It’s summer. Time for The New York Times to recommend beach books. Books that are considered page turners. Easy to read. Because all of us know that the American reading public is reading serious stuff such as “War and Peace” the rest of the year. Hey, our brains need a rest from checking messages on our iPhones. Mental exhaustion sets in after sharing mac ‘n cheese recipes or post of our favorite rock band in 1975 on Facebook.
In America, many folks believe only women read. Reading and churchgoing are considered feminine pursuits. If you catch a man reading a book or peering on a Nook, chances are he’ll feel the need to apologize. “It’s my wife’s book, I’m just holding it for her.” A straight man would rather be caught in a restroom in a compromising situation than be found reading a book. Or at least a book by an author other than Tom Clancy. He is the one author men are allowed to read without a drop in their testosterone levels. You might not realize it, but Clancy died four years ago. For the last four years, Clancy’s books have not been written by Clancy. The credo in book publishing today is never let a popular author die. Clancy’s novels, as well as those of many popular authors such as Robert Ludlum and Robert B. Parker, are ghost written. For instance, the cover of “Point of Contact” published this year, has Clancy’s name in bold letters at the top and in small letters at the bottom “by Mike Maden.” President Jack Ryan will be 105 years old and still rescuing Air Force One from hijackers. Harrison Ford’s great-grandson will play Ryan in future movie versions. If this trend continues and spreads to weekly newspapers, my hope is that my column will continue into the next century (so long as a weekly stipend is paid to my heirs). Tom Cardella at the top of the column. By Rudy Bracciole at the end of it. Good luck, Rudy!
Summer reading is to reading what summer movies are to movies. Notice that I don’t use the word “film” to describe summer movies. Films are features you see at places such as The Ritz. After extensive analysis, I find that the difference between films and movies is like the difference between the roasted capretto with stone milled polenta at Vetri and the rib sandwich at Carl Jr.’s. If you like car crashes, you are a “movie” fan. Chances are you get confused as to whether you are seeing the third installment of “Fast Furious 3” for the second time because the plot is the same as the previous two versions. But then you realize that you don’t care and are soon lost in a world where only the number of car crashes matter. If you are a film fan, you like the Ritz, which has never shown a feature with a happy ending.
Originally summer movies were indulged by serious film fans because, well, they were “summer movies.” You resigned yourself to the fact that Will Smith and Tom Cruise are competing to see which one saves the Earth from alien invasion more times than the other. But in recent years, just as summer reading has become the stuff most folks read all the time (check The New York Times best-seller list), summer movies have become the features most folks attend. Oh, they still show films at places like the Ritz. And these films are usually the ones that win Oscars at the Academy Awards. But believe this oldster, there was once upon a time when these films were shown at mainstream movie houses. Hey kids, check out Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on the telly if you don’t believe me. Would you believe that your parents went to movie houses to see actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall? And there weren’t any alien invasions in “The Big Sleep” either. Today, movies have numbers added because there are not only sequels, but sequels to the sequels. And if they run out of sequels, there’s always the prequel. Movies today are what they call “franchises.” A franchise is a box office hit that is made and remade again and again with essentially the same story and the same actors. Imagine this trend spreading to Broadway. We’d have “Hello Dolly 10” by now and Carol Channing would still be propped up playing the lead role.
I’ve got nothing against animated films. Animated films are a great way for families to experience movies together. We had animated films in our day also. But Walt Disney didn’t feel the need to keep making “Bambi.” There wasn’t the need to use the voices of famous actors in animated movies the way they do nowadays. I expect that if he were alive today, Sir Laurence Olivier would be providing the voice for Boris The Talking Skunk. Alas, the Disney studios have fallen for the franchise gambit. I expect we’ll be seeing versions of “Beauty And The Beast” forever.
The best song of the year wasn’t always sung by a Disney princess, believe it or not. I’ve got nothing against Queen Elsa singing “Frozen,” after all we had “zip-a-dee-do-dah.” But Oscar winners like “Lullaby of Broadway” and “The Way You Look Tonight” were real songs, adult songs.
Elsa sing “Charade?”