Saturday, February 23, 2013

Academy Award Writing Trivia

     Today I’m putting out a rare post that has something to do with writing.  Since the big night is tomorrow, this is coming in just under the wire.

1)      Frances Marion (born Marion Benson Owens) was the first woman to win an adapted screenplay Oscar (defined as a screenplay based on a previously published work) way back in 1930, as she shared the credit for “The Big House.”  Ms. Marion was also one of the more productive scribes, as she totaled 300 screenplays, of which 130 were filmed.
2)      Larry McMurtry holds a weird screenwriting distinction.  To date he’s the only person who both adapted another person’s work, and won (for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” based on Annie Proulx’s book), and had someone else win the Oscar while adapting his own book (as James L. Brooks did in 1983 adapting McMurtry’s “Terms of Endearment.”
3)      Emma Thompson is the only person to both win an Oscar for acting (Best Actress for 1992’s “Howard’s End”*) and for writing (For adapting 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility,” from the Jane Austen book.)  Several others were close, though. Among them was Billy Bob Thorton, who won for adapting 1996’s “Slingblade,” while being nominated for Best Actor for the same movie, and was nominated again for Best Supporting Actor for 1998’s “A Simple Plan.”  Alec Guinness won Best Actor for 1957’s “Bridge on the River Kwai” and was nominated for adapting 1958’s “The Horse’s Mouth.”  Ruth Gordon (the old lady from “Harold and Maude” and those two movies when Clint Eastwood costarred with an orangutan) won Best Supporting Actress for 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and was nominated (with her husband) three times for Best Original Screenplay for 1947’s “A Double Life,” 1949’s “Adam’s Rib,” and 1952’s “Pat and Mike”  John Huston was nominated 7 times for Adapted or Original Screenplay (winning for 1949’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) and nominated once for Best Supporting Actor for 1964’s “The Cardinal.”  He also was nominated 5 times for Best Director, and won once (again for “Sierra Madre.”)
4)      It’s not uncommon for Oscar nominees to adapt their own plays or musicals for the screen, but it’s much rarer for authors to adapt their own novels.  And of these, most of them work with someone else, usually the director, to finish the screenplay.  To date, only three people have adapted their own books, by themselves, and won the Academy Award.  William Peter Blatty, for 1973’s “The Exorcist,” Michael Blake, for 1990’s “Dances With Wolves,” and John Irving for 1999’s “The Cider House Rules.”  James Kennaway, for 1960’s “Tunes of Glory,” Michael Tolkien, for 1992’s “The Player,” and Scott Smith, for 1998’s “A Simple Plan,” came close, but were only nominated.  You could also make a case for Nicholas Meyer for 1976’s nominated “The Seven-Per Cent Solution,” but he was using Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters.  Finally, Pierre Boulle was credited with the win for adapting 1957’s “Bridge on the River Kwai,” from his own novel, but Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman actually wrote the screenplay, Boulle was just the front during the Red Scare days.
5)      Back in the very early days of the Awards, there were different rules for numbers of nominees.  In 1928-1929, there were 11 nominees, of which 4 were written by one man, Elliot J. Clawson (“The Cop,” “The Leatherneck,” “Sal of Singapore,” and “Skyscraper.”)  Even with all these chances, though, he didn’t win.
6)      As far as I can tell (and please let me know if I’m incorrect), only one graphic novel has been nominated for an Oscar, 2001’s “Ghost World,” (novel by Daniel Clowes, screenplay by Clowes and Terry Zwigoff).
7)      Woody Allen holds the record for most writing nominations, and it’s not even close.  He was nominated 15 times, all for original screenplays.  He also holds the record for most wins, with 3.  Additionally, he was nominated as Director 7 times (1 win), and for Best Actor once (didn’t win).  So he qualifies as an almost for #3 on this chart, too.
8)      1995’s “Toy Story” holds the record for most writers for a nominated screenplay.  It took 7 writers, including Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Joe Renft.
9)      Mario Puzo actually got two adapted screenplay Oscars (with Francis Ford Coppola) for one book, since “The Godfather” was used for 1972’s movie of the same name, and partially for 1974’s “Godfather 2,” (which also required some new material).
10)  Finally, and this may be my favorite bit of trivia, a non-existent person once received a nomination.  In 2002’s “Adaptation,” a meta-tale of Charlie Kaufman adapting a book into a screenplay, one of the main characters is Charlie’s twin brother, Donald.  The actual screenplay is credited to both.  Only Charlie actually exists.

* At the risk of being juvenile, this had to also be one of the easiest, if not the easiest movie titles to turn into its porn parody name, with absolutely no changes necessary.   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Cactus

     It wasn't until very recently that I realized that people eat cactuses.  I always thought of them as being ornamentals, unless you were, say, stranded in the desert without food and water in a Grade B Western.  Well, it turns out that I was very misinformed--lots of people eat cactus, both the stems and "leaves" (pads), and the fruit.  The fruit can be made into jellies, candies, and even alcoholic drinks.  I was also somewhat surprised to learn that the cactus, except for one species that's found in tropical Africa, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka, is solely a New World native.  It has, though, been sucessfully introduced to many other arid areas around the world.
     I started with eating part of the stem or pads.  This was found in the Mexican section of a Virginia grocery store, and I've seen it since in many other stores.  These inch long, about half an inch wide sections were packed in water, and are usually eaten as parts of a salad.  I had them plain, and came away very unimpressed.  They were almost entirely tasteless.  Think of the most overcooked green beans you've ever had--extremely bland.  To be fair, maybe they're okay mixed with other fruits or veggies in a salad, but I'm perfectly happy to never have them again.
     Fortunately, I had much better results with a type of cactus fruit, the prickly pear.  The type of cactus is comes from is evidently the cockroach or coyote of the cactus world--it's the only one which thrives in the Great Lake States, Long Island, and even parts of New England.  The fruit is also nicknamed "cactus fig" or "tuna" (this last one apparently from a Spanish word, and has nothing to do with the large fish).  The prickly pear is about the size of a large kiwi fruit, and is covered in thick, rough, greenish skin.  Once this rind is removed the inner flesh is revealed, which is an intense blood red.  They're chock full of big seeds, but these are edible, too.  Some folks think they have a watermelon or even bubblegum-like flavor.  For myself, I was reminded of an apple-y or melon-y flavor, with a pear-like texture.  Good--I'd be willing to buy these again.  One word of caution, though--if you're harvesting them yourself, make sure all the tiny hair like spines are removed, as they can cause very unpleasant mouth and throat irritation. 
      Therefore, to sum it up, I'd say when it comes to cacti, the stem/pads aren't worth the trouble, but the fruit is tasty.  I'm looking forward to trying another cactus product, the dragon fruit.
      To add one more bit of cactus trivia, to discourage defectors, in 1961 Cuba had its soldiers plant an eight mile long barrier of cactus along much of the fence surrounding Guantanamo Bay.  It became known as "The Cactus Curtain."
       Finally, you may have noticed that I used "cactus," "cacti," and "cactuses" as plural forms of cactus.  According to the dictionary all are correct.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Antelope and Wild Boar

     Late last year a friend of mine (Hi Ricky) told me about a restaurant in southeastern Pennsylvania that serves a good variety of exotic meats.  As luck would have it, only a month or two later I was assigned to a job within a half hour or so from this establishment.  Therefore, in December I celebrated my birthday by descending on the place with my crew of fellow archaeologists.
     The restaurant in question is called Half Moon, and it's located in the picturesque small town of Kennett Square.  In addition to their exotic meat selection, they also boast an extensive beer list.  They sell a variety of local microbrews, as well as quite a few Belgian beers.
     But back to my main focus, the unusual animal flesh.  I started off with an appetizer of three different types--wild boar sausage, antelope, and elk.  The elk I've had before, at the Bald Headed Bistro in Tennessee, and it was just as excellent the second time.  The sausage was very tasty as well, but truth be told, it didn't taste that different from regular sausage.  The antelope was also very good--kind of a cross between beef and venison, and very tender.  I would have liked to have known which species of antelope it was ("antelope" is a catch all term), but alas, further information wasn't forthcoming.
     For my entree I chose the wild boar burger, with Gorgonzola cheese.  And this was spectacular--really delicious.  In burger form I did taste a difference, as the meat was distinctive from regular pork.  Usually "gamy" is used as an insulting term, which I disagree with completely.  In my way of thinking gamy means an edgier, sharper, but better taste than regular, blander meat.  Anyway, the boar burger was gamy, and definitely in a good way.
     Half Moon also rotates their menu, meaning in other parts of the year they will have other exotics--they list llama, emu, caribou, alligator, and Sika deer in addition to the December 2012 fare of the ones I already discussed and kangaroo, buffalo, and ostrich.  So, in short, I have even more incentive to go back.  For those who like to eat local, and/or are concerned about consuming wild animals for parasitic/health reasons, they can be comforted by the fact that Half Moon gets it game from local farms.