e. racist parents she loves deeply), brutal honesty, plenty of humor, and the sheer courage and heart of Alexandra throughout her adventurous life. I hate the “whine about, yet overcome weepers” popular now, but I love these. She had me with the great first two titles.”
Gloria Steinem has always been one of my heroes. I’ve read everything by her and this new collection intimately chronicling her Life on the Road is wonderful and engaging. She is very candid about her early years, what she gained and what she had to give up by living a nomadic lifestyle. Each of the seven chapters begins with a photo and each reveals something new about the author and activist. Steinem reveals her ties and relationships to other women and activists. My favorite was the chapter where she describes her friendship with Native American and feminist activist, Wilma Mankiller. For many people, we look at what she has done and that is how we define her. However, it seems that these relationships are how she defines her life. We should all be so lucky.
I wrote down many quotes from this book, this is one of my favorites:
“As Robin Morgan wrote so wisely, ‘Hate generalizes, love specifies.’ That’s what makes going on the road so important. It definitely specifies.”
This stunning book reaffirmed my love of memoirs. I finished it in less than one day. I always appreciate when an author takes the time to fashion a distinct approach to telling us their story (versus giving us a simple chronology of their life). Sometimes they break their story down into ideas and how their experiences helped them form these ideas, like Amy Poehler’s wise and interesting Yes Please. Sometimes, as Alan does here, they find one experience or person to use as a springboard for telling us their larger story. Alan uses his struggle with an abusive father as the entry point for us to learn about his life and thoughts. Alan seems like a beautiful person, he is a very talented storyteller and I hope he writes many more books. In this case, the cliché is true: “I laughed, I cried…”
I have come to believe that true wisdom and kindness spring from overcoming adversity, often with humor, and Alan’s story supports this theory. It was good for me to read this book and I think it would be good for you too. (PS If Alan’s introductions of Masterpiece: Mystery! always seem too short for you too, try the audiobook, which I imagine is also a wonderful way to experience this story.