Ya see, my partner and I recently re-watched All About Eve, the classic 1950 Bette Davis movie about the young starlet, Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter. We own this dvd - quite frankly, every gay man should just be issued a copy upon coming out - and we brought it to some friends' house recently for a viewing. We all had to prepare to see the wonderful on-stage take off of the movie, the Gold Dust Orphan's All About Christmas Eve. This local (in Boston) production is only playing once more, this Saturday, but anything the Orphan's do is worth seeing. They are camp in the best sense, sure to offend and amuse and shock and impress and disgust. I can't say enough good things about this theatre troupe. I had to use the graphic from the play because it sums up a lot about the production
But back to Eve, the movie. Now stay with me, because if I play this right, it will work on two levels. This would be quite a writing feat for us here at SotB.
As the story of the film begins, Eve, a nobody, manages to get herself backstage to meet the star of the show, Margo Channing, played by a sour, cross, inflated Bette Davis. She's middle-aged and knows it, but keeps starring in this one playwright's plays, even as the main characters stay the same age. Channing's boyfriend is the director, and he's on his way out to California in this, his first scene. Eve says no one comes back once they go out to LA, but he swears he will. It seems Margo never made the move to movies.
What strikes me as so curious is how much the movie plays off the theatre world - you have the playwright and his wife, the emotional director and dramatic star, the treacherous film critic, Addison DeWitt. There is talk of packed houses, papering the theatre, and names in lights. But this movie came out in 1950. Surely it followed a conversation in which people questioned how long theatre would last as movies became the go-to evening entertainment.
To make matters more intriguing, in 2008, the Gold Dust Orphans traipse along and turn the whole thing into a play, and pull in crowds to see it each night, finding such success that they brought it back this year. And it's exciting to see live, as the actors pull out subtle and not-so-subtle moments in the movie and exaggerate to satiric and hilarious extremes. (My favorite is turning the playwright into a closeted Paul Lynde character - it's inspired.) This reminds me of the success Jill and Faith Soloway found when they created The Real Live Brady Bunch in 1990, reinvigorating a tv show into a live performance.
So what does this mean for books?
It just occurs to me that readers can switch between different mediums in their urge to read. I know this isn't shocking, but I was resistant to this point. (I suspect Christopher still is, to some extent.) Last weekend, as my partner and I wandered through B&N (though we didn't buy anything!), I found myself picking up some books and thinking, "this should have just been digital." Do we need writers reflecting on their favorite beaches as a printed book? I picked up the new hardcover I Slept with Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir, by Mickey Leigh. Did that need to be in hardcover, for $26? Wouldn't that make more sense in paperback and digital editions?
This is all quite simplistic. So many things have to change, and they are changing. While they do, I still maintain we have to watch out. People who get all whipped into a frenzy saying it's time to tear down those walls and get books people want into people's hands are too often the people who can afford to produce their own books, which doesn't help up and coming writers.
Again, I find myself looking to indie publishers and university presses - the line between the two is ever blurring, when you look at the new South End Press, the Dalkey Archive, and the new deal for Curbstone Press. That's one exciting barrier to come down! Universities should support exciting publishing that's not going to generate huge revenue necessarily. We need to pump money into this places and let editors organize lists and generate new projects and new writers with an open mind, but also a sense of collective spirit.
The point is, we can open things up, and we should. Let's explore digital platforms. But screw Amazon and its controls - the Kindle is useless. Sadly, I test-drove the Nook on my way out of B&N and it was a massive fail, with slow, blinking page turns and general clunkiness. But as we all know, people are reading on all kinds of devices.
It's clear that people are going to read books about novelists writing on typewriters on their electronic devices, and perhaps then someone can write a book about the experience of reading that novel on that device and turn it into a memoir that gets published as a $26 hardcover and then turned into a movie, which can then become a hit stage musical. Maybe it's the holiday spirit racing through me, but finally I'm curious to see what all this could mean. Suddenly I want to see the digital succeed for appropriate genres and titles - which is not every title and every genre. But I want it to work in a way that will make indie publishers money, and new writers money. I don't want this to be a gimmick for fat cats, but something innovative and useful and real, something readers actually want rather than something an ad agency tells us we want.
In closing, and only tangentially related, my crush Makenna Goodman from indie great Chelsea Green has a new article up at HuffPost, and you know I already read it. I haven't read the book she mentions, How the Rich are Destroying the Earth by Herve Kempf, but no one should be surprised by my heightened level of interest.
Oh, and one last thing: give money to a charity (including but not limited to a library, literacy organization, or cultural center) this week. It's just the right thing to do!