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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, February 27, 2005

Oscar Nominated Films Make Good Reads, As Well

Will hip Oscar emcee Chris Rock get bleeped? Will any of the presenters wax political? Will a star reveal too much flesh? Answers to these pressing questions (as well as the names of the winners) will be revealed this evening on the 77th annual Academy Awards presentation.

The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards by Steve Pond (Faber and Faber, 2005) is an informative account of the past fifteen shows. Although the book's subtitle promises scandalous details, it's really about the painstaking and harrowing, though exhilarating, work involved in producing a live show of this scale.

It turns out that every new producer is obsessed with the length of the show, but is hard pressed to squeeze the opening monologue, two dozen regular awards, special awards, film clips (including the memorial montage), five songs, and sometimes interminable heartfelt acceptance speeches into much under four hours. I guess we should be glad that we don't have to sit through the six-hour dress rehearsal!

Once again, as always, many of the top movies of 2004 were based on books.

The drama Million Dollar Baby comes from a short story by F.X. Toole that appeared in the author's only published collection, Rope Burns. It was recently re-issued as Million Dollar Baby: Stories From The Corner (Ecco Press, 2005).

Toole started writing in his early 20s, and supported himself through 40 years of literary rejections by working as an actor, bartender, PI, bullfighter, and boxing cornerman. He died two years ago at age 72, after his book was published, but before seeing his work brought to the silver screen by Clint Eastwood.

The ending of this movie has been controversial. After reading the short story, I can verify that though many minor plot details have changed, the movie's ending remains true to Toole's work.

The comedy Sideways is based on the hilarious novel Sideways by Rex Pickett (St. Martin's Griffin, 2004). Pickett is another author who struggled for years before finally getting recognized. Reportedly, the now 52-year old author decided he didn't have anything to lose when he penned this no-holds-barred, largely autographical buddy tale of two men loose in California wine country.

After sending the work to publishers and movie companies simultaneously, he endured repeated rejections before moviemaker Alexander Payne snapped it up. The novel still didn't have a home, however, until St. Martin's fortuitously published it last year. If you loved the movie, you'll find even more of the same to savor in the novel..

Nominated for best adapted screenplay, the drama The Motorcycle Diaries is based on two memoirs originally written in the 1960s and 70s that have been reissued to coincide with the movie – The Motorcycle Diaries : Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Guevara (Ocean Press, 2004) and Traveling with Che Guevara: the Making of a Revolutionary by Alberto Granado (Newmarket Press, 2004).

On the face of it, here's another buddy tale – this one through South America in the 1950s on an old Norton motorcycle – but it's one that must inevitably be seen in the context of the revolutionary politics that followed it.

Ray: a Tribute to the Movie, the Music and the Man by Taylor Hackford et al (Newmarket Press, 2004) is a nicely illustrated work filled with insider details about Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx, and the making of the movie. It was here that I discovered that Foxx attended college on a piano scholarship and even impressed Charles with his talent, and that he wore blinding prosthetics to better play the role. Not that anyone cares, but Foxx has got my vote for best actor!

Kinsey : Public and Private by Bill Condon et al (Newmarket Press, 2004) is a compilation of original 1950s periodical articles, essays, photos, and cartoons, as well as the shooting script for the movie Kinsey. I especially enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek contributions by mid-century novelist and screenwriter Fannie Hurst and actress and author Cornelia Otis Skinner, as well as the review of the movie by sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.