Mar 1, 2014

Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’—Goblins, Ghosts and Lawyers

Thanksgiving celebrations at my house usually conclude by watching one of the more than three dozen film adaptations of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (we’re not football fans). I find the variations in scripts and character portrayals to be fascinating. My personal favorite is the 1984 version starring George C. Scott as Scrooge.

This year, what struck me when viewing “A Christmas Carol” was the FBI anti-piracy warning at the beginning of the film. The FBI warning has been attached to every DVD I’ve ever viewed, but this year, in this instance, I found the warning ironic. You see, Charles Dickens’ legal battle to gain copyright protection for “A Christmas Carol” brought literary piracy to the attention of courts of law on two continents. In early Victorian England, literary piracy was so common (pirated copies often contained altered book titles, character names and minor plot points) that lawyers generally considered copyrights to be unenforceable.

“A Christmas Carol” was first published on Dec. 19, 1843. The work had been created in just six weeks. In his subsequent reading tours, Dickens said that as he wrote he would weep and laugh out loud, and often took long walks through London—sometimes 15 to 20 miles—“when all sober folks had gone to bed.” When the book was finally complete, he “broke out like a madman.” Read More...

Feb 27, 2014

Naughty or Nice: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ Capra, Commies and the FBI

“He’s making a list, checking it twice; gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”

When Coots & Gillespie’s famous Christmas song debuted on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in 1934, they warned that “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Not many years later, in Hollywood, Calif., a new set of lyrics could apply: “J. Edgar Hoover was coming to town.”

Hoover, too, was making a list and checking it twice. One of Hoover’s Hollywood concerns was Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” now a Christmas classic. Were Capra and the movie’s production staff naughty, or were they nice? Hoover intended to find out.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 had sent shivers through Capitalists everywhere. After the First World War, the American government actively sought to identify and stop Communist threats in the U.S. When the FBI was created, this task fell to Director J. Edgar Hoover, who believed that Hollywood movie producers were a potential threat. His belief was not misplaced: Joseph Stalin often said that motion pictures were a strong channel for Communist propaganda. In 1925, columnist Willi Muenzenberg wrote in the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker that an important goal of the Communist Party “is the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit, until now the monopoly of the ruling class. We must wrest it from them and turn it against them.” Read More...

Feb 25, 2014

Sounds of a Victorian Christmas

If I had to admit to a Christmas-time pet peeve, it would be this: I’m a Scrooge when it comes to cover versions of classic Christmas tunes: I don’t like them. Bah, humbug, says I.

Hip-hop “O Holy Night?” I don’t think so. “Jingle Bells” by the Austrian Death Machine? Fuhgeddaboudit! Give me those “old-time” Christmas songs delivered by the original artists: let me hear “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Jimmy Boyd.

It seems that every recording artist is forced to release an album of Christmas tunes, and each song treatment has to be “their own.” Every carol has a jazzy version, a hip-hop version, a hard rock version, a country version and a bluegrass version. Unfortunately, these remakes are hard to avoid; they’re on every radio station and in every department store beginning shortly after Halloween.

Of course, you may not like my choices in Christmas music, either. One’s preferences in music are informed by their age and culture. My choices were shaped by the 1950s. I suspect that Victorian-era carolers would think even less of the Ying Yang Twin’s version of “Deck the Halls (Deck da Club)” than I do. To Victorian ears, “Good King Wenceslas” would sound much better on harp than it would on synthesizer. Read More...

Feb 23, 2014

Dylan’s Newport Stratocaster Soars to Nearly $1 Million

As comedian Don Adams used to say in his 1960-s TV comedy show Get Smart: “I missed it by this… much,” Christie’s appraisers had estimated that Bob Dylan’s 1964 Fender Stratocaster would bring $300,000 to $500,000 at auction. As I mentioned in an earlier article, my guess was that the guitar would bring closer to $1 million. It brought $965,000, including buyer’s premium.

This is the highest price any guitar has ever achieved at auction, topping the price received for Eric Clapton’s Strat “Blackie,” which sold for $959,500 in 2004. Clapton’s auction was for charity, which was partly responsible for the high price achieved. The proceeds from Dylan’s auction went to private parties.

The guitar, which Dylan used in his infamous “Dylan went electric” performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, was re-discovered about a year ago after having been missing for more than 45 years. The tale of how the guitar was lost and then found is an interesting story; if you missed my earlier article then have a look at it.

After much legal wrangling, Dylan’s attorneys and the guitar’s “keeper” reached an agreement regarding who owned the instrument and how the auction earnings would be disbursed. All parties are mum on the details, and all have declined to be interviewed. Read More...