September 26, 2003
Babes and Beethoven

My good friend Kevin Michael Grace has a very nice piece in The American Prowler, the website of the very enjoyable American Spectator magazine, on how major labels are themselves killing classical music. Go to Kevin's site, The Ambler, to see a picture of some of the babes who are contributing to the demise. (Yes, boys, you'll enjoy it.)

You can read some of my own thoughts on the death of classical music in an entry I wrote here last year.

September 23, 2003
Word Watch

The non-profit owner of the Dewey Decimal Classification system is suing New York City's Library Hotel for trademark infringement. The story is that of yet another silly lawsuit—the group wants damages of three times the profits the hotel has ever made—that will almost certainly earn an undeserving lawyer and his undeserving client some money. But what interested me was the concept of the hotel. Each floor is devoted to one category of the system, with the rooms filled with books in the subject area—philosophy, mathematics, drama, etc. What a wonderful place to stay this must be for the bibliophile, I thought.

A closer look at the luxury hotel's website made me wonder, however, if the management is literate. The Library offers an "Erotica Package" with the Erotic Literature or Love rooms. A long list of items are included:

Champagne on arrival
1 dozen Red Roses
Strawberries, and a bowl of Low-Fat Cool Whip

Wait a minute. Low-Fat Cool Whip? Erotic, indeed.

UPDATE: The New York Times asks, "Who knew that someone owned the Dewey Decimal System?" (link via Bookslut)

September 19, 2003
Let It Be Revisited

A remastered version of the Beatles' final release, Let It Be, will be in stores in November. This is more interesting than the usual remaster—it will be stripped of the orchestration added by "Wall of Sound" producer Phil Spector. John Lennon brought Spector in, but Paul McCartney was opposed and particularly disliked the string arrangement on his "The Long and Winding Road." George Harrison approved the new version, to be titled Let It Be . . . Naked, before his death, and Ringo Starr is raving about it. Original engineer Glyn Johns looks forward to the original tracks, which he says "Phil Spector puked all over."

September 16, 2003
Brideshead Revisited Revisited

I first heard that there would be a new adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited some months ago. I'm a huge fan of the 1981 miniseries, but I was intrigued. Jude Law would be a perfect Sebastian, with his boyish, god-like looks. I was a bit more skeptical of bad boy Colin Farrell, but willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And Andrew Davies was to be the screenwriter. He is the reigning king of literary adaptations and I'm a big fan—Wives and Daughters, The Way We Live Now, and the slightly more modern Bridget Jones's Diary.

Now comes news that Davies plans to excise from the story Charles Ryder's conversion to Catholicism. He wants to concentrate on the love affair between Ryder and Julia Flyte. But Brideshead is not a love story. Neither is it a memoir of Oxford arcadia. It is both these things, but much more. The novel, through these chapters in Ryder's life, moves inexorably towards his conversion. The theme of the novel is the effect of Providential fate on one man's soul. This theme is developed subtly, with no preachiness whatsoever (contrary to what Waugh's critics might have you believe about some of his work). Davies will destroy Waugh's achivement if he removes the end-point of Ryder's story.

But then, why else remake it? The aforementioned television adaptation of Brideshead is perfect. It has brought joy to millions over the past twenty years. I know of no one interested in such things who has watched it and not raved about it afterwards. I suppose the only reason to update such a sublime adaptation—could anyone possibly top Sir John Gielgud's priceless, hilarious turn as Ryder's father?—is the desire to make it "modern" or "relevant." In doing so, however, Davies will expunge its meaning.

It is disappointing because Davies' Pride and Prejudice is flawless. I remember, from my Jane Austen listserv days (ah, I out myself), how universally well-regarded that adaptation was. And Austen fans are not an easy to please bunch.

The news stories above also note that an upcoming film of Waugh's Vile Bodies, retitled Bright Young Things, has a revised ending. Still, it sounds much more promising, and Jim Broadbent and Simon Callow should be worth the price of admission alone.

The articles also report on the publication of Brideshead Regained, an unauthorized (of course) sequel. Apparently it follows Charles Ryder through the Second World War, and, as in the first, the novel ends with Ryder at Brideshead. Amazon readers seem to like it. But it's hard for me to imagine the Flytes and Ryder ever meeting again. I picture Julia and Charles sadly estranged forever, perhaps isolated even from other human company, figuratively if not literally. What has happened to them is much too devastating and important.

September 15, 2003
New beginnings

I am now the arts and culture editor of the online magazine Brainwash. The first installment of my monthly column is titled "Against biography?" (Incidentally, I also began a new job a few months ago.)

Welcome to the site, new readers, and rest assured I will be posting new content soon.