Wednesday, December 12, 2018

4 Great Pennsylvanian Writers

These four writers all spent significant times in their lives in the state of Pennsylvania, the state where I myself grew up. Three of these writers were born in the state and all four spent significant periods living in the state. Other great writers with ties to the state include Louisa May Alcott, Willa Cather, Lois Lowry, Jerre Mangione, Donna Jo Napoli, Philip Roth, and Ben Lerner (incidentally, my former neighbor!).

Lloyd Alexander - The Chronicles of Prydain 
Alexander wrote novels for children and young adults that created coherent, character-driven narratives out of legends and mythologies, also writing original fairy tales with a whimsical sense of humor, not unlike the work of Natalie Babbitt. His most beloved series, The Chronicles of Prydain , is based on the Welsh Mabinogian. The books follow Taran, an apprentice pig-keeper who becomes a hero, Eilonwy, a princess under an enchantment more like Ronia the robber's daughter than the Princess Aurora, and Gurgi, a creature without a history. They are pitted against the Horned King and his army born of the Black Cauldron. These books are high fantasy of the most satisfying variety: Prydain is a rich, fascinating world and the little band of protagonists are marvelous imaginary companions. Highly recommended, especially for devotees of Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons.

Pearl S. Buck - The New Year
Most of Buck's novels are set in China, where she grew up, or elsewhere in Asia; this particular novel is a recasting of the Madame Butterfly story, set in Korea during and after the Korean War. Soonya, however, is not a self-sacrificing blossom who wilts with the loss of her overly idealized love. When the American soldier who left her pregnant comes back to claim the child, since his American wife can't have children, he returns to a mature, world-weary woman and not a naive girl. Her decision is no less fraught: the possibility of her child growing up fed, clothed, and educated in a prosperous country that fights its wars abroad is the same possibility that she will never see her child again. Buck excels at depicting connections across the cultural divide between Asia and America, connections that both alienate, but also form complex bonds of affection, need, and desire.

H. D. - HERmione
This imagist poet is both the twentieth century's heiress to the ancient Greek and Latin poetic traditions, from Sappho to Catullus, and a modernist influenced by Pound and Freud, who also anticipated the fragmentation of genre that would intensify with post-modernism. This experimental novel departs from the opaque lucidity of her poetry and is more reminiscent of the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay or the early prose of Virginia Woolf. In stream-of-consciousness style, H. D. narrates the inner world of Hermione 'Her' Gart, a character who is widely read as autobiographical. For Her, life presents a series of traps and escapes that both transform into each other, like shifting magnetic poles, or blend together seamlessly, until she is trapped by her escape, and escapes by means of entering a trap. Self-discovery is as much failure as success; agency and passivity are rarely so distinct as we usually believe. A modernist masterpiece that still doesn't have the recognition it deserves.

John O'Hara - Ten North Frederick
O'Hara is, in some ways, a typical mid-century American male writer, whose books, set in New York, California, and his invented Pennsylvanian town of Gibbsville, reflect the vision of white America seen in Hollywood movies, though with far more sex and unpunished immorality. However, O'Hara unlike writers like Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, and John Updike, who seem to be his obvious compatriots, was perfectly capable of writing complicate, sympathetic portraits of women, including middle-aged and elderly women and women who indulge in affairs and enjoy sex. In this novel, a family saga, Joe Chapin's life, along with those of his wife, children, and mistress, implode as he pursues a political ambition that demands the appearance of stable moral conservatism, no matter what seamy goings-on that appearance might hide.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

An Alternate AFI List

Actor Paul Scheer and film critic Amy Nicholson are currently running a podcast, Unspooled, on which they watch and discuss the movies on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest American films of all time. As part of the show, they debate together about whether each film should be included on the list and are also compiling their own re-ordering of the list. As with any such project that purports to identify the greatest anything of all time, there are always possibilities for disagreement - that is what makes the lists interesting. Consensus is boring. So here is my own revision of the AFI list. Films I haven't seen are in parentheses and replaced. Films that I either don't think belong on the list, or that I think could be replaced by a superior but similar film (as in the case of Buster Keaton's The General), are crossed out. There are two things I'd like to note about my revised list: 1) my list includes films directed by women, which the original AFI list does not; and 2) the biggest impact that my own tastes have had on the below choices is reflected in a shift from certain genres, such as war films and stories about disaffected, angry men, towards others, such as period pieces, musicals, and stories about families and women.

1. Citizen Kane
2. The Godfather Household Saints
3. Casablanca
4. (Raging Bull) The Night of the Hunter
5. Singin' in the Rain
6. Gone with the Wind
7. Lawrence of Arabia
8. Schindler's List The Mortal Storm
9. Vertigo
10. The Wizard of Oz
11. City Lights
12. The Searchers True Grit (2010)
13. Star Wars The Adventures of Robin Hood
14. Psycho
15. 2001:A Space Odyssey
16. Sunset Blvd.
17. The Graduate
18. The General Our Hospitality
19. On the Waterfront
20. It's a Wonderful Life
21. Chinatown
22. Some Like It Hot
23. (The Grapes of Wrath) The Salt of the Earth
24. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Housekeeping
25. To Kill a Mockingbird
26. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Spotlight
27. High Noon
28. All About Eve
29. Double Indemnity
30. Apocalypse Now The Dark Crystal
31. The Maltese Falcon
32. The Godfather Part II Dangerous Liaisons
33. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest The Sting
34. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
35. Annie Hall When Harry Met Sally
36. The Bridge on the River Kwai
37. The Best Years of Our Lives
38. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
39. Dr. Strangelove Design for Living
40. The Sound of Music The Glass Slipper
41. King Kong The Princess Bride
42 .Bonnie and Clyde
43. Midnight Cowboy What Price Hollywood?
44. The Philadelphia Story
45. Shane
46. It Happened One Night
47. A Streetcar Named Desire
48. Rear Window
49. Intolerance
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
51. West Side Story
52. Taxi Driver
53. (The Deer Hunter) Letter from an Unknown Woman
54. M*A*S*H The Producers
55. North by Northwest
56. Jaws Queen Christina
57. Rocky
58. The Gold Rush The Kid
59. (Nashville) She Done Him Wrong
60. Duck Soup To Be or Not to Be
61. Sullivan's Travels
62. (American Graffiti) Little Women (1994)
63. Cabaret
64. (Network) A Star Is Born (1954)
65. The African Queen
66. Raiders of the Lost Ark Willow
67. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Dinner at Eight
68. (Unforgiven) The Magnificent Ambersons
69. Tootsie My Fair Lady
70. A Clockwork Orange Alien
71. (Saving Private Ryan) All Quiet on the Western Front
72. (The Shawshank Redemption) Badlands
73. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
74. The Silence of the Lambs
75. In the Heat of the Night
76. Forrest Gump Pollyanna
77. All the President's Men
78. Modern Times Young Frankenstein
79. (The Wild Bunch) Grand Hotel
80. The Apartment
81. Spartacus
82. Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans
83. Titanic Giant
84. (Easy Rider) Lost in Translation
85. A Night at the Opera The Great Waltz
86. (Platoon) Paths of Glory
87. 12 Angry Men
88. Bringing Up Baby Roman Holiday
89. The Sixth Sense The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
90. Swing Time Stormy Weather
91. (Sophie's Choice) Camille
92. GoodFellas
93. (The French Connection) Touch of Evil
94. Pulp Fiction Fargo
95. (The Last Picture Show) Norma Rae
96. (Do the Right Thing) Killer of Sheep
97. Blade Runner
98. Yankee Doodle Dandy The Court Jester
99. Toy Story Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
100. (Ben-Hur) The Black Pirate