In Lincoln’s Final Hours, author Kathryn Canavan takes a magnifying glass to the last moments of the president’s life and to the impact his assassination had on a country still reeling from a bloody civil war. With vivid, thoroughly researched prose and a reporter’s eye for detail, this fast-paced account not only furnishes a glimpse into John Wilkes Booth’s personal and political motivations but also illuminates the stories of ordinary people whose lives were changed forever by the assassination.
Next up on our look at comedic and influential filmmakers is a man with a style of his own. Remembered for intelligent screwball comedies that managed to be both realistic and farcical, Preston Sturges (1898–1959) made #32 on 101 Funniest Screenplays for his film The Lady Eve. Some of his most successful comedies also received recognition, such as Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. Throughout his career, Sturges was known for bringing sophistication and wit to the genre of comedy, establishing himself as one of the most valuable writer-directors in 1940s Hollywood. Today, more than fifty years after they were originally produced, his films have lost little of their edge and remain extremely popular.
Andrew Dickos’ Intrepid Laughter: Preston Sturges and the Movies is an essential guide to the life and work of this luminary of the stage and screen, following Sturges from his unusual childhood, through his early success as a Broadway playwright, to his whirlwind career in Hollywood. In the excerpt below, readers can get a deeper understanding of a screenwriter and director whose sophisticated, cutting-edge comedies have surpassed his time.
‘The Great McGinty and Christmas in July created the confidence that provided Sturges with a latitude necessary to flower with his next project. The Lady Eve was the first big-budgeted film written and directed by him and cast with top stars, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck. Released in February 1941 to critical acclaim, it quickly became a box office hit. The story of a female cardsharp contriving an elaborate scheme to season the gullible brewery heir she loves is one of the outstanding farces of the American screen. “It’s perfectly wonderful,” John Huston telegraphed Sturges, “and so are you.” Frank Lloyd Wright, fast becoming an ardent fan, began requesting private screenings of Sturges’ films at his Taliesin Institutes in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Spring Green, Wisconsin. The Lady Eve was named the best film of the year by the New York Times and catapulted Sturges to the top as the major writer-director talent in Hollywood.
The Lady Eve was also Sturges’ most complete synthesis of dialogue and camera up to then, and an interesting argument for the stylistic choices he made in the editing and camera work. Albert Deane, director of foreign advertising and publicity at Paramount, questioned the aesthetic satisfaction of Sturges’ editing technique in a letter to him. Sturges wrote an incisive reply:
When I got into the movies and began taking an interest in films I noticed that in some films I was conscious of the cutting and in some films I was not. And then I began to understand that there is a law of natural cutting and that this is what an audience in legitimate theatre does for itself. The more nearly the film cutter approaches this natural law of interest, the more invisible will be his cutting. If the camera moves from one person to another at the exact moment that you in the legitimate theatre would have turned your head you will not be conscious of a cut. If the camera misses by a quarter of a second, you will get a jolt. (One other requirement is necessary here: the two shots must be approximately of the same tone value. If you cut from white to black it is jarring.) To sum it up, the camera must point at the exact spot the audience wishes to look at any given moment. To find that spot is absurdly easy: you have only to remember where you were looking at the time the scene was made. My friend Mamoulian told me he could make the audience be interested in whatever he showed them, and I told him he was mistaken. It is true that he can bend my ear down and force me to look at a doorknob when my reflex wants to see the face of the gir1 saying goodbye, but it is also true that it stops my comprehension of the scene, destroys my interest and gives me a pain in the neck.’
Woody Allen isn’t the only film maker that we’re discussing this week! Coming in a close second for funniest screenplay, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot was also selected as top comedy film on American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Laughs poll in the year 2000. This film wasn’t the only Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond collaboration recognized on 101 Funniest Screenplays; The Apartment was another. Though Wilder’s genius can be realized onscreen, Gene D. Phillips’s Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder provides a groundbreaking overview of a filmmaking icon.
Wilder began his career as a screenwriter in Berlin but, because of his Jewish heritage, sought refuge in America when Germany came under Nazi control. Making fast connections in Hollywood, Wilder immediately made the jump from screenwriter to director. His classic films Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Double Indemnity (1945), and The Lost Weekend (1945) earned Academy Awards for best picture, director, and screenplay. During the 1960s, Wilder continued to direct and produce controversial comedies, including Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) and The Apartment (1960), which won Oscars for best picture and director. This definitive biography reveals that Wilder was, and remains, one of the most influential directors in filmmaking. This excerpt offers readers a closer look at the conception of Some Like It Hot:
‘“I. A. L. Diamond and I got the idea for Some Like It Hot from an earlier German film, Fanfaren der Liebe [Fanfares of Love, 1932], which was set in Bavaria,” Wilder said. The original German film was co-written by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan, who were scriptwriters at Ufa in Berlin at the time. Thoeren was now working in Hollywood; he had repeatedly coaxed Wilder to do an American remake of the original picture. Wilder obtained a print of the German picture and screened it. (Thoeren did not live to see Some Like It Hot; he died in 1957.) Fanfaren der Liebe was about two starving musicians who don a number of disguises to get work; for example, they wear blackface to join an all-black jazz band. Only the film’s final episode caught Wilder’s attention. “When the two guys dressed as women and joined the girls’ band called the Alpine Violets,” he thought he had the makings of a farce.
Gerd Gemünden writes in his monograph on Wilder that Wilder was influenced in remaking Fanfaren der Liebe by the successful German remake in 1951, directed by Kurt Hoffmann. But Wilder emphasized that his movie was derived from the original film. Wilder pitched the concept to Walter Mirisch, insisting that the premise of the two musicians in drag could be the basis for a classic screwball comedy. Mirisch had faith enough in Wilder to give him the go-ahead.
In its original version, Wilder said, Fanfaren der Liebe was a low-budget, second-class German flick “with heavy-handed, Teutonic humor.” The two musicians are shown smoking cigars and shaving while in drag—rather crude jokes. Diamond pointed out that the sturdy Charley’s Aunt was the classic example of a hero dressing as a woman in American cinema. Jack Benny starred in Archie Mayo’s successful 1941 picture, playing an Oxford undergraduate in Victorian Britain impersonating an elderly dowager who chaperones young society ladies. Diamond was confident that, since Charley’s Aunt had been a hit, the general public would accept another farce about crossdressing.
In brainstorming with Diamond about the plot, Wilder noted that Fanfaren der Liebe dealt with two guys who joined a girls’ band simply because they needed jobs. “When we talked about it, we decided that the two guys should join the girls’ band as an absolute question of life and death. Otherwise, it would seem that at any point in the picture they could simply remove their wigs and tell Sugar Kane, the band’s sexy vocalist and ukulele player, that they both love her and hence are rivals for her affections—then take it from there.” Wilder continued, “So we invented the fact that they had witnessed a gangland killing and had to disguise themselves to protect their lives. Then we set the story in the Roaring Twenties, in order to make this element of the plot more believable,” since mob warfare was rampant in the Prohibition era. “And so we brought in an actual gangland killing, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as the killing which they had witnessed.” Wilder concluded, “So it was not that Mr. Diamond and I just sat down and said that we were going to do a satire on the old gangster pictures. That is just how the scenario developed. As Lubitsch used to say, ‘We began to have a picture.’” Like Lubitsch, Wilder loved what he lampooned. The America he depicts in the Roaring Twenties is gaudy and vulgar but also full of fun.’
If you want to read more, Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder is available at your favorite bookseller or online from the University Press of Kentucky.
With the Writers Guild of America’s release of the 101 Funniest Screenplays, we figured now would be as good a time as any to recognize the filmmaker who holds the #1 title for his screenplay, Annie Hall: Woody Allen! With other note-worthy movies making the list such as, Sleeper, Bananas, and Broadway Danny Rose, there’s no doubt that Allen has a prolific film making career. To further celebrate the successful screenwriter and director, we have provided you with an excerpt* from The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen, second edition by Peter J. Bailey.
In this second edition Peter J. Bailey extends his classic study to consider Allen’s work during the twenty-first century. He illuminates how the director’s decision to leave New York to shoot in European cities such as London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona has affected his craft. He also explores Allen’s shift toward younger actors and interprets the evolving critical reaction to his films—authoritatively demonstrating why the director’s lifelong project of moviemaking remains endlessly deserving of careful attention. Enjoy this additional insight into Woody Allen and his work:
“Allen’s ability to address with dramatic effectiveness the disparity between human perception or desire and reality is, more than anything else, the element of his work responsible for its having become more substantial than—to choose the most obvious and oft-cited contrast—the films of Mel Brooks, which generally settle for the parodying of literary and cinematic forms without exploring the psychic needs served by the forms being parodied. Brilliant as it is as film satire, Brooks’s Young Frankenstein—probably his best film—seeks to displace Frankenstein through humor rather than seeking to illuminate the human desire that the original horror film addressed; it’s Allen’s examination of the needs that art is fulfilling for its audience which most emphatically differentiates his films from Brooks’s. Comedy, it can be argued, is always about the difference between what we think the world is and its actuality; what distinguishes Annie Hall from Allen’s earlier comic films as well as from Brooks’s is that its visual emblems evoke not only the difference between fantasy and reality, but they also dramatize the emotional cost to the perceiver of the awareness of that disparity. Rather than—as Brooks characteristically does—objectifying his protagonist in order to make him an easy target for laughter, these devices draw the viewer inside Alvy so that his emotional landscape becomes the viewer’s as well. Cinematic correlatives of the theatrical soliloquy, the antimimetic emblems of Annie Hall simultaneously provide Allen’s film with a quirky mode of humor, heighten the movie’s aura of plain-dealing candor through their incessant transgression of cinematic conventions of representation, and entertainingly project the subjective reality of Alvy Singer. In their contradictory repudiation and enactment of artistic contrivance, they are the perfect artifices to inaugurate the serious filmmaking career of an artist irremediably suspicious of art.”
*excerpt comes from uncorrected advance version and may not reflect final text
To read more, The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen, second edition is available at your favorite bookseller or online from the University Press of Kentucky.
We’ve come to the end of UP Week 2015 and we are not happy about it.
Today’s blog tour theme: “University Presses in Conversation with Authors”.
Columbia University Press: Editor Christine Dunbar will discuss the new Columbia UP Russian Library series of literature in translation with translators and scholars from the series board.
University of Virgina Press: A Q&A with surprise author.
Beacon Press: Executive editor, Gayatri Patnaik, will do a Q&A with Jeanne Theoharis on The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks and the Rosa Parks papers.
University of Illinois Press: Acquisitions Editor, Dawn Durante, interviews Carol Stabile, editor of the Feminist Media Studies series.
Temple University Press: Gary Kramer, publicist at Temple University Press, interviews Eric Tang, author of Unsettled, about his experiences with University Press publishing.
Southern Illinois University Press: A Q&A with Guy R. Hasegawa, author of Villainous Compounds: Chemical Weapons and the Civil War.
University Press of Kansas: UPK will run a Q&A with Friended at the Front author, Lisa Silvestri.
Oregon State University Press: Marketing manager, Marty Brown, talks with author Lawrence Landis about his process in writing A School for the People: A Photographic History of Oregon State University.
Liverpool University Press: A Q&A with LUP’s Editorial Director and the editor of one of our forthcoming open access e-textbooks, using primary sources, destined for use on more than 20 taught modules in their home institution.
University of Toronto Press: An interview with their journal editor.
The University Press of Kentucky would like to thank everyone who has participated this week whether it’s blogging, tweeting, or sharing those #UPShelfies. We hope to see you next year for blog tour 2016!
We’re heading into the homestretch of University Press Week 2015. Today’s theme is a look back with throwback Thursday!
Project MUSE: In honor of their 20th anniversary this year, they will pull some highlights from their 20 years of university press content.
University of Minnesota Press: In honor of their 90th birthday this year, they will celebrate with information and infographic material.
University of Chicago Press: A fictitious letter to the future from c. 1991 (the year the PDF was invented) about scholarly publishing and digital futures.
University of Manitoba Press: Features books, catalogs, and book launch photos from the 48 years UMP has been publishing.
University of Washington Press: In celebration of kicking off UW Press’s centennial, UW will feature highlights and photos from 100 years of UW Press history.
Duke University Press: A throwback to all of their surprising journal covers.
University of Texas Press:A look back on the street style of 1970s Pennsylvania through the lens of seminal street photographer, Mark Cohen.
University of Michigan Press: Describing the evolution of their book Michigan Trees through more than 100 years the publication has been maintained/edited, with a screen shot of the original cover.
University Press of Kansas: UPK will use this #TBT post, along with a “Today in history” theme, to tie-in relevant books from UPK.
Minnesota Historical Society Press: Mike Evangelist’s Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s captures a memorable time and place in the past. His photos generated great interest on social media by those reflecting on the many long-lost places and styles featured. The book itself offers a throwback look at this era.
University of California Press: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 publication in 2010: A media cause célèbre.
University of Toronto Press: UTP Journals will use their throwback Thursday post to highlight the various cover designs their journals have had over the years.
Don’t forget to follow along throughout the day on Twitter with the hashtags #UPWeek and #ReadUP. Also, it’s still not too late to submit an awesome #UPShelfie! Here is ours:
Stay tuned and don’t miss Friday’s theme: UPs in Conversation with Authors!
Happy day three of UP Week! Today’s exciting theme is “UP Design”.
Northwestern University Press: Will feature a Q&A with their book cover designer and Creative Director, Marianne Jankowski, in which she will discuss her own design background and answer several questions such as, “How is working on a trade cover different from a scholarly cover?” and “What are some of the trends in university press design that you’ve noticed?”
Princeton University Press: Designer Chris Lapinski will introduce and launch the PUP design department’s new Tumblr blog, which will highlight PUP design across all departments, while delving into the conversation on visual culture in book publishing. Chris will reflect on the art of design and its place in book history.
Georgetown University Press: Hope LeGro, director of Georgetown Languages, discusses what it takes for editors to get textbook content ready for the designer so that the book and the coordinating ancillary materials create the best possible learning experience.
Syracuse University Press: Will feature past award-winning designs and some recent successful trade designs.
Stanford University Press: A profile/Q&A with freelance designers, Anne Jodan and Mitch Goldstein, who’ve designed a number of notable book jackets for SUP.
Harvard University Press: One of their designers will walk us through the ideas and designs she abandoned on her way to completing a recent jacket.
AU Press: Their in-house designer and production coordinator will be looking at their favorite fonts for interior book design.
Make sure to check back for tomorrows theme: throwback Thursday!