People are so quick to draw conclusions. So what if The Sting, The Natural, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid top my “10 Best Films List”? I also love Quiz Show and Ordinary People, for which Robert Redford was behind the camera. So there.
It’s about film quality, really.
That, and obviously my regard for social history as represented in cinema. One can learn quite a lot about the almost-mythic significance of baseball by viewing The Natural. This selection also boasts a nice literary pedigree, inspiration by the Bernard Malamud short story of the same title.
However, as the host of last night’s television screening reminded us, that back story has its own inspiration, an actual and early instance of celebrity stalking.
The near-fatal shooting of a popular Philadelphia Phillies first baseman by an obsessed teenage fan in 1949 was the basis for Malamud’s story, published in 1952. The movie title actually references the nickname “The Natural” given to Eddie Waitkus (the stalker’s target) during his rookie year.
I’ve always enjoyed Barbara Hershey’s vampy portrayal of stylish, gun-toting Harriet, but since I’ve known the background’s background I see the character working better as a nod to history than as a total invention.
The new film What Maisie Knew, starring Julianne Moore, is also based on short fiction–the Henry James story of the same name.
Call them tributes, adaptions, remakes or whatever, stories offering the extra dimension of literary or historical precedent intrigue us. Among scores of fictional scenarios inspired by well-loved themes, some–David Maine’s The Preservationist (Noah and the ark), Erezebet Yellowboy’s Sleeping Helena (Sleeping Beauty), Anne Fortier’s Juliet—invite instant recognition. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods , Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians(for young readers) also come to mind.
Others, like Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child (a Russian fairy tale) and Jo Walton’s Among Others (autobiographical elements, sci-fi fandom) offer the enrichment of prior influences and the challenge of identifying them.
Jessica Anya Blau’s forthcoming The Wonder Bread Summer gives a nod to Alice in Wonderland–but be aware that Blau’s darkly humorous, edgy take was judged by Kirkus Reviews as “meant to be Alice in Wonderland by way of Boogie Nights”; target your reading audience accordingly. Sean Pidgeon’s Finding Camlann (2013) blends Arthurian legend and a thrilling archaeological discovery for mystery and literary fiction enthusiasts. Rebecca Kanner’s Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah’s Wife (2013) offers the viewpoint about which we’ve long been curious.
You can easily discover more fictional treatments of your favorite historical figures, literary landmarks, or noteworthy events. Try searching the library catalog with keywords “fiction” and “Shakespeare” (or “Bible” or “mythology” or “Butch Cassidy”, etc.) You can pinpoint fiction borrowing a specific real personality by searching “fiction” and (for example) “Dorothy Parker”.
That strategy doesn’t work so well with prolific authors like Henry James, but you can always search the author’s name as subject, then browse to “fiction”.
I’m mining the catalog right now. Guess whose name I just looked up?