And an Upcoming Novel
Andrew Stanton on How to Tell Great Stories; A Great Writer Who Never Heard of Him & Julianne Moore-All Born Today
If you want to write great stories, you could do much worse than listen to the advice of the Oscar winning creator of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and A Bug's Life at Pixar Animation Studios. Born this day in 1965, he is famous enough and his work loved enough that you don't need me to tell you details you can pick up elsewhere. But if you care about how he learned to tell these great stories, you will want to visit (or revisit) the phenomenal talk he gave at Ted.com in February of 2012. It's called "The Clues to a Great Story," and even if you have no intention of writing stories yourself, it's worth hanging out with Stanton for this talk because it's...well, a darn good story. Thanks so much to Ted.com for permission to share it here.
Flannery O'Connor once said she wished she could read all of Conrad - and then forget him. Because she knew that when she sat down to write her own stories, that great work would be inside unconsciously feeding her own work. You've heard the expression, "You are what you eat?" Well, O'Connor understood that "you write what you read," too.
Conrad was born in Poland on this day in 1857. This means he grew up speaking Polish. At 21, he got a job working as a deck hand on a British freighter. That's when he began to learn English. He learned it so well that he was able to write Lord Jim, The Nigger of the Narcissus, Typhoon, The Secret Agent, and perhaps his best known work, Heart of Darkness.
The great Nigerian novelist, critic and professor, Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) felt Heart of Darkness could not be considered a great novel because of racist and dehumanizing descriptions of the indigenous people in the story. Others disagree, claiming that it is Conrad's characters and not the author himself who are racist. Let others debate this. We will note here only that Conrad left behind a legacy that influenced Hemingway, Faulkner, V.S. Naipal, Philip Roth, and D.H. Lawrence, to name but a few. Here's a clip from Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film restatement of Heart of Darkness, with Marlon Brando.
Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Chloe, Short Cuts - these are just a few of the films we've seen her in since the mid-1990's. To mark her 53rd birthday, here are clips from two of my favorites: The Hours and Vanya on 42nd Street.
D.H. Lawrence published Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1928, two years before his death at the age of 44. It took another 32 years for the courts to rule that the work was not obscene, and on this day in 1960, the publisher, Penguin Books, was acquitted of those charges. Filming this story can be like drawing a nude. What turns up on the screen is more a portrait of yourself than the subject you're trying to portray. But the language of the novel, especially when read in this clip featuring, Judi Dench, brings us as close to understanding the nature of intimacy as is possible in any art form. Her voice-over covers scenes from Ken Russell's 1993 TV Series. It is followed by a second clip from Pascal Ferran's 2006 film, Lady Chatterley, which is based on Lawrence's 1927 novel, John Thomas and Lady Jane, often referred to as the "second draft" of the novel that eventually became Lady Chatterley's Lover. It takes a long time to write a good novel. And even when the author finally gets it right (three tries on this material for D. H. Lawrence), it can take as long as 32 years for the rest of the world - especially the courts - to catch up.
But before we leave this subject, consider the 2002 Todd Haynes' film, Far from Heaven. Although Haynes is "channeling" Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, the content of both films is really a mid-20th-century spin on Lady Chatterley. In Sirk's version, the gamekeeper is a gardener played by Rock Hudson, and the husband is dead. But in Hayne's version, the "crippled" husband is Dennis Quaid, whose closeted homosexuality prevents him from fulfilling his wife's need for intimacy. And to put Lady Chatterley in terms a modern audience can relate to, the gamekeeper/gardener in this version is black, Dennis Haysbert, the wholly acceptable spokesman for Allstate insurance. Lawrence was onto something in the 1920's that haunts us to this day. Remember the infamous Cheerios commercial a few months ago?
French director, Pascal Ferran's Lady Chatterley
Julianne Moore As a Frustrated Lady Chatterley in Far From Heaven
Born this day in 1906, his official title was Count don Luchino Visconti di Modrone. Who better than a member of the aristocracy itself to document its decline in films like The Damned and The Leopard? But we have the amazing Coco Chanel to thank that Victonti became a filmmaker at all. It was she who got him connected to Jean Renoir, for whom he worked as an assistant director before branching out on his own. Here are clips from his beautiful Death in Venice, featuring Mahler's Fifth Symphony, followed by a clip from The Leopard with Burt Lancaster, allegedly one of the most inspired casting decisions in film history. It's the Italian version. Since Vicsonti disavowed the American version released by 20th Century Fox, it would be sacrilege to include it on this, his birthday, of all days.
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