Screening Room: ‘His Girl Friday’

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Criterion’s two-disc edition of Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday hit stores last week and it’s a real pip. Packaged with all the usual supplemental features and interviews, you’ve also got the full edition of Lewis Milestone’s first film adaptation of the play The Front Page from 1931. But all you really need is the film itself, a sparkling new 4K restoration that makes every gag from this whirlwind-speed screwball comedy ring clear.

his-girl-friday-dvdMy review of His Girl Friday is at PopMatters:

Unlike his lionized peers Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, Hawks didn’t stick to one genre. He made some crime and war dramas like Scarface and The Road to Glory, but was better known for romances and screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and Twentieth Century. His defining characteristic, though, served him in good stead for his newest project: speed…

Check out the trailer here.

Quote of the Day: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Edition

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march-johnlewisThis is what Evan McMullin (yes, a Republican) had to say about the president-elect’s attacks on Rep. John Lewis:

On this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, let it be clear that John Lewis is an American patriot. Trump’s attacks on him further confirm it.

Now, go and buy yourself the March trilogy of graphic historical novels that Lewis co-wrote.

If you can find a copy, that is.

Writer’s Desk: Stay Excited

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Roughly ten years ago, novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours) received one of those calls very few of us civilians ever receive: “This is David Bowie. I hope I’m not calling at an inconvenient time.”

davisbowiealaddinsaneThe collaboration that followed was for a never-realized musical about an alien marooned on Earth. Cunningham was to write the book and Bowie the songs. Given that Cunningham was a somewhat obsessed fan and Bowie a little sketchy on the details of what he wanted to do, things started off a little slowly, but their relationship grew.

For Cunningham, as he describes in this piece for GQ, to work with Bowie, he needed to humanize him. That became very simple for him after something great happened:

How starstruck, after all, can anybody feel after the object of one’s veneration says, early on, without a trace of irony, that he was excited to start a new project because: “Now I get to do one of my favorite things. Go to a stationery store and get Sharpies and Post-its!” Yes, the Space Oddity, the Thin White Duke, was excited about picking up a few things at Staples.

If you’re a writer these days, there isn’t much in the way of office supplies one needs to start a new article, story, essay, or book.

But, there is still that tingle one gets one first embarking on something new, the thrill of exploring new territory and knowing you could find great success or utter failure but wouldn’t know which until it was far too late to turn back.

If you don’t feel that sense of excitement the next time you’re sitting at the keyboard, maybe try Staples. Get a new notebook and some nice pens (the good ones that have some heft, nothing that says Bic). Open it up. Look at that expanse of empty pages. Get started.

Reader’s Corner: The Book Bus

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Eau Claire, Wisconsin just had a pretty cool idea:

As early as late spring, all 22 city buses could be outfitted with special racks filled with books that people can read on the ride or bring home if they want to – free of charge. Consider it a road-bound riff on the Little Free Library movement that began in Hudson a few years ago and spread throughout Wisconsin and the world, with literally thousands of book-filled boxes springing up at homes, businesses, and schools. In this case, the free books will be close at hand for people who rely on city buses for their transportation.

Everybody’s city should be so lucky.

(h/t: Melville House)

Weekend Reading: January 13, 2017

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Eyes Wide Open 2016: The Best

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‘American Honey,’ #3 on the list of year’s best (A24)

So now that it’s January, time to get working on all those films you meant to see over the holidays but never quite got around to. Not sure what to see first? Check out this list of the 25 best films of 2016, published over at Eyes Wide Open.

It’s broken down into three parts: here, here, and here.

oj1There’s something there for pretty much everybody, from great dramas like Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington’s Fences to screwball comedies (Maggie’s Plan), boundary-pushing indies (The Childhood of a Leader, American Honey) and gripping documentaries on race and history (Command and Control, 13th, I Am Not Your Negro).

What was the best film of the year? There’s no way to be that reductive about it, of course. But for historical sweep, attention to detail, and drama, the sprawling epic OJ: Made in America is hard to beat, making that number one. But the other 24 are no slouches, either.

And for the gluttons for punishment among, there’s always the worst of the year here. Yes, that list includes Deadpool.

Eyes Wide Open 2016: The Worst

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Usually around this time each year, I would be finishing up the new edition of Eyes Wide Open, my annual guide to the best and worst films of the past year.

Since a good part of last year was spent working on two new books that will be coming out this summer—The Handy New York City Answer Book in May and Monty Python FAQ in June—there just wasn’t enough time to put together Eyes Wide Open 2016.

But, there was still a lot to talk about in 2016, film-wise. So, this week over at the Eyes Wide Open site, I’ll be running a series of posts counting down the good, the bad, and the blah films of the year.

Starting with today’s installment: The Worst and Most Disappointing Films of 2016.

Tomorrow I’ll start getting to the good stuff.

Writer’s Desk: Look Around, Write That

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Nina Simone, c. 1982 (photo by Roland Godefroy)

Nina Simone famously said this:

An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times … We will shape and mold this country, or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore … How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?

There are writers whose hackles will bristle at the mere suggestion that they have a “duty” of any kind. That idea has been abused, of course. Some would make writers produce only government-glorifying propaganda. Others would snark that any writing which falls outside strict revenue-producing genre parameters is navel-gazing artsy nonsense.

But listen to Miss Simone. When she talks about an artist’s duty, that could be taken as reflecting an activist’s sensibility. Which is obviously not everybody’s cup of tea—though it would be difficult to argue that our society needs more escapist entertainment.

What she’s saying here is keep your damn eyes open. It matters. Look around. Listen. Feel. Use that when you write, not just what’s in your head.

Because if your writing doesn’t reflect the world around us in some small way, then truly what is the point? As Capote sniped at Kerouac, that’s not writing, that’s typing.

(h/t: Jenna Wortham)

Weekend Reading: January 6, 2017

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Writer’s Desk: Time to Get Started

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So, yes, the new year has just begun. We all probably need a little break because, let’s be honest, the last one didn’t acquit itself too well, now did it?

But, that doesn’t mean your book / essay / short story / gardening column for the community newsletter is going to write itself.

So, finish off the rest of that bottle of prosecco you opened last night before the fireworks and Don Lemon’s piercing, but never quite finished. Then, get to it!

As P.D. James said:

Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.

The world is waiting.