What the Little Women Read

Posted on January 17, 2020 at 10:55 pm

I first read Little Women when I was in 4th grade. It became and remains one of my favorite books ever and I re-read it every few years since, most recently after seeing the new Greta Gerwig movie, which I loved.

It also gave me a gift. Over the years, I would come across other books and recognize them from references in Little Women. So I really enjoyed Trix Wilkins’ article about the books the March girls read, from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (which the March girls not only refer to but act out) to the dull essays by Belsham Jo has to read aloud to Aunt March to Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, whose characters inspired the names of the March girls’ club members and Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which Jo borrows from Mr. Lawrence.

In re-reading the book, I noticed a reference Wilkins did not mention. I happened to hear for the first time recently about an author named E.D.E.N. Southworth. According to a recent article:

Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth was one of the most successful American writers—male or female—of the mid-19th century, outselling contemporaries like Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She was a mainstay of Washington’s early literary scene: She hosted Friday night salons at her Georgetown cottage, attended Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, and is even credited with encouraging Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In Little Women, Jo refers to a popular author of lurid melodramas named “Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury,” clearly a reference to Southworth. Now I want to read one of her books! By the way, you can read the Southworth-ian stories Louisa May Alcott wrote, the ones Professor Bhaer scolds her about in Behind a Mask.

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100 Years of Black Film

Posted on January 2, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2020 Soda Pop Graphics

This outstanding new history of black filmmakers is available for free! It includes everything from Hollywood classics (Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier as the first black performers to win Oscars) to the unsung innovators like Oscar Micheaux, who responded to the racism of D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” with “Within Our Gates, the pioneers of the Blaxploitation era, and Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” winning the Best Picture Oscar. The #Oscarssowhite protests, Motown’s Berry Gordy’s films like “Lady Sings the Blues” and “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” and Tyler Perry establishing his own (wildly successful) studio. Highly recommended!

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Comparing the American Movie Versions of Little Women

Posted on January 2, 2020 at 8:00 am

For more, see the BBC miniseries, the modern-day remake, the graphic novel and the terrific Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters.

And listen to the dream team of Dana Stevens and Rachel Syme talk about the film on Slate’s Spoiler Special.
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women: Come for the classic; stay for the costumes

Dana Stevens’ cool new word: Poioumenon

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For Veteran’s Day: Free Oral History of Black Korean War Soldiers This Weekend Only

Posted on November 8, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2015 Miniver Press
Copyright 2015 Miniver Press

To honor our veterans this weekend, John Holway’s oral history ebook, Bloody Ground: Black Rifles in Korea, is available at no cost all weekend.

Korea is “the forgotten war.” But to those who fought in it, it was the “unforgettable war.” If the names of all those killed were put on a wall, it would be larger than the Vietnam Wall. And Korea lasted only three years, Vietnam about ten. The agony of the winter of 1950-51 is an epic to compare with Valley Forge and the Bulge.

Korea was also our last segregated war. This is the story of the black 24th Infantry Regiment, told in the words of the men themselves. Like all black troops since the Civil War, they were reviled by whites and their own commander for “bugging out” – running before the enemy. The charge can still be read in the Army’s own official histories. Yet the 24th left more blood on the field than their white comrades – if they did bug out, they must have been running the wrong way.

It’s a good thing we weren’t with Custer,” one black GI muttered – “they’d have blamed the whole thing on us.”

The 24th won the first battle of the war, won its division’s first Medal of Honor, and guarded the shortest and most vulnerable road to Pusan. If the port had fallen, the war would have been lost, leaving a red dagger pointed at Japan. It did not fall.

That winter, after the Chinese attacked, the entire American army bugged out in perhaps the worst military disaster in American history. “That,” said another black veteran, “was when I learned that whites could run as fast as blacks.”

This is the story of those unsung heroes, who helped turn the Communist tide for the first time. The men bring that forgotten war and their own unsung bravery to life in their own sometimes funny, often heart-breaking, and always exciting words.

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50 Must-See Movie Fathers: Free for Father’s Day Weekend 2019

Posted on June 13, 2019 at 11:16 am

In honor of Father’s Day, my eBook, 50 Must-See Movies: Fathers is FREE through Father’s Day, this weekend, June 14-17, 2019.

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” and “Finding Dory.”

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.

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