Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mas Tapas

A few more bite-sized morsels:

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My previous post touching on how most author's lose control of their stories the moment they sell them to Hollywood was vividly brought to life last night when my wife and I watched "Confessions of a Shopaholic." Karen Netflixed (look, a 21st-century verb!) it because she'd read and liked the book. Throughout the movie she kept apologizing, "This isn't how the book went."

I can't speak for the book but the movie was a real stinker, asking us to root for a completely unsympathetic heroine who, as far as I was concerned, deserved every bad thing that happened to her and more. I wouldn't want her as a friend, family member or coworker. Her nemesis was a debt collector who hounded her throughout the film, whom she avoided in supposedly cute and charming ways and had her revenge upon in the end. I was rooting for the collector.

Anyway, just another data point in the battle between art and commerce. I just wonder why so many filmmakers buy the rights to good source material and then gut it of everything that made people love it in the first place.

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On the last night of his short run as host of "The Tonight Show," Conan O'Brien said, "All I ask of you, especially young people, is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism--it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."

I agree completely and have said similar things in a couple of interviews. It's a perspective that kind of snuck up on me; I might have even called myself a cynic when I was younger. But like Conan, I find it the personality trait I like least. Cynicism is easy and lazy. While cynics pose as courageous iconoclasts, sincerity is much braver, riskier, and more constructive. No one ever accomplished something great if they didn't think it was worth doing, and I guarantee they were surrounded by a hundred snide, sarcastic cynics eager to explain how it wasn't worth the effort and they were doomed to fail. Tearing down is easy; creating is hard.

Watch me tie everything together: although I didn't read the book Confessions of a Shopaholic, I'll bet it was written by a sincere author and made into a movie by cynical filmmakers. How 'bout that?

Note that cynicism isn't skepticism. I'm deeply skeptical, especially in a scientific double-blind-study kind of way. But I like to think I've grown increasingly uncynical, and learned to recognize and value sincerity in the work of others. It's a work in progress.

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I bought and read a new old book yesterday, America's Great Comic-Strip Artists by Richard Marschall. Although it was published in 1989 I found it in an antique store, which I thought was odd. In any case, it's a neat collection of biographies and critical analyses of 16 great cartoonists dating back to the late 1800s, including several that are on my personal Top Twenty List including McCay, Herriman, Sterrett, Raymond, Caniff, Kelly and Schulz. It's well illustrated and very informative, puncturing some myths I'd heard repeated often enough to believe and telling me much I didn't know. Highly recommended if you can find it. Try your local antique store (?).


Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

Hollywood's long habit of taking a popular book and mangling the movie version has puzzled me too.
I suspect they like to use source material that already has a following, hoping it'll attract more viewers. Maybe they don't bother to determine the factors that made the book popular, thinking they'll rook in viewers on the reputation alone. Just a (trying not to sound too cynical) guess.

sligo said...

re the Hollywood thing, two observations:

- forgive me for not remembering who it was, but a well-known author recounted for an interviewer a story in which a friend had said, "sorry about the movie, they ruined your book," to which the author responded by pointing across the room and said, "no they didn't, it's right there on the shelf."

transition to the next related point, to wit:

bankers run the movie business, and, independents notwithstanding, it's about return-on-investment, bloated salaries, test screenings, accounting that's more creative than the films it accounts for, gross vs net profits, and distribution channels. they option and buy established properties because they neither understand nor care about 'story' and see the audience as a marketplace, then, remarkably, they place those properties under the control of filmmakers, who (sometimes) struggle to find a balance between artistic expression and commerce.

oops, sorry...kind of blacked out there for a moment.