Posted by: judyweightman | December 9, 2018

“The Wife”: The Movie vs. the Book

Movie poster from "The Wife"I have a policy of not seeing movies based on books I love, which are often focus characters’ internal lives or take a non-traditional narrative approach, if not both. So I’ve never seen the movies based on The Color Purple or Cloud Atlas,and I’m planning to not see the upcoming Bel Canto

It turns out, though, that I may need to be more careful about picking movies based on books I haven’t read.

The Wife, directed by Björn Runge, is based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer. It presents the story of Joan Castleman, (Glenn Close) the wife of famous novelist Joe (Jonathan Pryce), as they travel to Oslo to accept Joe’s Nobel Prize. Although I always try to avoid spoilers before seeing a movie [which, by the way, will be rife in this essay, for both the movie and the book], I’d guessed the big twist. The very poster’s tagline is “Secrets Lie Between the Lines,” and, c’mon, what could that be but that Joan had written Joe’s books?

So if the big surprise twist isn’t particularly surprising, the questions of interest are how did that happen? And what was it like for her? And those are the questions that the movie doesn’t really dig into.

Well, How Did I Get Here?

The movie moves back and forth in time (as does the book). In the “present,” (actually probably the ‘90s, doing the math) the couple travels to Oslo for the prize ceremony, accompanied by their troubled son, David (Max Irons) and tailed by inquisitive biographer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater). The sources of the tensions in these scenes are hinted at, but not really explained, by the flashbacks.

The Wife: The Young CastlemansThese start at Smith in the 1950s, where Joan takes a creative writing class from the married Joe. Despite her talent, she’s discouraged from pursuing a writing career by visiting writer Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern). She and Joe begin an affair, Joe gets fired and Joan drops out, and they move to Greenwich Village. Joe tries to write a novel and Joan works for a publisher, where she encounters further contempt for women writers.

The movie covers many of the plot points from the book in this early period, but skips more briskly over the next 40 or so years of their married life, which Wolitzer presents in more detail. Any film adaptation has to leave out plenty of material from the book – it’s the nature of the process of adapting a novel into a film. That’s fine. Choices are made. Not all of the choices in this case, however, serve the story well.

Miss You

I have no quibbles with some of the filmmaker shorthand, where plot points are condensed and combined to tell the story briskly and visually. In the book, Joe twice inscribes a walnut as a romantic gesture to a woman he’s wooing, his first wife and then Joan. (The title of one Castleman novel is The Walnut; we see Joan rereading in Oslo it as she broods about her failing marriage.)

The Wife Reads The Walnut

In the film, the gesture is given a third beat as part of Joe’s rather pathetic attempted seduction of a young handler in Oslo. In the book, this doesn’t happen: He’d stopped using that ploy – and, in fact, stopped his reflexive womanizing – by that point. No big deal: In the movie, screenwriter Jane Anderson uses that third beat to efficiently present both Joe’s lack of faithfulness and his lack of imagination.

In addition to conflating some episodes from the book, Anderson omits others. One major theme that she completely abandons is Joe’s relationships with other writers, most of whom appear in scenes of social occasions with their wives, providing context for the Castlemans’ literary marriage and illuminating the gendered nature of the writing life of the time. (Wolitzer also uses these scenes to take a few jabs at Norman Mailer and Philip Roth, without mentioning either by name.)

Anderson also leaves out one particular episode, a ‘70s trip to Vietnam with a group of writers, many of them accompanied by their spouses – more literary marriages. On that trip, she observes a female writer who brought along her husband. Joan muses:

I didn’t want to be a “lady writer,” a word-painter in watercolors, or on the other hand a crazy woman, a ball-breaker, a handful. I didn’t want to be Elaine Mozell, the one who had warned me a long time ago. She’d been loud and lonely, and she’d faded from view.

 I had no idea who could love a show-off woman writer. What sort of man would stay with her and not be threatened by her excesses, her rage, her spirit, her skill? Who was he, this phantom, unthreatened husband who was still attractive and strong himself? Maybe he lived under a rock somewhere, sliding out once in a while to celebrate the big ideas of his brilliant wife, before returning to the shadows. [page 132]

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’m disappointed by, but understand, Anderson’s decision to omit these opportunities to illuminate the Castlemans’ marriage by contrasting it to those of their peers. Other changes, however, reflect a flattening and homogenization of the underlying dynamics of that relationship ­– a Hollywoodization that’s especially disappointing in an indie film directed by a Swede, Björn Runge, and produced mostly by Europeans.

One minor example: in the movie, the prize Joe wins is the Nobel. In the movie, he wins the (fictional) Helsinki Prize, a clear step (or two?) down in prestige. I love the resonance of that detail in the book – that this grand culmination of the writer’s career (whoever that writer might be) is not the Nobel.

The other example is utterly crucial, involving a character detail that explains much in the book, and the absence of which render the movie incomprehensible: Joe is Jewish. In fact, he’s a short, schlubby fellow a world away from the tall, distinguished Jonathan Pryce, CBE. (I’d’ve loved to have seen a version of this with Richard Dreyfuss playing Joe.)

Joe’s Jewishness provided the appeal of the exotic to the tall, blonde, WASPY Joan, and her Park Avenue parents’ objection to the relationship served to cement her devotion to him.

In fact, there’s a scene in the book that, in a few paragraphs, explains everything left unexplained in the movie. Soon after Joan dropped out of Smith and moved to Greenwich Village with Joe, she visits her parents. Leaving their apartment, she thinks:

But for now, before his success, Joe was still the Jewish rapist, and I was still the girl who improbably loved him. … [I]f I was truly going to be on my own with Joe, then what I’d said to my mother simply had to come true. Joe needed to be talented; he needed to be brilliant. It would cancel out his Jewishness, the unsavory scraps of his adultery, the crappy room he’d rented for us, and all the other flaws and disappointments that surrounded him. …

Iotas were dancing inside me, along with other things: my mother’s words, so vulgar and crabbed; my grandiose dreams of greatness for Joe. He would be a writer; the hopes I had for him were like the hopes men had for themselves: to conquer, to crust and astound. I didn’t particularly want to do any of that myself; it didn’t even occur to me that I could. … I didn’t want to play in the same field as the men; it would never be comfortable, and I couldn’t compete. My world wasn’t big enough, wide enough, dramatic enough, and my subjects were few. I knew my limits. [pages 109-110]

Time It Was

The Wife is a period piece, describing a marriage with its roots in the 1950s, a time when a talented woman writer wouldn’t see any role models for a career as a literary novelist. The postwar period was a total sausage fest in American literature, and women were in the suburbs raising families, not pursuing careers, literary or otherwise. (By the way, Friedan based The Feminine Mystique [1963] in part on her interviews with her fellow Smith alumnae.)

At such a time, a smart woman might have chosen to let her husband present her work as his own. Thank goodness that choice is so utterly mysterious to a modern audience, but the movie fails that audience by glossing over that time, and the choices Joan made, both originally in the ‘50s and then repeatedly over the ensuing decades.

Whoever made the overall narrative choices in the movie – screenwriter Anderson, director Runge, or the quartet of European producers – the result is disappointingly incomplete. They left out the overall socio-historic context, and they left out the extremely salient detail of Joe’s religion, and her family’s reaction to it, so they miss the opportunity to delve into Joan’s character, leaving her as an unreadable blank.

 

 

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Posted by: judyweightman | November 8, 2016

Election Day, 2016

I’m thinking about my mom a lot today.

Some of my very earliest memories of her involve her passion for politics. Before I was old enough to go to school, I was old enough to accompany her as she canvassed our Dearborn neighborhood, representing the League of Women Voters. I remember her and her friends debating the changes in Michigan’s constitution back in the late ‘50s; this was a few years before the current constitution was ratified in 1963.

I went with her to the polls as she cast her vote for JFK – a man exactly two days older than her, and the first president born in the 20th century. I remember watching JFK’s inauguration on TV with her, delighting her with the picture I drew of the handsome young president in his top hat. (Far from being hatless that day, he was the last president to wear one to his inauguration.)

jfk-top-hat

An ardent feminist, she used to say that my older sister would be the first woman president, though I think she made her peace with the fact that Pat showed no interest in getting involved with the electoral process.

Mom died in 1987, so she never even heard of Bill or Hillary Clinton, who were living in the governor’s mansion in Little Rock then. No great shakes as a cookie-baker herself, she’d’ve been fine with Hillary’s feistiness, and happy to support her husband, “the first black president,” in 1992.

Pat and I have debated whom Mom would have supported in ’08, Barack or Hillary, but regardless of whom she voted for in the primary, I suspected she might have cried, as I did, when Barack Obama accepted the nomination. And again when he was elected. And yet again when he was sworn in.

Today, almost 30 years after my mother’s death, I voted in an election that I wish she were alive to see – an election that will, God willing, put the first woman in the White House. I thought of her as I stood in the voting booth. I voted a straight Democratic ticket, of course – my mom raised me right – but rather than punching the party button at the top of the ballot, I went down the list and thought about each vote as I cast it – this for the first woman president, that for the first woman senator from Pennsylvania.

I’m with her, Mom – and know you would have been, too.

mom

Posted by: judyweightman | May 10, 2015

Which women sell movie tickets?

I’m currently working on a piece about Shirley Temple, who is famous for her box-office dominance in the 1930s: she was the top-earning star in Hollywood for four years running, 1935 through 1938. This, naturally, got me wondering about top-earning stars. The full list, with the top ten earners for each year 1932 through 2013, can be found here. Instead of scrolling up and down that list, I pulled out just the #1s:

box office

2013: Jennifer Lawrence

2012: Denzel Washington

Jennifer Lawrence in

Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (Photo by Murray Close – © 2013 – Lionsgate)

2011: Brad Pitt

2010: Johnny Depp

2009: Sandra Bullock

2008: Will Smith

2007: Johnny Depp

2006: Johnny Depp

2005: Tom Cruise

2004: Tom Hanks

2003: Jim Carrey

2002: Tom Hanks

2001: Tom Cruise

Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron in

Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron in “The Blind Side.”

2000: Tom Cruise

1999: Julia Roberts

1998: Tom Hanks

1997: Harrison Ford

1996: Tom Cruise/Mel Gibson (tie)

1995: Tom Hanks

1994: Tom Hanks

1993: Clint Eastwood

1992: Tom Cruise

1991: Kevin Costner

1990: Arnold Schwarzenegger

1989: Jack Nicholson

1988: Tom Cruise

1987: Eddie Murphy

Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in

Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in “Runaway Bride.” (© 1999 Touchstone Pictures)

1986: Tom Cruise

1985: Sylvester Stallone

1984: Clint Eastwood

1983: Clint Eastwood

1982: Burt Reynolds

1981: Burt Reynolds

1980: Burt Reynolds

1979: Burt Reynolds

1978: Burt Reynolds

1977: Sylvester Stallone

1976: Robert Redford

1975: Robert Redford

1974: Robert Redford

1973: Clint Eastwood

1972: Clint Eastwood

1971: John Wayne

1970: Paul Newman

1969: Paul Newman

1968: Sidney Poitier

1967: Julie Andrews

1966: Julie Andrews

1965: Sean Connery

Day-midnightlace

Doris Day in a 1960 publicity shot.

1964: Doris Day

1963: Doris Day

1962: Doris Day

1961: Elizabeth Taylor

1960: Doris Day

1959: Rock Hudson

1958: Glenn Ford

1957: Rock Hudson

1956: William Holden

1955: James Stewart

1954: John Wayne

1953: Gary Cooper

1952: Martin and Lewis

1951: John Wayne

1950: John Wayne

1949: Bob Hope

1948: Bing Crosby

1947: Bing Crosby

1946: Bing Crosby

1945: Bing Crosby

Shirley Temple in

Shirley Temple in “Glad Rags to Riches.”

1944: Bing Crosby

1943: Betty Grable

1942: Abbott and Costello

1941: Mickey Rooney

1940: Mickey Rooney

1939: Mickey Rooney

1938: Shirley Temple

1937: Shirley Temple

1936: Shirley Temple

1935: Shirley Temple

1934: Will Rogers

1933: Marie Dressler

1932: Marie Dressler

As a lifelong movie-lover of the boomer persuasion, I was intrigued by how evocative the list is, imparting a sense of traveling backward through pop cultural time. Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise — Jack Nicholson? Oh right, Batman — and yup, Burt Reynolds owned the late ’70s and early ’80s.

One surprise: William Holden, an actor I like but don’t think of as a money-making star. His spot in 1956 is apparently due to Picnic, which grossed $6.3 million, though it doesn’t appear on top-grossing film lists for either 1955 (its official release year) or 1956 (when it went into general release).

Specifically, though, I was looking for context and comparisons for Shirley’s late ’30s run. She dropped to #5 in 1939, and was off the list in 1940. She was succeeded by another kid, Mickey Rooney, for a three-year reign from 1939 to 1941. (His costar, my namesake Judy Garland, was #10 on the list in 1940 and 1941 — taking Shirley’s place?) No minor has taken the top spot since.

Women are not exactly over-represented either. Let’s look at the women on the list:

2013: Jennifer Lawrence

2009: Sandra Bullock

1999: Julia Roberts

1967: Julie Andrews

1966: Julie Andrews

1964: Doris Day

Marie Dressler in 1909.

Marie Dressler in 1909.

1963: Doris Day

1962: Doris Day

1961: Elizabeth Taylor

1960: Doris Day

1943: Betty Grable

1938: Shirley Temple

1937: Shirley Temple

1936: Shirley Temple

1935: Shirley Temple

1933: Marie Dressler

1932: Marie Dressler

Doris Day is the only woman to match Shirley’s four-year record, but hers weren’t consecutive, since Elizabeth Taylor broke in in 1961. The two of them, plus Julie Andrews, ruled the early ’60s, taking every year but one (1965, when Thunderball gave Sean Connery the top spot) between 1960 and 1967.

Of course, that did it for women for more than 30 years — the next to top the list was Julia Roberts in 1999.

And of course the women who topped the list were, with the exception of Taylor, wholesome as hell. From oldest to most recent:

Marie Dressler played comic dowagers (most famously as counterpoint to Jean Harlow in 1933’s Dinner at Eight): Wikipedia describes her as a “robust, full-bodied woman of very plain features.” Shirley Temple was underage, so let’s just accept her as asexual, as she was perceived in those days. (To the postmodern eye, of course, her penchant for showing off her undies and smooching grown men is a little more troubling.)

Betty Grable in her trademark pose.

Betty Grable, with her million-dollar legs, was the most famous pinup of World War II, but her film roles emphasized her girl-next-door persona — she was the woman GIs hoped might be waiting for them at home, not some floozy.

Doris Day, of course, made a career of playing virginal women, dominating the last few years before the sexual revolution by teasing wolfish roués, most famously those played by Rock Hudson. (Given that he turned out to be gay, it’s clear that her virtue was never in any danger.) Times and movies changed, but Day didn’t: she turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate as “vulgar and offensive.”

Julie Andrews goes risque in “Darling Lili.”

Julie Andrews, by contrast, struggled to ditch her wholesome persona. The first effort came in 1970’s Darling Lili, in which she played a German spy; that unsuccessful effort was satirized in 1981’s S.O.B.. Both movies were directed by Andrews’s then-husband, Blake Edwards. Neither film was particularly successful.

Julia Roberts played a hooker, albeit a very wholesome hooker, in Pretty Woman, but her box office clout was due to her rom coms. Notting Hill, which paired her with Hugh Grant, and Runaway Bride, which paired her with Richard Gere, both came out in 1999, sending her to the top of the box office list that year.

Sandra Bullock took the top spot in 2009, when she played the ultimate Good Mother in The Blind Side, and Jennifer Lawrence in 2013 for her role as the kick-ass Katniss in the second Hunger Games film — two different warrior women characters.

Which leaves us with butterfield 8Elizabeth Taylor, who played the highly sexual Gloria in BUtterfield 8 to take the top spot in 1961. She wasn’t actually a call girl (despite the phone number of the film’s title), but a woman whose ex-lovers are numerous enough to meet in Yankee Stadium, as one of them says. (Needless to say, given that the Hays Code was still in effect when the movie was made, Gloria got her just desserts, dying at the end of the movie.)

Women, even in Hollywood, are paid less than men, and the American public doesn’t want to see women owning their sexuality on the big screen? Imagine my astonishment.

Note: My review of John F. Kasson’s Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America, which is the book that sparked my preoccupation with Temple, can be found here.

Posted by: judyweightman | April 11, 2013

Twitter How-To Part VIII: Creating and using lists

Once the number of people you follow hits the triple digits — let alone quadruple digits or more — it becomes impossible to read every single tweet in your feed. There are a couple of strategies for making sure you see the ones you really want to read.

One of these is to create lists, which is a way of organizing your followees. Typical categories include:

  • topics (politics, local news, funny feeds, shared hobby — anything of interest to you)
  • profession
  • geographic location (people who live in your city or region)
  • relationship to you (friends, family, coworkers)

but you can divvy people up in any way that helps (or amuses) you.

To create a list, go to your “Me” page, which has the tab to get to your lists.

01 me lists

and click on “Create a new list.”

02 create list

You’ll get a pop-up in which you can name, describe, and set the privacy settings for your list. (You may want to keep your lists of personal friends private, but most of mine are public.)

After you’ve created your lists, go to the profile of the account you want to add a list or lists.

Click on the icon next to the “follow/following” button and on the dropdown, click on “add or remove from lists,”

03 add to list

then click on the list or lists you want to add the person to.

04 which list

(“Real-life tweeps” are, oddly enough, people I know in real life.) Once you’ve clicked however many lists you want to add the person to, all you have to do is close the pop-up — there’s no “save” on it. Note that most people tweet on multiple topics, so you may want to put them on more than one of your lists — for instance, a fellow editor I know in real life who lives in Philly would be on three.

Obviously, this is kind of a pain in the butt — the earlier in your Twitter career you start creating and maintaining lists, the better off you are.

If you click on the name of one of the lists, the recent tweets by members of that list appear.

05 list tweets

To see all the members of that list, click on “List members.”

06 list members

The other tab in the Lists list is labeled “Member of.” These are lists that other people have placed you on.

07 list membership

If you find one of these intriguing, you can subscribe to it yourself — just click on the list and then click on “subscribe.”

Why go through this rigamarole? Once you’ve got the lists, you can use them to see portions of your Twitter feed, enabling you to check on just the topics or tweeters you’re most interested in when you don’t have time to read through your entire feed.

Posted by: judyweightman | March 19, 2013

Twitter How-To Part VII: Favorites

Note: Despite my self-proclaimed status as an expert in all things Twitter, there are certain functions I don’t use much, making me ill qualified to tell you what they’re good for. One of those is the “favorite” button.

The “favorite” button lets you keep track of tweets that will otherwise disappear into the ether — despite new archiving functions, Twitter is an ephemeral medium. I personally use it to bookmark a story idea or other link I want to find later, or scrapbook an exchange with a celeb I admire, or (frankly) to keep track of a particularly nice compliment.

My Twitter pal @Mededitor, though, uses it all the time — and was kind enough to write a guest post about the “favorite” button. His thoughts are below.

All about Twitter: The “favorite” button

By Mededitor

Twitter is a highly social forum for interacting with other people. Those whom you choose to follow become part of your “following” list, and those following you are your “followers.”

You have many ways to interact with your followers. The simplest form of interaction is to post a Tweet. All of your followers will see it.

You use the “@” symbol to direct a Tweet at someone. When you do that, only that person and people following both you and that person will see the Tweet. Another option is to add a period and a space before the “@” symbol so that the person and all your followers see the tweet.

You use the “retweet” button to duplicate another person’s Tweet to all your followers. This is considered the highest form of compliment on Twitter — a virtual “high-five.” The problem is that, while you’ve indicated your approval of the person’s Tweet, you’ve also broadcasted it to all your followers. Only do this when you think the Tweet would be of exceptional interest to everyone who follows you.

standard RT

Note the green arrow at top right in this retweet, and the green “retweeted” button. That’s your confirmation that all those who follow you saw it. Too-frequent use of the RT (retweet) function will likely cost you followers because you’re adding content to other people’s Twitter streams, and they may decide that you’re spamming them.

The “favorite” button offers you a way around this problem. When you “favorite” a Tweet, a gold star appears on it in your window, and the person whose Tweet you’ve favorite is notified that you’ve favorite their Tweet. This is also a virtual “high-five,” but it is only visible to you and the other person.

favorite

Note the gold star at top right and the gold “favorited” button. That’s your confirmation that the person you favorited saw it. If you’re exceptionally fond of someone and enamored of his or her work, you can click on the person’s name, then view their Tweets, and “favorite” their last 10 or so posts.

Also, in your personal profile page, you can select your own “favorites” button and see all the Tweets you’ve favorited. There is normally no reason to do this, but when you favorite a Tweet you are creating a kind of bread-crumb trail that makes it easy to find a favorite item again should you wish to do so.

There is no “correct” way to Twitter. It’s what you make of it. Personally, I am very sparing with retweets. I may use the command only once or twice a day. But with favorites, I’m extremely liberal and hand them out like candy at a carnival.

Many people on Twitter use the Favstar tool (http://favstar.fm/) to manage their Tweets. When a Tweet gets five or more “favorites” or retweets, the person is notified of this in a special message. Favoriting a Tweet increases the likelihood of this happening.

favstar

Favstar here shows me that this Tweet garnered 19 favorites and 14 retweets — an indication that it was appreciated.

Be careful with the “retweet” button as it can cause people to stop following you. Only use it when you think 100 percent of your followers will appreciate the content. Use the “favorite” button as much as you like to thank those you follow for adding value to your Twitter life.

Mededitor is a medical editor with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Follow him on Twitter for thoughts on language, editing, publishing, culture, technology, and futurism: @mededitor.

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