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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, March 5, 2006

Lights, Camera, Turn the Page: Oscars' Inspirations

The nominations for the 2006 Academy Awards prove once again that the book is indispensable. Here are the books that inspired some of tonight's leading contenders.

Capote is drawn from the chapters in Capote: a Biography by Gerald Clarke (Carroll & Graf, 2005, c1988) dealing with the writing of the masterwork "In Cold Blood." If you were mesmerized by Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal and want to get even further inside the skin of the amazingly talented character and writer, read the 636-page biography. Just be prepared to suffer through the last 100 pages as age, vanity, alcoholism, and drugs take Capote's life. The movie is very faithful to the book.

Brokeback Mountain is based on a short story of the same title by Annie Proulx that debuted in 1997 in the magazine "The New Yorker." It was later included in the collection "Close Range: Wyoming Stories."

I must admit that, reading the short story, I never would have envisioned handsome hunks Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in the leading roles. Proulx's cowboys were a bit more down and out, with bad teeth and scruffy manners. However, their bittersweet dialogue and passionate attraction comes straight off the printed page.

The Constant Gardener is from the novel by John Le Carre (Pocket Star, 2005, c2000). The master English spy novelist has reported that he is very happy with the job done translating this particular work into film.

If you were confused by all the plot twists and characters in the movie, you might pick up the novel (and vice versa). In the afterward, Le Carre cites a German organization named BUKO Pharma-Kampagne that is working on exposing actual pharmaceutical misdeeds in the third world.

Memoirs of a Geisha is, of course, based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden (Vintage Contemporaries, 2005, c1997). I hesitated going to the movie, since the reviews had been so negative, but was pleasantly surprised by the way the actors, cinematographers, and costume and set designers brought the book to dazzling life. It's definitely a "chick flick" that centers on the lives of women – could that be what turned many reviewers off? Anyway, see the movie for its beauty and majesty; read the book to fill in the details.

A History of Violence was inspired by the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke (Vertigo, 2004, c1997). The long list of recent movies spawned by graphic novels includes American Splendor, Road to Perdition, and Sin City. Some details were altered for the movie, but the ambience and basic plot remain the same.

Stephen Spielberg's Munich is based on the nonfiction work Vengeance: the True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas (Scribner, 2005, c1984). The book relates in more depth the revenge that an Israeli Counter Intelligence team took against the PLO members who murdered eleven athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

Proof comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Auburn (Faber and Faber, 2001). When reading it, I could recognize all the dialogue, but the four-character, 2-act play has been fleshed out considerably to make a feature-length movie.

North Country is very loosely based on Class Action: the Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Ginsler (Anchor Books, 2003, c2002). This likeable tearjerker is to the documentary what James Frey's "memoir" is to the authoritative biography. So many of the details have been changed that reading the book is an entirely different experience from seeing the movie, but it's one worth pursuing.

And finally, my favorite -- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka was so true to the children's novel by British author Roald Dahl (originally published in 1964) that's it's almost scary. Contrary to what you may have heard, Tim Burton has recreated a classic.

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.