Friday, September 12, 2008

Weekend Open Thread

I've seen other blogs host "open threads" for their readers to encourage friendly discussion and debate but never thought about doing as much here . . . that is, until now. So here we go, and to start of the thread, I'll post my own contribution in the comments below.


Nicholas Provenzo said...

I just started watching the DVD set of HBO's John Adams mini-series. I've watched the two episodes and have greatly enjoyed what I've seen thus far (but I am reserving my final judgment until I see the whole mini-series). In any case, I have some off-the-cuff observations to offer at this stage:

1.) The American founding is a huge topic, incorporating pioneering philosophic and political acts, individual passions and ambition, long odds and withering hardship. As interesting as biography (or in this case, biographic drama) can be, I always feel that the story gets boxed in by the limits of biography as a storytelling medium.

2.) In this light (and as I watch the often stunning production values and attention to detail in the Adams mini-series), I can't help but think that Edward Cline's Sparrowhawk is ripe to be presented in such a medium. As a work of historical fiction, it is not constrained by the need to follow one man's life story like biography, or the alternative problem of choosing a story that is too broad to properly dramatize (an example of this problem that comes to mind is the cinematic portrayal of the Normandy landings as seen in the The Longest Day).

3.) I haven't read David McCullough's book on Adams, but I did read his "1776." In a nutshell, I enjoyed it, but again, not nearly as much as I enjoyed Edward Cline's Sparrowhawk. As engaging as McCullough's book is, it is nevertheless hemmed in by the need to follow the chronological order of events. If my recollection serves me, I felt McCullough sometimes missed opportunities to focus on the more abstract qualities of the founding, qualities that a novelist like Cline was able to flesh out in stunning detail. I may be guilty of abusing the terms here, but I think that McCullough's depiction is naturalistic whereas Cline's is romantic.

Given that McCullough's Adams bio has been turned into a biographic drama, I can't help but wonder if I'm going to feel the same way when I compare the HBO series to Cline's Sparrowhawk.

In any case, I am heartened to see that Adam's story is being told in the first place. I freely admit to getting the goose bumps during the scene where the votes were being cast on the question of American independence. As I watched, I thought to myself what an amazing convergence of ideas, men and action to make what I consider to be among the two greatest political achievements in human history. It was awesome to see this achievement dramatized and I look forward to watching the rest of this series.

Adam Reed said...

Yes, I'd love to see Cline on the screen, but the books would make much better films than TV episodes. Each book is about right for a 3-hour film, and the material would benefit considerably from a 3-hour film's longer attention span.

Burgess Laughlin said...

> ". . . McCullough's depiction is naturalistic whereas Cline's is romantic."

"Naturalistic" is, I think, an appropriate term to use in describing a biography or other form of history.

In fiction, naturalism is a style of writing, a style based ultimately on the assumption that individuals are automatons who lack free will. In terms of method, naturalistic writers simply report what they see (supposedly). They don't essentialize, that is, they don't identify causes and effects.

Some historians do the same thing: They report minute (and sometimes demeaning) details alongside reports of virtues or vices that affect the biographical subject's whole life. Kennedy did that in Profiles in Courage. Details like that should be relegated to footnotes or at least de-emphasized.

(Ayn Rand discusses naturalism in The Romantic Manifesto, with many pages listed in the index; or see "Naturalism" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)

Anonymous said...

Adam Reed wrote: "Yes, I'd love to see Cline on the screen, but the books would make much better films than TV episodes. Each book is about right for a 3-hour film, and the material would benefit considerably from a 3-hour film's longer attention span."

I often fantacize about Sparrowhawk being transferred intact to the big screen, with a grand opening at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. Cast of unknowns, directed by fellow who did "Swing Kids" or the like, done as well as the Harry Potter movies, or better.

But, that's too much to expect. The perfect production format (and I've discussed this with fans at the booksignings) would be a Masterpiece Theatre caliber one, with two hours devoted to each of the six titles. It would likely need to be a British production, as well. Hollywood wouldn't be able to tear the story apart, that's how well integrated the plot is.

You wouldn't see me on the screen at all, except perhaps as an extra in the mob or battle scenes, or sitting silently on a bench in the General Assembly or Parliament.

Ed Cline

Ryan Redding said...

I agree with you Ed. I have not read the Horatio Hornblower series, but I love the TV series adaptation done by A&E and I believe the BBC? Could be wrong about that. I think those "films" are excellent. Although it would be great to see them on the big screen, I think they would be given much more justice in the format Mr. Cline described. And I too would love to be sitting in the General Assembly auditing one of Hugh's speeches.

As for the Adams mini-series, I think they were done tolerably. My favorites were 4, 5, and/or 6 I believe, that is, the ones portraying the beginnings of the Federal Government.

Ryan Redding said...

I neglected to mention that I'm very happy to see the open thread concept employed here. Should be interesting.

Jeffrey Derks said...

(This comment is actually in response to a post made [by "Gideon"] at Mr. Provenzo's September 16 piece on Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's Down syndrome child. Since the comments section for that part of the site has been closed--for good and obvious reasons--I am posting here, in the hope it will be read by ... those capable of reading.)

Gideon wrote:

>Everything up to your final statement was well written and convincingly argued. But that final statement doesn't follow. George Will and the CWFA don't represent Sarah Palin. Who knows why she chose the way she did? She seems to love children, and maybe she does have the resources to care for a disabled child.

Well, her "resources" apart, knowing what else we know of Palin--that she is militantly anti-abortion (even in cases of rape and incest), that she wishes to force her views on the population at large, and that she is a dyed-in-the-wool mystic into the bargain (all of which traits also characterize both Will and the CWA)--I fully agree with Mr. Provenzo that it IS "hard not to see her choice [to knowingly bring a Down syndrome baby to term] as anything less" than "retardation worship." And on the contrary, it is much, much easier not to see her choice as indicative of a generalized love of children--for a good case could be made that one who truly "loves children" would do all in their power to ensure that their own child would be born hale and hearty, in mind and body; I can't imagine any even semi-rational parent wishing for less--or settling for less, if the choice is available. But Palin did.

Andrew Elstner said...

Though I don't have cable, if/when the John Adam's series makes it to DVD, I'd like to stick it in old Netflix list.
And absolutely add my vote to the list of folks who'd love to see the Sparrowhawk series on the big screen. Of course, in the current political climate it would never be done justice. Here's to having grand dreams.