Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline
queen_of_kithia

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Some books and movies

So, I've read some books and seen some movies lately, and somehow I can never get around to talking about them individually, so maybe I will just talk about them all at once.

Has anyone else read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline? If not, I humbly recommend that you do. I'm sure that you would all love it as much as I did, maybe even more.

****

I think around the end of March or the beginning of April I finally got to see The Help on DVD from the library, and I'm sorry to say that it was not worth waiting for. In short, I recommend the book but I do not recommend the movie.

One of the things that impressed me about the book is that Kathryn Stockett KNEW that it was going to be controversial and that people were going to raise concerns about it--completely valid concerns, by the way. So she proactively (yet authentically, in my opinion) acknowledged those concerns within the narrative and then addressed them directly in a very thoughtful and humble afterword, in which she says this: "I don't presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don't think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman's paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity."

There's not a lot more that needs to be or can be added to that, but the way I interpret it is that Ms. Stockett wasn't sure that she was the right person to write the book when it came to her, but she did it anyway because she felt like it was a story that deserved to be told. And I tend to agree.

But then we get to the movie. I'm sure everyone involved had the best of intentions while making it, but it seems to me to embody the worst concerns and criticisms that people have about the entire concept. It's not only a poor adaptation, but it potentially undermines the good intentions of the book. I really wish that they had waited to make the movie until enough time had passed to get a good historical perspective on the cultural significance of the book.

It starts off promising, with the camera focused on Viola Davis as Aibileen, with Emma Stone as Skeeter asking her questions in voiceover. But then the focus quickly shifts back to Skeeter and remains there for most of the rest of the movie, while in the book, the three protagonist narrators get approximately equal time (although I haven't gone through and counted up the pages, but it seemed pretty balanced as I was reading it). Also, Emma Stone is given top billing, which is almost hilariously inappropriate given the criticisms that people have made of both the book and the movie.

About Emma Stone, I hadn't really seen her in anything before this, but I didn't feel that she was a good choice to play Skeeter because she's too pretty, and her performance in the movie was not compelling enough to convince me otherwise. I thought that one of her co-stars, either Bryce Dallas Howard or Jessica Chastain, would have been a better choice. Yeah, I think if it had been up to me, I would have swapped Bryce Dallas Howard's and Emma Stone's roles.

There were a few small things that I thought were handled a little bit better in the movie than in the book, and at least one thing left out of the book that I didn't miss at all. I was a bit concerned about how they were going to handle the pie scene in the movie without getting too graphic, but it worked out fine. But overall, the whole thing was flat and disappointing to me. I usually try to avoid saying that a book is better than the movie based on it, or vice versa, but in this case I will make an exception and say that the book is much, much, MUCH better than the movie.

****

As alluded to previously, I've recently read two histories of Sesame Street, which were Street Gang and Sesame Street: A Celebration. Both were published in 2009, which was also (not coincidentally) the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Both were very interesting, almost complementary in a way. Street Gang deals primarily with the show's origins within the milieu of children's television in general, focuses more on the first twenty years and provides detailed, "warts and all" biographical information about the major players involved in bringing it to the screen. Sesame Street: A Celebration is a giant coffee-table book filled with gorgeous color photographs and, as compared to Street Gang, it covers more material about the show itself, providing a better balance between the first 20 years and the lattermost 20 years, but doesn't go into as much detail on anything. It profiles more of the people involved (particularly the lesser-known performers, writers, animators, etc.) but in the biographical profiles it tends to gloss over the subjects' less-admirable characteristics, making no mention, for example, of actor Northern Calloway's rather infamous struggle with mental illness and apparently making up a fictional, more sympathetic cause of death for him (although it could have been an honest misunderstanding). It is arguably better organized than Street Gang, being organized by category rather than quasi-chronology. Both would be valuable resources for someone researching Sesame Street and both are enjoyable reads for someone just interested in behind-the-scenes information, but A Celebration definitely takes a much sunnier view of the Street.

Speaking of Sesame Street (as I have admittedly been doing a lot lately), recently I was checking out the $5 DVD rack at Target and I found Follow That Bird, the first Sesame Street feature film, originally released in 1985. This was the first movie that I ever saw on home video in my own home; either it was the first movie we rented after buying our first VCR or we rented a VCR on which to play the movie. One of those two things happened. Anyway, I hadn't seen the movie in years and years (about 26 years, if my memory and math are correct) and with my recent renewed interest in Sesame Street, I decided I wanted to see it again and it was worth the five bucks. I have a lot to say about it, so much so that I hope to do so in a separate entry, but suffice it to say it was TOTALLY worth the five bucks.

But as I stood contemplating it in Target, trying to decide if it would be worth it, I noticed something odd. On the cover, it features a large, prominent picture of Big Bird, which makes sense because he is the protagonist, then it features smaller pictures of Cookie Monster, Super Grover, Oscar, and the Count, which makes sense because they were all in the movie. But along with these smaller pictures, in a fairly prominent position, was a picture of Elmo.

"WHAT?" I said to myself, "Elmo wasn't in Follow That Bird, was he?" I didn't remember him being in the movie, but that doesn't necessary mean anything. I don't remember him being in the episode where Snuffy was revealed to all either, but multiple sources say that he was, and Sesame Street: A Celebration even has full-color pictures of it. Anyway, I eventually decided to buy the movie and brought it home and watched it, and it turns out that I was sort of right: Elmo is in the movie toward the end of the movie--for a grand total of about three seconds (I'm not even exaggerating) and doesn't even have any lines.

That leads one to wonder why they would include him so prominently on the cover. A bitter and cynical person would assume that it was a transparently deceptive move to boost sales of the DVD. That would be horrible. That would really be dispicable and exploitative, unbefitting the Sesame spirit, to deliberately mislead the children like that. On the other hand, I can also imagine the children watching and getting involved in the story and thinking to themselves, "Wow, I sat down to watch this movie expecting/hoping to see Elmo, but I suddenly realize that Big Bird is a much funnier and more interesting character! Elmo, Schmelmo; give me more Big Bird!" Which would be awesome. On the third hand, however, I can see it going the other way; with children saying, "I sat through that whole movie for Elmo and I only got three silent seconds of him at the end? I'm so disappointed that now I irrationally hate Big Bird." Which would be horrible and heartbreaking, but it could very well happen. I mean, think about it; the reason most of my generation cites for not liking Elmo is because, as we see it, he kept (keeps) taking away screen time from our favorite characters.

But since it is a Sesame production, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the graphic designers involved hadn't seen the movie and just assumed that Elmo was in it because he's been in virtually everything Sesame-related for at least the last 20 years. It wouldn't be that unreasonable an assumption to make, especially if they happened to be below the age of 25. Or maybe they were just setting up an elaborate game of "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others." Maybe it's not exploitation or ignorance or laziness but a cleverly disguised critical thinking exercise! After all, what could be more Sesamesque than that?

As Grover (ripping off Yul Brenner) might say, "'tis a puzzlement..."
Tags: books, films, muppets, sesame street, television
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