Interview: Writer/Director Danny Strong of “Rebel in the Rye”

Posted onPosted on

Danny Strong has appeared in “The Gilmore Girls” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” wrote the “Mockingjay” films that finished the “Hunger Games” series, co-created “Empire.” He wrote and directed “Rebel in the Rye,” with Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger, now in theaters. It is a touching, thoughtful story of a young man who is passionate about being a writer but only after the searing trauma of military service in WWII is he able to fully find his voice to write one of the most influential novels of all time, Catcher in the Rye. Salinger also wrote some acclaimed short stories and novellas, and then moved to New Hampshire, and made almost no other appearances in print. In an interview, Strong talked about why Catcher is his favorite of Salinger’s works and about telling the story of a man almost as famous for his decision to stop publishing as he is for what he wrote.

Do you have a favorite Salinger book?

Catcher in the Rye. I think it’s the best work but there’s sort of an intellectual bias against it. I reread it when I wrote the script and it was terrific. I loved it. It was so funny and insightful and Holden was just a terrific character. Certainly a scholarly point of view is that the later works are better, Seymour: An Introduction and Franny and Zooey. But for me Catcher is the richest as a story as opposed to just a philosophy. There are long religious passages on Franny and Zooey where we’re out of the story range and into the philosophizing range which some people enjoy in their literature. I read this letter of his that he said “sometimes I wonder if I’m propagandizing for the religious point of view” although he says it in a different phrasing, and then he says “but I just can’t help it when I just sit down and what’s inside of me comes out.”

Salinger was supported by and influenced by his professor Whit Burnett, who tells him that the story is everything. Is that right?

Yes, and there is something in the swami’s line about “Do you write to show off to your talent or to express what’s in your heart?” For me it’s the story and what happens and when I see a film that’s what I value most. The characters’ arc is the story. That’s the difference between plot and story. The plot is what happens and story is what this is all about, what you’re trying to say, what you take away from it. So the character journey is to me what’s ultimately the story. And then what makes a story good is when you have terrific characters in it that are dynamic and they’re entertaining, insightful or interesting; all of those things.

Salinger famously prohibited a film version of Catcher in the Rye, even though some of Hollywood’s top directors were interested. Could it be a movie?

People have asked me if I could make that would I? No. I don’t think it would be very good. What happens is he wanders around New York City and he encounters people and he’s antsy. I mean literally it’s the internal monologue and it’s the way he phrases things that makes it so engaging and entertaining and what happens is fine but it’s not cinematic to me.

For a man who was cynical and sarcastic, he was almost obsessed with innocence.

You can be sarcastic and still have “innocence,” right? I mean for me it was more of a loss of youth that was ripped away from him because of the war, because of trauma, because of seeing dead bodies in the Holocaust and nearly freezing to death, as he said, the smell of burning flesh that you can never get out of your nose. But you look at his writing before the war which wasn’t nearly as sophisticated, but nonetheless was very witty and had that sarcasm and was an exploration of Upper East Side life in a way that is quite fun to read. It just doesn’t have the depth that he hit after he experienced what he experienced.

It’s just a small body of work and it’s fascinating to me how obsessed people are with him over this the small body of work and how meaningful it is, people’s attachment to him and protectiveness of him over such a small body of work.

Why did he isolate himself?

He was part of the community in Cornish and he’d come back to New York from time to time and go to the same bookstore and vacation in Florida so he wasn’t a hermit, but he seemed to have an inability to really function socially and needed to be isolated. I view that as just another symptom of untreated PTSD and untreated trauma. I think when you look at someone who writes for forty to fifty years in a room by himself and never shows that work to anyone I view that as therapy, as someone who it’s therapeutic for them and it’s healing for them. In the case of the film and the story in the film t’s a triumph for him to a certain extent, that he’s become the ultimate writer, that he can just right for the sake of writing and he needs “nothing in return” and that’s the journey.

It is a Zen type journey which I believe is completely accurate for him. I think that that was him and that’s who he became. His writing became this meditation that was some sort of relationship with a higher being. I think maybe that’s intellectually how he talked about it, but for me I just see it as therapeutic; as someone who has a racing mind, a troubled soul who’s trying.

Related Tags:

 

Books Directors Interview Writers

New from Audible: Nick Offerman Reads Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”

Posted onPosted on

Nick Offerman reads one of the most beloved books by one of America’s most beloved authors for Audible, available today.  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court pretty much invented the idea of time travel in fiction, and it has inspired dozens of adaptations.  As the title suggests, it is the story of a plainspoken American who finds himself back in the days of the knights of the round table.  I thought of it this summer because there is a very dramatic scene where the hero’s ability to predict a solar eclipse astonishes the courtiers.  There could not be a better choice for narration that Nick Offerman, whose rich tone and wry humor are perfectly suited to Twain’s prose.

Related Tags:

 

Books

Notes from the Upside Down: Guy Adams on Stranger Things

Posted onPosted on

Author Guy Adams answered my questions about his new book, Notes from the Upside Down: An Unofficial Guide to Stranger Things available August 29, 2017. One reason for the popularity of the instant classic Netflix series is that it invites viewers to explore it on many levels. In the book, Adams talks the reflections and variations throughout “Stranger Things” of the influences that inspired the writer/directors, Matt and Ross Duffer, when they were growing up in the 1980’s. Adams also provides extensive background details on the music, the actors, and the ways that the show reflects and transcends genre. It is the perfect companion to rewatch the first season before season two premieres on Netflix October 27.

How long did it take you to watch “Stranger Things?” (I admit, though I very seldom binge-watch, I saw it all in less than 24 hours.)

I didn’t binge actually. I am the sort of writer who is constantly being beaten to a weeping pulp by one deadline or another — a fortunate problem to have I’ll admit, though the cats once staged an intervention when they caught me eating from their biscuit bowl as I didn’t have time to stop and cook.

My partner and I usually have a TV show on the go that we watch together for an hour of Not Work a few evenings a week, so it actually took me a couple of months or so. Naturally, when working on the book I did binge, cramming the lot in over a few days while making notes.

Can you give examples of influences/call-outs to Stephen King, John Carpenter, and “Poltergeist?”

Oh Lord… that’s a terribly big question. When talking about influence we’re really discussing the flavor of the show. You take a forkful, chew and say… “Is it just me or did you sprinkle some Firestarter in here, just to give it spice?” Aside from obvious nods — which are simply passing moments, in-jokes almost — it’s really a case of raiding your mental food cupboard and pulling out all your favorite foods and combining them. A big part of the book is discussing the resultant stew of all of that. Something that is a meal in and of itself but which retains the taste of the individual ingredients.

What is it with the food metaphors? Maybe I need lunch.

*Heads for the cats’ biscuit bowl*

I’ll throw a call-out to each your way just so I’m not dodging the question entirely.

In the fourth episode we see a state trooper reading Cujo; in the seventh episode science teacher Mr. Clarke subjects his date to Carpenter’s The Thing; In the first episode Will’s mum tells him she’ll take him to see Poltergeist.

Why did the Duffer brothers want the kids to face a science-based threat, rather than pure fantasy?

Their initial ideas for the show grew from fascination with secret government projects such as MKUltra and The Montauk Project (one of which is substantially more fictional than the other…. probably). So they were always coming at the story from the perspective of weird science rather than the supernatural. It’s always a great storytelling trick for horror and fantasy, of course, start from a perspective of science — from what may be real — and then let rip. Monsters can be more terrifying if you sell them in terms of a lab rather than a gothic crypt.

Of course the fact that that’s the case shows the fascinating way audience psychology has changed over the years. When you go back to the dawn of horror fiction, when readers were far more religious and spiritually inclined, terror was always to be found beyond the grave. Then, as the years — and technology — progressed we found more things in the real world to frighten us. The devil started playing with test tubes, atomic bombs, DNA… Where are the boogeymen of tomorrow I wonder? When will we start seeing terrorism couched in terms of horror fiction? Fundamentalist zombies, fighting against the moral crimes of the living…

What is it about Barb? Why did she become such a fan favorite?

She’s a perfect point of audience empathy I think. The girl who never quite did. She has one close friend, doesn’t quite belong, gets dragged into another dimension by a mucous-drenched, egg-laying kill machine… I mean, we can all relate.

Horror and fantasy have always played well to the outsider. Especially young outsiders. How many of these stories portray The Unpopular Kids at school, learning to battle their demons and winning? Proving themselves to their parents, their bullies, the beautiful people they really want to sleep with but can’t because ‘they’re out of their league’? It’s all wish-fulfilment, really.

I was an overweight, spectacle-wearing kid. First I wanted to be Peter Parker, then I wanted to be Carrie.

Now I want to be Paul Sheldon, having a nice relaxing lie down while someone waits on me hand and foot. Especially foot.

Do you have a favorite song on the soundtrack that is especially fitting for its scene?

I love New Order’s Elegia playing during Will’s funeral, a wonderfully haunting bit of electronic misery.

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s soundtrack is a real joy throughout though. I never met a synthesizer I didn’t love. To the considerable misery of readers, I prove as much by offering a playlist of electronic-based movie soundtracks they may wish to subject themselves to.

Over the last eleven years or so of being a writer I’ve all but given up on songs, my iTunes is loaded with soundtracks. This upsets my partner no end. She can often be found staring at me from the door of the office, shaking her head sadly, ‘This… I don’t know what this is… but you can’t call it music.” I was listening to Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack to All the Colors of the Dark yesterday, I think she came very close to leaving me.

The series’ biggest surprise is the way it blends genres, with elements of science fiction, horror, and both tween and teen coming-of-age. How do the Duffer brothers as filmmakers make that so seamless without jarring shifts in tone?

I’d argue that this kind of fiction always blurs those boundaries, though. You can find horror in its purest form in cinema, certainly, a solid eighty or ninety minutes designed to do nothing but scare. Generally though, horror is the theme you attach other narratives to. It’s a way of talking about other stuff. Family, relationships, love, faith, how difficult it is to be gay when you dream of a man with blades for fingers (admittedly that last one is quite specific but Nightmare on Elm Street Part II went there for us).

Perhaps I’m biased but I’ve always loved fiction that gleefully switches tone. Life is never a single genre. In any given day I try and hit all the major algorithms on your Netflix system: comedy, horror, fantasy, thriller, romance, nunsploitation… I don’t always manage of course, but one has to have a goal in life.

If you could have one item from the “Stranger Things” wardrobe closet for your personal collection, what would you pick? What items are especially evocative of the 80’s?

Well, I already have Dustin’s hair (I simply beat it into submission with scissors) but I can’t say I hanker after many of the clothes, I owned too many of them the first time round. What possesses someone to think ‘fluorescent’ and ‘clothing’ should ever go together? If you’re not trying to avoid being hit by a car at night there’s really no excuse for it.

Steve Harrington is certainly the character that pulls the look off best, in that hateful way horrendously attractive people can.

I especially appreciated your focus on some of the actors in the movie’s smaller roles. When we re-watch to prepare for the second season, who should we pay special attention to? Who do you hope will be back?

“There’s no such thing as small parts,” someone once said. Probably some poor actor holding a spear in a lousy production of Julius Caesar.

I was determined to shine the spotlight on as many people as possible, though. It’s easy to get distracted by the star performances but it would have been an empty and pointless set without everyone else.

As readers will know, I’m vaguely obsessed with Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler. There’s a whole different story happening there and we only get hints of it. I’m convinced she’s the town’s most thrilling person trapped in its dullest marriage. Surviving off chardonnay and occasionally picking locks to her children’s rooms. I have no doubt she’ll be back but I’d be most interested in her starring in a spinoff, a horror-tinged reboot of Scarecrow and Mrs. King. She could battle demons while her husband sits in his La-Z-Boy and dreams of chicken dinners.

A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Related Tags:

 

Books Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture VOD and Streaming
XFILESCOLDCASES-300x300.jpg

New From Audible: X-Files Cold Cases

Posted onPosted on

Copyright Audible 2017
Copyright Audible 2017

Scully creates a diversion and uncovers some frightening clues in this excerpt from “The X-Files: Cold Cases” — a new, full-cast Audible Original drama starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The truth is out there. You just have to listen: audible.com/xfiles

Related Tags:

 

Books
ir.gif

Free for Father’s Day: My Ebook about the Greatest Movie Dads

Posted onPosted on

In honor of Father’s Day, my eBook, 50 Must-See Movies: Fathers is FREE through Father’s Day, June 19, 2016.

50 must-see fathers smallWhat do “Wall Street” and the “Star Wars” saga and, seemingly, about half the movies ever made have in common? They are about fathers. In “Wall Street,” Charlie Sheen plays the ambitious Bud, who respects the integrity of his blue-collar father, played by his real-life father, Martin Sheen. But Bud is dazzled by the money and power and energy of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The movie will up the ante with Bud’s father’s heart attack as we see him struggle between the examples and guidance of these two male role models.

In “Star Wars,” Luke (Mark Hamill) does not know until halfway through the original trilogy that (spoiler alert) the evil Darth Vader is his father. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who are killed very early in the first film, but the father figures who are most meaningful in his life are the Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Like Bud in “Wall Street,” Luke must choose between the good and bad father figures. Like Luke, Harry Potter is raised by an aunt and uncle, but he finds a true father figure later. For Harry, it is headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In opposition is He Who Must Not Be Named. Like Luke, Harry has the opportunity for great power on the dark side, but he lives up to the example set for him by Dumbledore.

The first stories ever recorded are about fathers. The central human struggle to reconcile the need for a father’s approval and the need to out-do him is reflected in the “hero of a thousand faces” myths that occur in every culture. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of a god who swallowed his children to prevent them from besting him. Zeus, hidden by his mother, grows up to defeat his father and become the king of the gods. Ancient Greece also produced the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and The Odyssey, whose narrator tells us “it is a wise man who knows his own father.”

These themes continue to be reflected in contemporary storytelling, including films that explore every aspect of the relationship between fathers and their children. There are kind, understanding fathers whose guidance and example is foundation for the way their children see the world. There are cruel, withholding fathers who leave scars and pain that their children spend the rest of their lives trying to heal. There are movies that reflect the off-screen real-life father-child relationships. Martin Sheen not only played his son’s father in “Wall Street;” he played the father of his other son, Emilio Estevez, in “The Way,” which was written and directed by Estevez, and which is about a father’s loss of his son. Will Smith has appeared with his son Jaden in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “After Earth.” John Mills appeared with his daughter Hayley in “Tiger Bay,” “The Truth About Spring,” and “The Chalk Garden.” Ryan and Tatum O’Neill memorably appeared together in “Paper Moon.” Jane Fonda produced and starred in “On Golden Pond” and cast her father Henry as the estranged father of her character. Jon Voight played the father of his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” And Mario Van Peebles, whose father cast him as the younger version of the character he played in “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” made a movie about the making of that film when he grew up. It is called “Badasssss!” In the role of Melvin Van Peebles he cast himself.

Director John Huston deserves some sort of “Father’s Day” award. He directed both his father and his daughter in Oscar-winning performances, Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Anjelica Huston in “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Some actors known for very non-paternal roles have delivered very touching performances as fathers. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for playing tough guys, but in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” he gave a beautiful performance as a farmer who loves his daughter (Margaret O’Brien) deeply. Cary Grant, known for sophisticated romance, played loving – if often frustrated — fathers in “Houseboat” and “Room for One More.” “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” star Michael Keaton was also “Mr. Mom.” Comedian Albert Brooks is a devoted father in “Finding Nemo.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2V74rUwMYHE

There are memorable movie fathers in comedies (“Austin Powers,” “A Christmas Story”) and dramas (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Boyz N the Hood”), in classics (“Gone With the Wind”), documentaries (“Chimpanzee,” “The Other F Word”), and animation (“The Lion King,” “The Incredibles”). There are great fathers (“Andy Hardy”) and terrible fathers (“The Shining”). There are fathers who take care of us (“John Q”) and fathers we have to take care of (“I Never Sang for My Father”). All of them are ways to try to understand, to reconcile, and to pay tribute to the men who, for better or worse, set our first example of how to decide who we are and what we will mean in the world.

Related Tags:

 

Books Contests and Giveaways Movie History Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2017, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik