Though sometimes diffuse, this is an essential addition to any film lover’s library.

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THE MOVIE MUSICAL!

The renowned film scholar delivers a lively history of musicals beloved and forgotten.

“The calendar year of 1927 is considered to be the official year in which sound took hold,” writes Basinger (I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies, 2013, etc.), a rare instance of the birth of a genre. This follows a close argument, perhaps at too much length, over just what divides a musical, characterized by a “sudden musical rupture” in the storyline, from movies in which music is incidental. The author is generous in her inclusions, from films like Woodstock and Help! to obvious standouts such as The Philadelphia Story and South Pacific. Still, she notes, “A film is not a musical just because someone gets up and sings a song…or steps up and does a little jig.” Once the parsing is settled, Basinger digs deep into histories of the pioneers—Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, Fred Astaire, and Busby Berkeley—and the talents who would follow, men and women such as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Mitzi Gaynor, Vincente Minnelli, and Gene Kelly. One constant in Basinger’s narrative is that every few years, critics grimly announce that the movie musical is dead only to be gainsaid by some surprise arrival on the scene—Rocky Horror Picture Show, say, which “made fun of the genre, and combined it with horror, rock and roll, science fiction, and even a touch of porn” and did something altogether novel by converting the audience into performers alongside the folks on the big screen. Today, critics look at musicals a touch skeptically. As Basinger notes, though the recent La La Land was clearly a musical, it was studied not for its numbers but for its approach to social issues of gender and race, with Ryan Gosling starring as “a white man who saves jazz.” Still, it suggests that the musical might enjoy new life among millennial viewers.

Though sometimes diffuse, this is an essential addition to any film lover’s library.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-87406-6

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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