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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, February 16, 2003

"Based on the Book"…Movies Offer a Few Surprises

The annual Golden Globes and Academy Awards invariably get me excited about the latest movies. I want to see everything nominated for the top awards but am too cheap to pay premium theatre prices. What's wrong with waiting for the DVD?

This year, however, I had a stroke of genius! Why not write a column about current movies and the books they're based on? Of course, I was forced to sit through four new movies in two weeks, but I was willing to make the sacrifice.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998).

I managed to see the movie version with my mother while on a recent trip to the Chicago area. It was wonderful.

A Pulitzer Prize winner in 1999, the novel deals with a day in the lives of three women - English novelist Virginia Wolff in 1923 and 1941, pregnant L.A. housewife Laura Brown in 1949, and present-day Manhattan editor Clarissa Vaughan who is busy planning a party for a close friend dying of AIDS. The three are interconnected by their alienation, their desires, and their needs.

I heartily recommend reading the novel either before or after seeing the movie. Fortunately, I was able to fill my mother in on the finer points of the multileveled plot.

About Schmidt by Louis Begley (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).

The movie of the same title starring Jack Nicholson is so loosely based on this critically acclaimed novel that one might not even notice the resemblance.

In both, Schmidt is a recent widower at loose ends, his estranged daughter is money-obsessed and preparing to marry a man Schmidt doesn't like, and the new mother-in-law makes a pass.

As far as differences, the book's Schmidtie is a well-connected Wall Street lawyer worth millions who, suffering from the death of his adored editor wife and his usual comfortable lifestyle, meets a sexy twenty-year old waitress who jumpstarts his life. The movie's Schmidt is a minor insurance executive who doesn't miss his dull wife until she's gone, who meanders from Nebraska to Denver in a motor home to attend his daughter's garish wedding, and whose ultimate lifeline is an African orphan he "adopts."

If you read the book and enjoy its version of Schmidtie, be sure to continue with the sequel, "Schmidt Delivered."

Chicago: With the Chicago Tribune Articles That Inspired It by Maurine Watkins; edited by Thomas H. Pauly (Southern Illinois University Press, 1997).

I ordered this play through our library's Interlibrary Loan system and obtained it within a week from the University of Notre Dame Library. Our library now has a copy on order.

African American "Chicago Tribune" reporter Maurine Watkins, a beauty in her own right, covered the sensational 1920's murder trials of Beulah Annan ("the most beautiful murderess") and Belva Gaertner ("the most stylish"). She later transformed these two women into Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly in her play "Chicago," which opened a long Broadway run in 1926.

Only after Watkins' death in 1969 was Bob Fosse able to obtain the rights to the play, which became his 1975 Broadway musical, starring Chita Rivera, Gwen Vernon, and Jerry Orbach (as the singing and dancing lawyer Billy Flynn).

My borrowed edition offers an informative preface, photographs, and the actual Watkins articles as well as the complete play, which is remarkably similar to the current hit movie musical.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; an Unauthorized Biography by Chuck Barris (Hyperion, 2002; originally published in 1984).

Here is an outrageous memoir that has become an offbeat and rollicking movie.

With reality TV the rage now, this is perfect timing for Chuck Barris' resurrection. He was the madcap inventor of 1970's game shows that "let it all hang out," including the unpredictable The Gong Show and The Dating Game.

The big puzzle involves Barris' double life. Does he suffer from delusions, is he just pulling our leg, or was he really a CIA spy? The truth is out there.

Reportedly, Barris is working on a sequel.

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.