Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Roemer McPheePublisher: RMK, Inc.
Author: Roemer McPheePublisher: RMK, Inc.
Once upon a time….
Those words have launched an inestimable number of stories, across all cultures, and all times, a sort of magical incantation that arrests the ear and the imagination. Storytelling, anthropologists agree, probably even predated language, as actors in the pageant of hominids mimed their desires and fears before they could even speak.
…there was an author named Roemer McPhee…
There are lots ways through the landscape of “story,” and author Roemer McPhee has chosen to excavate below the surface of this terrain, to search for buried insight in his book The Boomer’s Guide to Story: A Search for Insight in Literature and Film. McPhee addresses about 300 works in his “wide-angle look at modern story – which means, principally, novels.”
…who wrote a book about stories that have been turned into movies.
Before I get to the substance of his wide-ranging book, I feel compelled to note that McPhee’s subtitle is a touch misleading. This is really a book about film, not literature. Almost every one of his 300 entries is about the film version of a book, and in some instances, the author seems to have mistaken the film version for the book or story on which it was based.
A reviewer for BookPleasures read it, and he liked it, but he had some concerns about the book’s discussion of film versions as if they were the same as the novel….
McPhee’s work occasionally exhibits what I like to call the “Frankenstein problem.” There are many people who think Frankenstein’s monster really is a gangly, grunting, imbecilic mass of bolts and oversized flesh. That’s the movie version. The original novel’s creature, however, is highly literate and learned (he reads French, for heaven’s sake, as well as Milton and the Bible). If you don’t know the book and only know the movie, you don’t really know Frankenstein. There are several such instances of this type of confusion in McPhee’s book.
…so the reviewer, puffed up in his pedantry, gave some pointed examples…
For instance, in his
discussion of the short story The Birds, McPhee says: “The whole
world of birds appears to be on the move in Daphne du Maurier’s
most interesting and entertaining story, The Birds (made very
famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s film) because of protagonist Melanie
Daniel’s (Tippi Hedren’s) two caged love birds.” In fact,
nothing of the sort happens in the story. Du Maurier’s story is a
dark pastoral fable. There is no protagonist Melanie Daniels, no
romance – and certainly no caged love birds. Hitchcock famously
instructed his screenwriter to make up his own story – but keep the
angry birds. What McPhee cites isn’t from du Maurier’s story at
all but was invented for the movie.
In another instance sure to make sci-fi fans do a disabling double-take, he writes of “Philip K. Dick’s great story, Blade Runner ” – the problem here is that Dick wrote no such story. Dick’s classic “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was the basis of the movie Blade Runner. Nowhere in his entry on Blade Runner does he mention the real title (and if you’ve read the story, you know that the movie takes a completely different tack from the story.) And in his discussion of Psycho, he tells us about “protagonist and hotel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)” – as if the thin, twitchy actor were Norman Bates, when in fact Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates in the novel is an overweight, balding, bespectacled, middle-aged loser – pretty much the opposite of Perkins’ Bates. In a book purportedly about novels, surely that discrepancy merits at least a mention.
….and then, satisfied he’d sufficiently advertised his critical bona fides, relented a bit…
With those quibbles aside, McPhee’s book does offer some genuine insight into a barrage of examples from the canon of contemporary stories. The range of works is pretty impressive, from A-list classics (The Godfather, Citizen Kane, and Apocalypse Now) to works whose grip on the public imagination is surely more tenuous (The ‘burbs, Exorcist III, Heartburn) His book is well-suited for the armchair movie buff or would-be literary critic, pointing the way to lots of things most people would have likely missed on first reading/viewing. McPhee’s bite-sized essays, each sub-headed based on the insight the work provides (“What Might Have Been,” “Don’t Underestimate the Devil,” etc.) make for quick and useful reading, and will likely enhance that evening’s showing of these movies on whichever of the innumerable cable channels happens to be airing them.
…leaving author, reviewer, and audience to live happily ever after.
CLick Here To Purchase "The Boomer's Guide to Story": A Search for Insight in Literature and Film