American Literature Movies V Books Week 28

Prompt: “Is it easier for skilled authors to manipulate movie viewers or book readers? Why or why not?”

This has more to do with the audience member than the creator. Different people look to fiction for different things. Some come for a beautiful story, some for immaculate world building, and some come simply for classic entertainment. Depending on what kind of work you’re looking for these two creative mediums each offer their own unique magic.

I’ll compare some similarities that I personally look for in these two. The first is being transported to another space. Being taken out of the norm and transported to another setting is something both films and movies do great. The difference is one relies on your senses of sight and hearing to bring to life a digitally or practically created environment, while the other relies on the readers imagination. Now funnily I often find myself remembering the visuals and landscaped of books I read better than that of film. Don’t get me wrong, there are some visuals that only movie magic can create. There are some worlds that have seemingly been pulled right out of the imagination of a dreamer and slapped up on the screen for all to marvel. This concept is one of the reasons I want to be a cartoonist. But, as many things in life, we can only see truly through our own eyes. That’s why I can still graphically remember the realms books have made me imagine all throughout my life. My mind wove the tapestry and my subconscious hung it on the wall.

Next but certainly not null are characters. Characters are integral to most good stories, if the environment is the body the characters are the life blood. They become the eyes we see through, or root against, or explore complex emotion through. In books its up to the author to breath life into these characters, in film its the job of the writers and especially the actors. Now I’ve seen quite a few films where I loved the book, but the actor just didn’t bring the right energy to the role. This (along with writing that misunderstands its source material) can hinder a whole production. But ironically enough, I often have the opposite feelings about characters in films/books than I do about setting. When I think about a character from a book, if there has been a movie version my mind immediately goes to the actor who played them. For better or for worse. Unless I had a clear picture of the character, and the film portrayed them in a very different way. But that’s few and far between. More often than not a movie will cast someone or is similar enough to the character I had envisioned that they will become the character to me. Especially if the actor is good, a good enough actor can steal a character straight out of its pages.

The final and often most important part of any film or movie is the story. This is usually where books have an advantage. They have hundreds of pages and thousands of words to fill in every detail and plot thread they need to. Movies have to summarize generally, especially if they’re making a movie about a book. They have to cram all the theming, emotion, character and heart of a 500 page book into a 90 minute retelling. So unless the film has a top notch director and excellent writers who specialize in summarizing without leaving things out, books have an advantage.

But as we know movies nowadays are often more popular than books, and this is for a simple reason. Entertainment. As sad as it may be movies are widely regarded as more entertaining. That’s because books take more mental effort. It’s comparable to running a marathon and then getting ice cream, vs taking a stroll and then getting ice cream. The marathon runners have the right to say marathons are better for you than strolls, but the walkers are gonna keep walking.

In the end it all comes down to what you’re looking for in the moment. If you’re looking for a spread out detailed and beautiful experience that slowly builds in magnitude and character growth; painting another world in your mind and leaving you sitting wistfully with a head full of dreams, I’d suggest a good book. But if you’re looking to take ‘er easy, have a good laugh and a good cry, witness the magic of moving pictures and the raw talent of performers: well films won’t let you down. Its all about what you’re looking for.

American Literature Week 26 Theaters

Prompt: Would You rather watch a movie alone in a theater or online if they cost the same? Why

There’s a lot of thought that goes into this question, and a lot of factors that go along with it. It really depends on what the movie is, and how I’m feeling on the particular day. Theaters create the glowing atmosphere, the thunderous audio, and the experience of watching a film along side a crowd. If the film is a big blockbuster, or a comedy where the laughs will be shared, I’d usually opt for the theater. The psychology the theater provides is one of a kind, you get to have a sort of kinship with everyone else watching. The emotions, fear, and humor can all be shared collectively. Not to mention the laughter boost when everyone around you starts cracking up about the same joke. True gold.

At home is a different environment, with its own pros. I can relax, kick my shoes off, let my hair down and be completely in my own element. I can personalize my space and create my own comfortable vibe. I don’t have to worry about noisy kids a row behind me, and I don’t have to miss scenes to use the restroom. I can also multitask more easily, if I find myself bored I can draw while watching or glance down at my phone. I can lounge in bed and eat cheese. True gold.

To be honest both events make me happy. Going to the movie theater is certainly more rare than watching films at home, so it has a lot of novelty. But I feel more truly comfortable and relaxed at home. It depends on what I’m looking for that day. If I want lights and glam and people I’ll choose the theater. If I wanna take a bath while watching Jumanji I’ll opt for home.

American Literature Week 25 Birth of a Nation

Prompt:  “Why was this movie the first blockbuster?”

The Birth of a Nation is a 1915 silent epic drama directed by D W Griffith. From the atmospheric soaring music to the devastating glimpse into the horrors of war and slavery, its easy to see why this film left its mark on early 20th century cinema. The film centers around two families, the Stonemans in the North and the Camerons in the South. The two families live on either side of the Mason-Dixon line, and become friends after their sons board together in school. There’s actually a bit of Romeo and Juliet tones that develop between the two families, which tracks because at the head of the film they state they were inspired by Shakespeare. My personal favorite plot point that mirrors Romeo and Juliet is the relationship between the two youngest sons of the families, Todd and Duke. I’ll touch on them more later.

The eldest brother of the Cameron family Ben, finds himself a main character as he is called into war. His only window into the lives of his family rests in the letters that his sister occasionally sends him. Meanwhile in South Carolina guerilla fighters rampage the Camerons hometown, the sisters of the family just barely escaping into a secret cellar. The town drives them out, but as time goes on the Camerons estate begins slowly falling into disrepair and the members start selling off their best items and clothes to fund their lifestyle and the war.

The two youngest brothers of each family (Todd and Duke) heretofore have been described as “chums”. They are very affectionate with each other, teasing and play-fighting. Its a boyish charisma they have together, chasing each other around the garden and walking into the Cameron manner arm in arm. I wouldn’t think to bring this up if it wasn’t for the the scene they share later in the film, and the opening section of the film which states clearly their stance against censorship. Censorship in early film was something that effected every part of the industry. From things seen as “socially taboo”, to religious critiques censorship surely had its place. This movie was made even before The Hays Code came into play in the thirties, which outright criminally banned anything profane, suggestive, violent, or “sexually perverse”. The effect this had on queer culture of the time still leaches over into todays media. It led to something known as queer coding, which is a character that’s suggested to be queer through usually stereotypical or comical behavior. Queer folks either had to be the butt of the joke, the villain, or be somehow punished or killed off by the end of the film. We still see the remnants of these laws in films like Brokeback Mountain, one of the biggest gay romance movies. Even in this film one of the protagonists has to die in the end. It has to end in sadness and loss if its gay; this mentality is a hang up from the censorship film craze of the early 20th century.

Back to Birth of a Nation. The “chums” swear to meet each other again as soon as they’re able. The battle scenes (which were mostly filmed in the rolling hills of California) are some of the greatest and most realistic portrayals of the civil war ever put to film. I particularly like the use of smoke and fire in the film. Before the battles begin we see young people celebrating outside around bonfires. The billowing smoke rolling around their dancing feet representing youthful glee and freedom. After the war starts we see the flip side to fire. We see the battlefield scarred with flame and smoke, the visual of bonfires transforming from a symbol of joy to one of devastation.

We see the youngest Cameron boy in war, racing out from the protection of shrubbery with his troupe only to be almost immediately shot. A young man races at him, bayonet raised high and ready to stab his fallen foe. Suddenly a look of realization comes into his eyes. Todd Stoneman finds himself starring down at the bleeding out form of his good friend Duke Cameron. The man he shared such affection with, to whom he had sworn he’d meet again. Yet alas, their meeting would last but a short time. Tears in his eyes Todd mouths the deeply heavy words “I’m sorry”, before he too is shot and falls down at Dukes side. With the last of his strength he pulls himself close to Dukes face, and kisses him. Well, gives him the closest thing to kissing that the studio could get away with at the time. The only way two men can share a kiss in 1915 is if its disguised as one last mortally wounded bro hug. It’s also, as I mentioned before, very Romeo and Juliet. Only if that story took place during the civil war.

We next see the Eldest boys from either family. They’re each leading a brigade. Ben Camerons brigade is underfed, and quite obviously battered. But Ben risks his life and runs out with them anyway. We see him receive a bad head wound, yet still sprint across the battlefield to the union trench. He rams a confederate flag down the mouth of a union cannon and races back to his own trenches. Yet again we see his bravery as he risks himself in order to save a wounded union soldier. Ben is taken to a union hospital where he meets Elsie. Throughout the film Ben has been infatuated with a woman in a picture. Even though he’s never met her he fawns over her, carries her photo with him, and looks at it when he needs uplifting. Now in the hospital he finally meets her.

Ben is unfairly charged with spying on the union army, upon hearing this his mother travels to her son and pleas with president Lincoln to pardon Ben. Lincoln understands her appeal and diplomatically pardons the eldest Cameron son. Ben travels home and finds his home in disrepair, with hardly any food and all the valuables sold off. In DC the eldest Stoneman son debates with Lincoln, trying to convince him to rule ruthlessly over the defeated south. But Lincoln refuses, opting for diplomacy to preserve the union. Five days later Lincoln is shot.

The film also addresses a lot of race related issues and events that I don’t personally feel comfortable talking about. As a queer dude LGBT issues throughout history are more my can of beans. All I can say is that along with the terrors of war, the film also shows the horrors of racism and slavery. It’s hard to watch at times.

It’s clear why the film was the one of the first blockbusters, if updated and remade for a modern audience it could possibly be a blockbuster today. It was ahead of its time in many ways, and is still one of the best known movies about the civil war. There’s no speaking, but between the vibrant musical score and the often poetic subtitles the emotion is felt plain as day. It’s a look back in time, a window into a world of yesteryear. If the letters Ben received out in the field were a glimpse into his family then this film is a glimpse into a time of history which lays dusty, but not forgotten.

American Literature Week 23 Philip Dru

Prompt: “Would I have voted for the income tax amendment in 1912, based on the arguments in this book?”

I have a habit of not entirely trusting political literature that uses phrases like “A new world order”, and gives all hypothetical power to a young man who “comes panoplied in justice and with the light of reason in his eyes. He comes as the advocate of equal opportunity and he comes with the power to enforce his will.” This is religious language, making the title character out to seem like an economic messiah. Yet the character himself held the knowledge (advanced though it may be) of a man in his twenties, and the arrogance of one to boot. A dangerous combination.

Idealism was the model train Edward House rode in while writing the book Philip Dru: Administrator, and the economic hardships and class division of the time were the fuel in its engine. With the lower class of the Edwardian era living in destitution, watching their struggle and coming into a new time must have seemed like the perfect opportunity to do some good. To make economical equality, or at least balance things out better. So the revenue act of 1913 (from that perspective) seemed the perfect way to Robin Hood things up, to help the poor by taxing the rich. The issue was, instead of a charming rogue in green tights enforcing the taxes, it was a federal government. A federal government, whom with the ratification of this act, suddenly had immediate influence over peoples income. It gave those in power a foot in the door of peoples private life, which is certainly a slippery slope.

So to answer the original question, I don’t think Philip Dru: Administrator would have swayed me in 1912. But it would have given me insight into the thoughts of politicians of the time, as the author Edward House was a good friend and advisor of Woodrow Wilson.

But I can certainly see both sides of it. If I were around in 1912, working on a Betty Boop prototype and playing piano in a jazz club; I’d see plenty of friends working their hardest and only barely scraping by. I’d see poverty, intense poverty. But I’d also see plenty of Gatsby’s buying castles for their Daisy’s and I’d think to myself, “Gee wouldn’t it be the cats meow if those rich eggs made like a swell and threw a sawbuck my way!”

A slope made slippery by melted gold temptations and promises of a brighter tomorrow. Almost makes the term new world order sound optimistic, which was exactly how the federal tax act was dished up and sold. Philip Dru: Administrator was a nail in the coffin of Edwardian style small government.

American Literature Week 22 O Henry, London, and Bierce

Prompt: “Which of the three authors would you prefer to read on your own time? Why?”

For context the three authors in this prompt are O Henry, London, and Bierce. Ironically enough listing them this way is almost like listing most optimistic to most pessimistic. O Henry was a short story writer born in the mid 1800s. He worked on the Houston Post, and was renowned for his ability to write quality stories quite quickly and consistently. His most famous story is The Gift of the Magi, in which two lovers sacrifice what they hold dear in order to get the other a gift they will love. They realize it was not the material gift that held the significance, but their dedication and love for one another.

Another of his stories which I quite liked was The Last Leaf. This tells of a woman who is mortally ill. She sits, and watches the leaves on her ivy plant fall one by one. Shes convinced that when the last leaf falls she too will die. Her artistic neighbor, seeing her dilemma, decides to paint a leaf on the wall. So she sits, watching this leaf. But it doesn’t fall. It never falls. Eventually she realizes the power is not in this leaf, but in her own resolve. She ends up recovering from her illness.

Jack London is the second on the list. His most famous book is The Call of the Wild. In this a dog named Buck is kidnapped from his home in California and taken to the Yukon. There he is abused until a prospector rescues him. The two bond, but Buck watches the wild dogs running free and yearns to join them. It is a story of survival, adapting to ones environment, and the subconscious craving to abandon civilized society and reclaim our ancient inner wilderness. London was a Darwinist, and his focus on the evolution of nature and how it interacts with the evolution of human society makes itself known in his writing.

The last author on this list is Ambrose Bierce. He is truly the black sheep of these three authors. If O Henry focuses on the inherit virtues of humanity, and London seeks the balance between morals and instinct, then Bierce brings down the hammer of cynicism on both. He is best known for his book The Devils Dictionary. This is a book of satirical, cynical poems and definitions. For example “Achievement: The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.” or “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

Bierce’s work is made up of a third angst, a third bitterness, and a third repressed truth that is only allowed to be discussed while under the umbrella of cynicism.

The three put back to back all have their strengths, and my deciding factor on who I personally would read depends less on their differences and more on my mood. Most days I would read O Henry. His perspective on the truths of virtue, love, and human betterment are subtle and inspiring. If there comes a day when I when I wanna sit on my porch, watch the rain, and dream of the mysteries that live just beyond my view I may read Jack London. I may find my emotions mirrored by his characters. If I’ve just been through a begrudging breakup I’ll reach for Bierce. When I want dulled anger sharpened with wit to feed my fire of casual resentment Bierce is the choice. But he would only last as long as the anger, once that subsides and I feel balanced again I’d swap for O Henry. (That is if Ethel Eliot Cook, Bill Richardson, or F Scott Fitzgerald aren’t available).

American Literature Week 21 Twain

Prompt: “Would you read more of Mark Twain’s writings even if they were not assigned in a course? Why or why not?”

I absolutely would and plan to. Both the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are classics of both yesteryear and today. They illustrate innocence, living as a free spirit, coming of age, the spirit of adventure, friendship, imagination, and learning to cope and heal from the pain of the world. They are beautiful stories, and I look forward to getting emotional reading them in their entirety.

His philosophical works are also must reads; such as his short story What is Man? In this a young man and an old man sit together and discuss their thoughts on free will, destiny, identity and other such themes. While not every idea is perfect it explores different perspectives and philosophies on life.

“Each man must decide for himself what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and what isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and your country, let men label you as they may.” “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” “How little a thing can make us happy, when we feel that we have earned it.”

American Literature Week 20 Jesus and Native Americans

Prompt: “Did the Gettysburg Address use Christian language and imagery to support the Union cause?”

Much of Abraham Lincolns language in the Gettysburg Address mirrors biblical themes. The iconic start of “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…” begins the speech with a gravitas akin to that in the bible. It brings a weight that although isn’t directly spiritual mirrors it in tone. He also brings up those “who gave their lives so that this nation might live”, which is unintentionally a metaphor for Jesus giving his life to save humanity. Though Lincoln didn’t directly use his platform for religious reasons he knew that the heavily religious citizens he was speaking to would be more inclined to preserve the nation if they felt it was a divine union.

Unrelated to the prompt, but somethings that flowers from my mind at the comparison is the similarities between Jesus and Native Americans. Natives for too long have been dismissed from history books because instead of being given the respect of a genuine nation they were seen as “discovery”. Jesus, at his time, was also seen as “discovery”. This discovery was unprompted for those who “claimed” it, and the reaction in both circumstances was domination and destruction.

Europeans of the time (and christianity of the time in all its forms) was very focused on repression. According to the legend of Adam and Eve people are born into sin, and from day one need to repress our natural inclinations and beg the priests to forgive us. So Europeans were extremely repressed, repressed in thought, emotion, and most extremely sexuality. Sexuality was seen as damnable, and was preached outright as the work of the devil. So when Europeans came over and saw the Natives lifestyle (a matriarchy where casual nudity, unique gender identity, and affirming ones sexuality were norms) they rationalized that these people were demonic and unworthy of respect. The same thing happened in Europe to Celtic peoples, Pagans and Gauls and anyone who refused to repress themselves. This is classic projection, the idea that “If I can’t have it you can’t either”. This is when the North American continent was “claimed”, and Europeans took it upon themselves to wash the sin from the land and destroy Native culture.

Ironically, a very similar experience happened to Jesus Christ. He lived in a time of even harsher repression, fear, and punishment. He lived in a time where those in power could kill anyone they wanted, for no other reason than they attempted to rise above the mental societal repression and decide their own truth. Jesus was one of those who rose above repression, and like the Native Americans was punished severely for doing so. The Natives were a people unrepressed, living naturally and free. Jesus was a person unrepressed, trying to live free and preaching the universal truth of love thy neighbor as you love yourself. When both of these peoples were “discovered” by a culture of repression, they were attacked and torn down.

This is what happens when fear is given power. Those who aren’t afraid are punished into being afraid. Or as Jesus and proud Natives show us, punished while still holding their truths and holding their faith above all else. As these two seemingly different, yet at their core very similar demographics show us, repression leads to bloodshed. A more uplifting lesson both of these peoples teach is love is at the core of humanity. Love is who we are when we aren’t in pain, when we aren’t afraid. Love is who we are when we live unrepressed, when we aren’t ruled by fear. Love is the truth of humanity, not sin. Love is who we are, and as for God, God is the essence of love.

American Literature Week 17 Cooper

Prompt: “How fair was Twain’s critique of Cooper’s literary style?”

James Fenimore Cooper was an American writer in the early 19th century. His most famous works include The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer. Cooper had an extreme fondness of nature, and he describes it throughout much of his work. He was a romantic, and instead of sticking to a grounded plot his stories often followed a character as they simply meandered through the woods.

Mark Twain, most famous for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, absolutely tore into Coopers work to the extent that many couldn’t read it the same afterwards. Twain was a skeptic, and Coopers romantic flowery descriptions weren’t nearly enough for Twain to overlook the holes in Coopers plots.

An example of this is a scene where a large boat is moving slowly down the river. Natives are hiding in the trees and attempt to jump upon the boat, but all of them fail. The boat isn’t moving fast, they just simply miss. Another example is when Deerslayer is able to shoot a fly from far away. Twain points out that he must truly have a hawks eye.

It’s details like this that Twain wrote his scathing review about, little plot holes that really rubbed him wrong. He described the language of Deerslayer as poetic eloquence combined with strange country bumpkin vernacular, and says that it kills the story.

In Deerslayer the main characters are rather humorless, and they are meandering without any real motivation or intent. But I didn’t personally mind it, the descriptive language used by Cooper paints a vivid picture that the two leads move through. I think there should be a place for this kind of meditative literature. Twain wholeheartedly disagrees, but I believe that not every story needs to be a daring adventure or have a grand lesson. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes just a walk in the woods with ones thoughts is enough. Whether they be serious or flowery, poetic or unbelievable.

The Deerslayer gives us just that, the legend of a man whos life is walking through the woods with his thoughts. Some parts seem to be more myth than history, but the book never claims to be nonfiction. The nature is painted brilliantly with words that make it rise up from nothingness like the mountains that rose from the sea. Sometimes its good not to hurry through, but instead take some time to enjoy the scenery and simply meander.

American Literature Week 16 Irving

Prompt: “Were the detailed descriptions of the people around the two main characters equally important in the two stories?”

Washington Irving had a brilliant way with world building. He was able to create one of a kind atmospheres, where magic seemed hidden in the foliage and superstition permeated the environment like a constant shroud. The characters in his stories lived within this atmosphere, and in their own ways added to the subtle yet haunting worlds Irving built.

In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow the lead is a highly superstitious, rather proper but also somewhat odd schoolkeeper. Ichabod Crane’s description is given in length, and his physical oddities combined with his proclivity to be spooked by supernatural events makes him very memorable. He is the perfect victim to eventually run into the headless horseman. The other characters in the story are simple yet charming, and they set the stage for Ichabod to eventually run into the hollows topless terror. There is Katrina Van Tassel, beautiful heiress to Baltus Van Tassel’s fortune. Ichabod pursues her, both for her beauty and her wealth. Brom Bones is the third main lead, a rival to Ichabod who also looks to court Katrina.

Ichabod attends one of Baltus’s parties hoping to woo Katrina, during which Brom fills his head with stories of the headless horseman. This leads to the infamous trip home, where the tension slowly builds as Ichabod imagines ghouls all around him. The tension climaxes when he actually does run into the headless horseman, who chases him through the woods and across a covered bridge. With nothing but his hat left to be found by morning, its left to the readers to decide for themselves what happened to the old schoolmaster.

In Rip Van Winkle the characters are also simple and charming, setting a similar tone. There is Rip Van Winkle himself, a playful and somewhat lethargic man who doesn’t much like work but gets along well with the children and dogs of the village. He’s kind of a bard type. His wife is critical and henpecking, nagging him on his work yet to be done and eventually driving him out of the house and up to the mountains. There are other townsfolk in the story, but most of the characters are there to set up the energy of the town. There’s Nicholas Vedder for example, the owner of the inn. He doesn’t talk much, but enjoys sitting and smoking his pipe.

After his wifes critiques push him from the house Rip makes his way into the mountains for a relaxing afternoon. Once again the atmosphere of the woods surrounding the town is heavy with the supernatural. While hiking Rip meets some Fae, who he helps and spends the night dancing with. When he awakes twenty years have past. He returns to his village to find most folks have passed away and the tone of the town has shifted. Its much busier now, and people are more quick to argument. Van Winkle is left as one of the only ones who remembers how the town once was, and as the only one who knows what happened to him the night he went away.

Washington Irvings characters are simple, but along with the setting they help create the atmosphere of his stories. This atmosphere is one of warm village life. But at the boundaries supernatural elements hang heavy in the air, waiting for their chance to meet one of our characters and potentially change their lives.

American Literature Week 15 Weems Washington

Prompt: “How believable is this book?”

Parson Weems was the author of Washingtons first biography, and a heavy component in many of the myths that have been told about Washington through the centuries. The most famous of these is the legend of the cherry tree, in which a young George Washington accidentally damages his fathers cherry tree with a hatchet; when confronted Washington proclaims that he cannot tell a lie and that it was him who cut the tree. His father is overcome with joy, realizing his sons honesty is more important than a tree.

Many of the stories in Weems book are similar to this, and the book itself being labeled a biography creates the assumption that the stories are true. The assumption is made that Washington was nearly ethereal, an ethical wonder from a young age. But its taken to the extent that Washington seems almost inhuman, angelic and honorable in every deed. This is where the book loses its believability for me, when it becomes unrelatable it becomes less and less likely to be historically accurate.

Washington was a great and noble man, but he was still just that: a man. People have flaws, people make mistakes. This is something that separates us from angels, but its also something that gives strength, determination, and eventual extraordinary results to humanity. As individuals we get to grow. We get to experience, and learn, and grow stronger than our flaws. That is where the true ethereal wonderment is, in our individual capacity to better ourselves through time, love and determination. I believe if Washington was better shaded in the book (with his flaws and motives and personal journey made more accurate) well we wouldn’t look at him as a deity. But we would get to see a more believable, relatable, and ultimately more inspiring look into the founding fathers life.