A Screen By Any Other Name …

June 11, 2019

We are, apparently, at the very cusp  of history where the use of mobile screens by US adults exceeds the use of TV screens.

“We’ve expected that mobile would overtake TV for a while, but seeing it happen is still surprising,” said Yoram Wurmser, eMarketer principal analyst. “As recently as 2014, the average US adult watched nearly 2 hours more TV than they spent on their phones.”  What are people spending time on their devices doing? They’re consistently spending the bulk of their time using apps over web browsers, with the average person spending 2:57 in apps vs. 0:26 on a mobile browser. Within apps, people spent the most time listening to digital audio, followed by social network activity. “Digital audio apps continue to add minutes because people are streaming more music on their phones, and podcasts have taken off in popularity in the past few years,” Wurmser said.

The movies begat television, and television begat YouTube, Fortnite and music streaming on smart phones.  What happens next?


R.I.P. Doris Day

May 13, 2019

Doris Day, one of the last survivors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, has died aged 97.


When stars were stars, she shined.

And The Rich Get Richer….

March 15, 2019

Back in January, I reported on an Author’s Guild report that showed the average income for a full time writer in the US in 2017 was just $20,300.  Of course, averages are a function of the highest and the lowest figures available.

Literary Hub has compiled a list of the high numbers over the last ten years. These are the estimated incomes of the top writers since 2008:

1. James Patterson : $836 million
2. J. K. Rowling : $546 million
3. Stephen King : $259 million
4. Danielle Steel : $231 million
5. John Grisham : $192 million
6. Jeff Kinney : $165 million
7. E. L. James (Tie) : $153 million
7. Janet Evanovich (Tie) : $153 million
9. Nora Roberts : $128 million
10. Suzanne Collins : $114 million
11. Dan Brown : $111 million
12. Dean Koontz : $101 million
13. Rick Riordan : $91.5 million
14. Stephenie Meyer : $75 million
15. Ken Follett : $68 million
16. George R. R. Martin : $60.5 million
17. Veronica Roth (Tie) : $52 million
18. Bill O’Reilly (Tie) : $52 million
19. Nicholas Sparks : $46 million
20. John Green : $45 million
21. Tom Clancy : $35 million
22. David Baldacci : $26 million
23. Paula Hawkins : $23 million
24. Gillian Flynn : $22 million
25. Michael Wolff : $13 million

Extraordinary numbers, I think. They prove the power of TV and movies to vastly expand the earning capacity of the novels, especially those in series.

And they show, as if we needed more evidence, that the inequality of rewards inherent in capitalism are just as prevalent in cultural industries as in any other.

My Fair Lady: Another Perspective

March 13, 2019

In the summer before I was 12, my father was working for several months at Victorine Studios in Nice. He took a furnished suite on the Promenade des Anglais overlooking the beach and my mother, my 13-year old cousin Pauline, and I spent a wonderful summer in the south of France.  Pauline and I learned some French, turned a deep shade of brown, and generally had a really good time.

However, some days were rainy or too cloudy to spend time at the beach or wandering the alleys. We found ourselves stuck in the apartment with little to do.  This was 1961, pre-screens of any kind.  Pauline had a portable turn-table but didn’t have any records. For reasons that are beyond me now, I had a Shadows’ 4-song EP and a long-playing recording of the London staging of My Fair Lady. We played them endlessly. By the end of that summer I knew every lyric and every bit of phrasing in the musical. And my enjoyment of those tunes has stuck with me through all these years.

I guess it was that sixty-year fascination that drew me to read Digging In To The Queer Subtext of My Fair Lady, a fascinating and illuminating view of the writing of the show and then the movie by Alan Lerner in the context of homosexuality in the late 1950s.

“[Henry] Higgins is certainly coded as a certain gay stereotype. He is a lifelong bachelor, an upper-class man of means, sophisticated and bored. He is a snob who lives with another man. He’s well-dressed, worldly, and knowledgeable about culture. He expresses a preference for men as well, but since this is the 50s, sexuality and the deed itself must always remain in the offing, forever the tension beneath the surface of the moment … For many viewers, it is the sexual tension between Higgins and Eliza that creates the movie’s mystique. But for others, it’s the tension of ambiguity that draws us in.”

As an 11-year old in 1961, I was not yet woke to the misogyny of Why Can’t A Woman Be ore Like A Man? and certainly the ambiguity of the relationship between Higgins and Colonel Pickering in their repartee flew over my head.

The article goes on to discuss the double life of the movie’s director, George Cukor.

“Cukor could go to elegant houses in the afternoons and sip high tea with titled ladies—and he could live an active homosexual life behind closed doors—as long as those two worlds never intersected … If they did, there might be scandal, damage to his career, revelation, and humiliation.”

There is a suggestion that, “with Cukor as My Fair Lady’s director, it’s possible that a pulse of homosexuality beats at the story’s core.”   However, with the Higgins-Eliza love angle accented in the movie (compared to the stage musical), and the playing down of Pickering’s character, Cukor was playing it safe.

“Lerner’s My Fair Lady, first and foremost, seeks to entertain. It still makes commentaries on gender, but the directors left an undercurrent of the sexual unknown to entice the audience. Cukor attempted to strip away anything in the movie that might hurt its sales. What he left was a movie that, while delightful, allows the audience to assume what it wants.”

Well worth the read.

R.I.P. Albert Finney

February 8, 2019


I started my movie going in the 1950s and early 1960s when British screens and stages were newly dominated by socially-realistic kitchen sink dramas and a group of actors and writers who became known as the Angry Young Men. My father loved this stuff and took me to see everything that we could.  It was from this early exposure that I first got to see the prodigiously talented Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Like any actor with a long career, there are movies of Finney’s that I don’t care for. But his extraordinary performances in Saturday Night, The Dresser, Miller’s Crossing, Under The Volcano, Erin Brockovich, and Big Fish among others are always worth the time.

He’ll be missed.


The Nostalgia of Radio

February 2, 2019

I had a decent small radio from a very early age and it was a lifeline for me.

In the late 1950s in London, I laid in bed late at night listening to crackling baseball games coming from American Forces Radio, Voice of America broadcasts in “simple English” (or “slow talkers of America” as my Dad and I called them), Radio Moscow propaganda, the glorious voice of Garner Ted Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God, lots of boxing matches where I had to imagine the impact of the blows, and early rock and roll, Radio Luxemburg.  It was wonderful.

When I first came to Canada in the late 1970s, I worked up in Stewart near the Alaska border, and there wasn’t much TV that I recall.  But that was when I discovered the wonder of late-evening and early-morning CBC Radio.  Allan McFee’s Eclectic Circus (going out to “all those in vacuumland”) was my end-of-day sleeping pill, while a time-shifted Morningside with Don Harron woke me up (I stopped listening once Gzowski took over).

Great days they were.


Morality Clauses and Twitter

January 18, 2019

Lionel Shriver has a fascinating piece in the Spectator USA about “morality clauses” in modern publishing contracts; clauses that void contracts “if, in a magazine’s ‘sole judgement’, they were the subject of ‘public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals’.”

Shriver gives an account of the use of such clauses in Hollywood to control writers, directors, and stars, and which in part led to the McCarthyite blacklists.  He goes on to note:

In kind, today’s broad, nonspecific publishing opt-outs in the event of an author’s incurring ‘disrepute’ readily extend to thought crime — and the contemporary basket of ideological no-nos does nothing but burgeon. Off the top of my head, too-hot-to-handle topics now include anything to do with gender, sex, race, immigration, disability, social class, obesity and Islam (surely that list is too short).

The reason for their recent resurgence?  Twitter, says Shriver.

Enshrining mob rule in legal contracts can only further embolden the cranks, the kooks, the grumps — the sanctimonious, the embittered, the aggrieved. As word spreads that outrage on digital steroids can not only hound and intimidate writers, but can consign years of their hard work to the bin, the Twits are further motivated to crucify anyone who breaks their imaginary rules …

Yet this is a much larger matter than writers whingeing about their writery problems in their little writery world. It’s an issue for readers, of course, but it extends beyond readers as well. All forms of employment are now altogether too contingent on not attracting the contumely of the crowd.

Shriver concludes with advice for publishers:

It’s time for folks with institutional power to exercise independent judgment, rather than immediately disavowing overnight pariahs who only yesterday were their friends and colleagues. To refuse to respond to every mob at the door by picking up a baseball bat and joining the throng. You know who you are.

Well worth the read.