When I lived in Washington, DC, I remember there being a slew of excitement in the local newspapers and in local bookstores when a book like Primary Colors came out. Local interest is a big seller in books, especially when there’s scandal involved. Here in Los Angeles this means that books about Hollywood get top billing, and there are lots of them on the local bestseller lists at any given time. They come in a few different flavors. There’s the now-we-can-finally-make-all-those-juicy-stories-public, recent-history-of-Hollywood books. These books come out a generation or so after the action depicted in the book takes place. The main players have either died or they no longer wield any power so their stories are fair game for the reading public. Connie Bruck’s biography of Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, When Hollywood Had a King and A. Scott Berg’s biography of Katherine Hepburn, Kate Remembered are two recent examples. Then there’s the down-in-the-trenches, you-have-to-be-there-to-really-get-it, borderline-inside-joke, behind-the-scenes-entertainment-industry-workplace-dramas. Take David Rensin’s book The Mailroom, which, as far as I can tell, you would only want to read for one of two reasons. You once worked in Hollywood mailroom and you want to reminisce about those high-energy, low-pay days back before you became a high-powered agent, or you desperately want to become a high-powered agent and you want to read up about what it’s like in the mailroom, your first step on the road to glitz and glamour. Finally there is the true story thinly disguised as fiction like producer Robert Cort’s recent novel, Action!. I got to thinking about all of this Hollywood literature because of a recent review by Caryn James in the New York Times that assesses the latest crop of Hollywood lit. (LINK). Wading through big-selling tell-alls like Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures and Joe Eszterhas’ Hollywood Animal and all the rest, she finds a novel that transcends the Hollywood genre in The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters and also mentions that when it comes to books about Hollywood, The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West is “unsurpassed.”
Seamus Heaney’s seminal 2000 translation of the Old English epic Beowulf brought the work, first put to paper by an unknown Anglo-Saxon about a thousand years ago, into the 21st century. Heaney considers Beowulf “one of the foundation works of poetry in English.” Now that cornerstone is getting the Hollywood treatment, and, as you might expect, some of its rougher edges have been smoothed over.Most of us are familiar with the story: Beowulf, the Geat, comes to the aid of Hrothgar and the Danes by slaying Grendel, a man-eating monster that has been terrorizing the great hall at Heorot. I had a wonderfully illustrated version of Beowulf by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Charles Keeping that I would read and look at often growing up, and returned to the tale when someone gave me Heaney’s translation. But the illustrations in the book I had as a kid have defined the visual elements of the story for me.In what I always considered a bizarre and chilling twist, Beowulf, after vanquishing Grendel, tearing the beast’s arm off with his bare hands, is forced to do battle with Grendel’s mother in her lair at the bottom of a miasmic mear. The beast’s mother? How weird, to use an Old English word in its modern sense. Keeping’s drawings of the she-beast in the illustrated book are indelible (a sample).So imagine my surprise when I found that, for the motion picture adaptation of Beowulf, Grendel’s mother is played by… Angelina Jolie? That’s right, the she-beast has been scrubbed just a bit, as you can see from this still. Apparently the movie’s writers took other liberties with the story as it relates to the relationship between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother. Well, that’s Hollywood, and hey, a sexy makeover can make any mother’s day. But what I would really like to see is Jolie voyage to the Danish countryside and return with a hulking, hirsute, one-armed ogre with a taste for human flesh as the latest addition to her ethnically diverse brood of adopted children. Monsters need love too.
I saw Million Dollar Baby last night and enjoyed it. As with most boxing movies, there are some cartoonish moments, but the acting is great. The film relies upon a good deal of narration supplied by Morgan Freeman, and much of that narration comes directly out of the book from which the script was adapted. Rope Burns – which has been rereleased as Million Dollar Baby to tie in with the film – is a collection of boxing stories written by F.X. Toole, the nom de guerre of Jerry Boyd, who, before the book came out in 2000, “had been a bullfighter, a bartender, a cement truck driver and, for the past 20 years of his life, a boxing trainer and cut man,” according to this profile/movie review in the Sydney Morning Herald. Jerry Boyd died in 2002, but before he did he sat down for this very entertaining interview with Terri Gross.I’ve decided I’m going to follow the story of the impending big screen version of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections because 1) I think The Corrections is one of the more important books of the last ten years, and 2) like Scott at Conversational Reading said a few days ago, I’m skeptical that “Mr. I-don’t-want-The-Corrections-lowered-by-Oprah is going to be cool with a full Hollywood version of his opus” So, here’s the latest casting speculation from the movie rumor site Dark Horizons: “The latest word is that it will be starring Judi Dench (playing Enid, the family matriarch), Brad Pitt (playing the central character Chip), and Tim Robbins and Naomi Watts playing the other two grown children of the family.” Brad Pitt as Chip? (shudder)