Thursday, February 21, 2013

Books and movies

I'm reading The Green Mile, by Stephen King. I haven't read a lot of Stephen King, but I've liked what I've read. I'm reading this one because it was originally published as a serial, and that's something I've been thinking about a lot.

Anyway, one always talks about books and movies, how the book is almost always better, but of course that's not true. As Howard Hawks said, often a good book will make a bad movie, but a bad book can make a great movie. High Noon came from a Saturday Evening Post story which no one remembers. Shane is from a Western novel that no one reads any more. Maybe genre fiction has a better chance at becoming better on film.  I read somewhere that Clint Eastwood acquired The Bridges of Madison County specifically because he wanted the challenge of turning a perfectly awful book into a good movie. Maybe he succeeded...I spared myself reading the book, and the movie was watchable. David R. Slavitt, poet and translator (his version of Ovid's Metamorphosis was not loved by some critics, but they were wrong -- it's brilliant), translated The Fables of Avianus from Latin. Are they an overlooked masterpiece? I asked him. No, he said. Avianus was a terrible writer. That's why I chose him -- so all the literary credit for the translation can go to me.

The Wizard of Oz is regarded by many as one of the greatest movies of all time, and although the books are beloved, it's hard to imagine anyone putting them on the best books of all time list. Still, I can imagine someone saying, "The book was better."

What about movies that are pretty nearly exactly as good as the book? I'd put The Green Mile on that list.

Lots of novels are written these days with the idea that they'll be made into movies, and the novels are written almost like screen treatments. They generally make serviceable novels, and serviceable movies -- neither is likely to stand out.

An odd exception to this generalization: Grahame Greene's The Tenth Man. Quoting from Wikipedia: "In the introduction to the First edition of his novel, Graham Greene states that he had forgotten about this story until receiving a letter about it from a stranger in 1983. Greene had first suggested it as an idea for a film script in 1937, and later developed it whilst working for MGMduring the 1940s. Nothing came of it and the rights were offered for sale by MGM in 1983. The buyer allowed Greene to revise and subsequently publish the work."

So The Tenth Man was actually written as a screen treatment, but it made a wonderful short novel. Interestingly, when it was eventually filmed with Anthony Hopkins, it wasn't a very good movie.

But back to The Green Mile. The book basically is the movie. The prose is straightforward, the story is the same in both versions. The one literary device that King uses, which is interesting and unobtrusive, is the moving back and forth in time by the first person narrator. The narrator places himself in a nursing home, maybe 40 or 50 years after the action of the novel, which is in the 1930s. So although he's essentially narrating the story as it happens, he's narrating a story that he knows the ending of, so he can jump forward in time and tell you what's going to happen.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Poem online

A poem at Halvard Johnson'sOn Barcelona website.

Who gets paid what?

A rant I posted in response to a Facebook post wherein the writer announced that the recent salary increase given to Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez had made him hate baseball.

I've never understood all this rooting for management in baseball. It's unique to sports, especially baseball. No one is going to post that they hate computer software because Google pays a top software designer 20 million, or they hate Hollywood because Leonardo diCaprio gets 20 mil for Blood Diamond.
But baseball owners are so historically stupid -- they're the one group of capitalists who have led the fight to denigrate their own product, because they hated free agency so much...they preferred the old indentured servitude system where a Ralph Kiner had to accept a pay cut after leading the league in home runs, because he had nowhere else to go. What other business would have done this? Can you imagine, in the same era, a movie studio advertising BATMAN -- starring Jack Nicholson, who got paid $6 million plus a percentage, and boy, did that ham ever not deserve it?
Putting this in historical perspective again, at the same time that baseball owners were waging a PR campaign against their own product, a Broadway producer who understood publicity, Sonny Werblin, took over the Jets, and immediately paid a young college quarterback, Joe Namath, twice what the competitive rate at the time was. And instead of bitching and moaning about the salary, Werblin played it up -- built a positive PR campaign around it. Result -- the AFL shot up in the awareness of fans and players, and became a gold mine. This was around the same time that Lamar Hunt of the Hunt oil family was losing a million dollars a year with the Houston Oilers. A shocked sportswriter -- probably one of those in the pocket of baseball management -- reported this to daddy H. L. Hunt, who said "Uh-oh. At that rate, he'll only be able to run the team for another 200 years."
Seattle's ownership made what looks to be a smart business decision. They've made their fan base feel proud by locking up the team's best and most popular player. They've shown that they're serious about building a winning team, and that will make the Mariners a more attractive proposition to other free agents. And are you really going to root for those owners who've taken the luxury tax established by baseball to give small market teams a chance to compete, and put it in their own pockets?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Donald Hall on Poetry Readings

From an interview with Hall for the Woodstock Times, several years ago.

“Reading poetry aloud makes a difference in one’s relationship to one’s words,” Hall says. “When I started writing, I thought of poetry exclusively on the printed page, though I was always very much aware of the sound of words. Poe was my first influence, at the age of 12 – then Stevens, at 14. Even when I was writing with no sense of words to be spoken out loud, my throat would move as I wrote.

"But reading one’s own poetry out loud to an audience was unheard of back then. Frost did it. But Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore – they virtually never read out loud

 “So I was writing for ‘sounded print,’ not for the spoken word. Then one day when I was about 27, an agent for lecture tours called me. I was flabbergasted. He wanted to me schedule a tour of reading poems to people…on stage…in public?

 “I started out by reading with my hands at my sides, in a high-pitched monotone. Then I started to think more about what it meant to read poems aloud. When I was young, I’d thought about being an actor—it was between poetry and acting for me—but acting is only a part of it. As a teacher, teaching other people’s poems, I had always tried to implant a voice in the poems I was teaching. Now I started to think about that voice. I started to think about how poetry sounded out loud. What was at one time writing theoretically for voicing, has now become writing actually for voicing.

 “This can do good things for your poetry, but it can do dangerous things, too. I remember a time—it was in 1959—when I was working on a poem, and there was a key word that I knew was wrong. ‘Ah,’ I heard myself say, ‘but in a reading I can make it sound right.’ And, fortunately, I caught myself. ‘Uh-oh,’ I remember thinking. ‘Watch your ass. This can be dangerous.’

“There are other dangers in thinking about reading poetry aloud. You don’t want to be writing for the applause of college students. You don’t want to limit yourself to writing poems that can be understood in hearing, although there’s nothing wrong with writing some poems like that.

 “On the other hand, there are ways it can help. I go through many drafts in writing a poem. I write every day, but an individual poem may take me a year or more to finish. I don’t start reading a poem aloud until the late stages of revision, so all of my initial relationship is to words on a page, but when I do start reading it aloud, sometimes I’ll find my voice will drop when I get to a certain word, as if I subconsciously didn’t want anyone to hear it. That’s a good signal to me that I should be taking another look at that word.”

An audience at a reading, Hall notes, should remember that “it’s different from reading a poem. Basically, you want to listen for pleasure – pleasure in the sounds of the words, pleasure in the moment – with no thought of interpretation. Just take it in, and let it flow through you.

“I compare listening to spoken poetry to learning a foreign language. At first you hear words and translate them into your own language. Then, you get to the point where you can make that leap to thinking in the other language. To get the most out of a reading, you need to make that leap – to turn off the translation machine, and just listen to the flow of that spoken language. You don’t want to be writing a critical essay in your mind as you’re listening.”

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Spotify 101

Someone needs to teach a course on how to find things on Spotify. Just because you don't find it,it doesn't mean it's not there.Researching my Godcild thread, I discovered a mention of a big band version, by Chubby Jackson from 1948. I checked -- you can't find this on YouTube, but you can on Spotify with great difficulty. A search on "Chubby Jackson" doesn't work, nor does a search on "Godchild. But if you enter "Chubby Jackson Godchild" you can find it.

It's listed as being on an album called "New York Scene in the 40's," but if you try searching for it on Spotify's search engine, you won't find it. Spotify's search engine doesn't seem to find anything with an apostrophe. So maybe just "New York Scene"? Uh-uh. It seems the only way to find it is to click through from "Chubby Jackson Godchild."

But once you get there -- what a wonderful album! Here's the track list:

1    Epistrophy - Cootie Williams
2    I Can't Get Started See All - Dizzy Gillespie
3    Good Bait - Dizzy Gillespie
4    Double Date - Metronome All-Stars
5    No Figs- Metronome All-Stars   
6    Yardbird Suite - Claude Thornhill
7    Donna Lee  - Claude Thornhill
8    Anthropology  - Claude Thornhill
9    Tiny's blues - Chubby Jackson
10    Father Knickerbopper - Chubby Jackson
11    Godchild - Chubby Jackson
12    All Wrong - Chubby Jackson
13    Nice Work If You Can Get It - Sarah Vaughan   
14    Mean To Me  - Sarah Vaughan
15    It Might As Well Be Spring  - Sarah Vaughan
16    Ain't Misbehavin' - Sarah Vaughan

Birth of the Cool: Godchild

Birth of the Cool 7: Godchild. I'm doing this in the order they appear on the CD, not the order they appeared on the original album.The reason for this choice...actually it wasn't a choice. This happened to be the first track listing I ran across online, not having the album in front of me. If I were to start over, I'd use the original listing. Actually, "Godchild" is the third track on the album. The first four were "Jeru," "Move," "Godchild" and "Budo." They were the first four songs recorded, and the two singles released, someone at Capitol having decided they were the best melodies, and likely to be the catchiest. A good decision, I think -- it's really those first four melodies that hooked me in thinking about the album, and made me want to pursue this. Certinly "Godchild" is a wonderful melody. It was written by George Wallington, an outstanding bebop pianist, and it's probably been recorded in more different version that any other piece except possibly Budo/Hallucinations. In at least one YouTube uploading, the composition is credited to Gerry Mulligan, and certainly his arranger's hand is here, but it's Wallington's tune. Starting with the Birth of the Cool track:

Here's a beautiful version by Wallington with a trio, featuring Nick Stabulas on drums, and Teddy Kotick, who I had the pleasure to meet when he played at Opus 40 with J. R. Monterose, on bass.

AllMusic lists a version several of the Birth of the Cool tracks by Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, and I've dug deep, trying to find them, and have finally come to the conclusion that they don't exist. Apparently there's an LP of Charlie Parker - Miles Davis - Lee Konitz, but it's a teaser. Some of the tracks are by Bird, some by Miles and Konitz.

Here's a beautiful version by a Mulligan tentet featuring Art Farmer and Lee Konitz. Great ensemble work, wonderful opening statement of the melody by Mulligan, lots of room for solos, the Farmer and Mulligan solos neatly resolving in an ensemble restatement of the melody.

Versions you can find on Spotify but not YouTube -- Bill Charlap, Tal Farlow/Charles Mingus/Red Norvo, Howard Roberts. Here's one YouTube does have, from Kai Winding:

 And from the classic Mulligan-Chet Baker quartet:

And finally, Terry Gibbs with a big band: