Not just a masterful and engaging piece of film scholarship, but a gripping cultural and social history of the United States...




Academy Award–winning screenwriter Norman (Shakespeare in Love) enthusiastically traces the peculiar history of screenwriting in Hollywood.

The author begins with a brisk outline of the early history of cinema, which existed as an almost purely visual medium. Stories were taken from literature, theatrical plays and other written sources—copyright laws regarding film were yet to be established—and shot on the fly, with static titles inserted later to clarify exposition when necessary. The advent of sound pictures changed movies instantly and profoundly—the actors now needed something to say. Writers with classy pedigrees from the East were brought in to supply the dialogue and scenarios, at great expense, sneering all the while at the déclassé nature of the work and the unsophisticated moguls writing the (enormous) checks. Thus was born the fractious, bruising state of affairs that persists in large part to this day. Norman makes extensive use of interviews with and letters written by luminaries from Ben Hecht to Charlie Kaufman to illuminate the deep ambivalence endemic to writing movies. Considering themselves serious artists, these men and women were and are seduced by easy money and treated like factory workers, their creative offerings subject to the whims of unlettered men concerned only with the bottom line. Norman offers accessible histories of the blacklist and the formation of the Writers Guild, evoking the radicalism and paranoia of the ’30s and ’40s. He also comprehensively analyzes the ways in which screenwriting changed and evolved—or failed to evolve—to address the fallout from television’s new mass popularity in the ’50s, the emergence of youth-driven films in the ’60s, the “movie brat” auteurs of the ’70s, the marketing-driven ’80s, the indie revolution of the ’90s and the spectacle-happy blockbusters that dominate contemporary cinema. All this makes for an entertaining and useful book, but the author’s greatest strength is his empathetic portraits of such forlorn Hollywood casualties as William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who were devoured and forsaken by the endlessly hungry maw of the movies.

Not just a masterful and engaging piece of film scholarship, but a gripping cultural and social history of the United States in the 20th century.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-307-38339-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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


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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