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Music Monday: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You Is a Heart-Stopping Classic Love Song

9 Apr

This classic love song actually goes under two different names, the “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” that I’m using, and also the preposition version “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You“.  First recorded in 1967 by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the song is actually written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, both of whom had careers as songwriters which spanned decades and had performers like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra singing their work.  Here’s the Frankie Valli version of this classic:

This song has some unforgettable lines, all of which center on that moment of utter love and fascination.  The lyrics capture the ultimate yearning we have for someone we love.

You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off you
You feel like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off you

“You feel like heaven to touch / I wanna hold you so much / At long last love has arrived / And I thank God I’m alive” – how many writers have put these thoughts in a hero or heroine’s head?  The jaded person who didn’t believe that love was for them, who is consumed with the desire to simply revel in the person with whom they have fallen – fallen hard and fast – in love?  Let’s also not forget the following knee-weakening lines:

Pardon the way that I stare
There’s nothing else to compare
The sight of you leaves me weak
There are no words left to speak

It’s not just me, musicians everywhere love this song!  It’s been featured in numerous movies and musicals, like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Jersey Boys, but the song itself has been covered over 200 times since its debut and by fairly disperate artists.  I can understand the easy listening crowd covering this (really, Barry Manilow, you didn’t have to) but Muse?

It’s actually a pretty awesome edition, particularly with the rockin’ chorus being a little more dissonant.  But in my hands down favorite version category, Lauryn Hill takes the ultimate prize.

Enjoy your music Monday!

Music Monday: Love Songs That Don’t Want to Change You

2 Apr

I was first wowed with this concept when I heard Martina McBride‘s hit, “My Baby Loves Me (Just the Way That I Am)” which was released in July 1993 as part of her album The Way That I Am.  This song was written by American singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters, who also won awards for McBride’s rendition of Peters’ song “Independence Day” but listeners would easily recognize some of her other popular songs like “Heaven” for Bryan Adams (an artist with whom she has co-written over 30 songs).  For anyone interested in the process of songwriting, there is a moving and informative interview with Peters, speaking about her writing process and some of her work.  “My Baby Loves Me” was actually recorded and released the year before Martina’s rendition, by Canadian country music star Patricia Conroy, who made it to #8 on the Canadian charts with it, but Martina surpassed her success by hitting #1 the following year in Canada and making it to #2 on the Billboard charts.

I think my favorite part of the song can be found in these lines:

When there’s dark clouds in my eyes
He just sits back and lets ’em roll on by
Come in like a lion and go out like a lamb
My baby loves me just the way that I am

Plenty of men who don’t care about dating someone who looks like a beauty queen, but a man who can love you when your in a foul mood and take with equanimity is a total keeper.  This could be the reason that this song is the ringtone for my husband on my cell!

Probably the most popular recent hit falling into this category of love with total acceptance has to be from Bruno Mars, who won the heart of every woman when he came out with “Just the Way You Are (Amazing).”  The song has even more impact when you realize that it was Mars’ debut single in the music world, taken from his debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010).  This single has managed to sell over 12.5 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.  And why?  Not only is it the creative lyrics or Mars’ distinctive, soleful voice, but also due to the beautiful sentiment of a person fully in love with a woman, exactly as she is.

Written by Mars as part of The Smeezingtons, or the group consisting of Mars along with writers Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine, Mars said in an interview that he was largely inspired by Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton who write love songs that are simple and get right to the point of how they feel about the woman in question. I refuse to quote from the song because most readers already know every single word and sing it in the shower, but suffice it to say, it’s what every woman (and I imagine a LOT of men) want to hear. Total acceptance from the person you love.  Enjoy!

Video Wednesday: Fabulous Kiss and Love Scene in “Meet Joe Black”

28 Mar

I’ve got to admit, I think Brad Pitt is a terrific actor and incredibly handsome, but he hasn’t really ever made my heart flutter (is it my prejudice against blond men?  I don’t know.).  That said, I think that some of his work in the film, Meet Joe Black (1998), created a few of the most tender, romantic scenes in film.

The movie stars Anthony Hopkins as billionaire media mogul Bill Parrish who is about to celebrate his 65th birthday surrounded by his family and business associates, but who begins to suspect something is a little off. Sure enough, he’s going to die very soon, but there is a temporary reprieve in the works.  In an impassioned speech to his youngest daughter, Susan, a surgical resident who seems to be in a “neh” relationship with one of Bill’s business colleagues, he implores her to stay open and not settle in love and life.  Susan has a brief meeting with a handsome and vibrant young man, played by Pitt, but right after their meeting the young man is involved in a multi-car, and presumably fatal pile up.

But he shows up at Bill’s door.  Death, intrigued by Bill’s speech to Susan, decided to take the body of this young man and to experience life for a few days with Bill’s mentorship.  In return, Bill gets a temporary stay of execution and Death, who takes the name Joe Black, gets to feel mortal.  Part of the mortal experience is his romantic relationship with Susan, who thinks he is the man she meet in the coffee shop and is willing to jettison whats-his-face boyfriend with Brad Pitt right in front of her.  No fool she!

Naturally Death hasn’t gotten a lot of kiss time in his existence, so his first kiss fortunately lives up to the hype.  I think Pitt manages to put exactly the right combination of wonder, innocence and sensual awakening in this scene.

As the movie progresses, Susan decides to initiate a higher level of intimacy in their relationship, resulting in a scene that essentially becomes Death’s deflowering. Once again, the sweetness and wonder Pitt manages to convey regarding the sensual abandonment to the physical act of lovemaking is so incredibly sweet (and hot). This video just gives you the intro prior to the slightly more naughty bits, so you’ll have to check out the movie for the full scene (um…it’s worth it).

Gowatchit.com says Meet Joe Black is available streaming on Netflix, but I can’t find it on my subscription, so I think it’s DVD via snail mail only.  It is available on Amazon for a $2.99 rental, so that’s also a possibility.  Check it out!

Video Wednesday: J. J. Abrams and the Mystery Box

21 Mar

J. J. Abrams is a powerhouse of creativity.  A renaissance man, he is and has been a screenwriter, producer, actor and even a composer, and even if you don’t know his name, you do know his work (unless you’ve been living under a rock).  Current fans of the tv shows Fringe and Person of Interest know that Abrams has the ability to grip viewers and keep them waiting with bated breath for the next episode.

It’s a talent he’s always had. Fans might have been alternately elated and frustrated with the turn of the plot but they were never, ever bored. In Lost and, my personal favorite, Alias, Abrams employed not only his incredible sense of suspense-building but constantly brought the viewer along by employing a technique he calls “the mystery box”.

I first heard about the mystery box when I stumbled across Abrams’ TED Talk (embedded below).  In it, he presents a sealed box of magic tricks, purchased for him by his grandfather when Abrams was a child.

Never having opened it, Abrams uses the mystery of what is in the box as inspiration in his work. “So there’s this thing with mystery boxes that I started feeling compelled. Then there’s the thing of mystery in terms of imagination — the withholding of information. You know, doing that intentionally is much more engaging.” Witholding information, answering the question, and then posing the next question, is something every good writer does.  Remember the first time you read The Hunger Games?  That book should have come with a warning “Don’t plan on doing anything else while reading this” because you couldn’t put it down.  Suzanne Collins was trained as a screenwriter and it shows in her ability to keep us turning the page, even if it is 3 am, and the alarm is going to go off in three hours.

As writers, we must all think of employing a similar device to keep our work moving.  Not just from a mechanical perspective, but for something bigger.  To Abrams, the mystery box:

“represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential.And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination. Now, it’s not the most ground-breaking idea, but when I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge, I started getting interested in this.”

The presentation is about 20 minutes and it’s FABULOUS – Abrams is funny and uses examples from famous movies and television shows to help illustrate his ideas about how writers can use good writing and principles like the mystery box to keep people interested.  You won’t be sorry you watched it!

On the Importance of Archetypes: Jayne Ann Krentz’s Perspective on Romance Fiction

16 Mar

I vaguely remembered English course discussions (mind-numbing ones) centering on whether or not (insert protagonist name here) embodied the archetype of (hero, villain, trickster, etc.). Invariably some ass-kisser would bring in the Jungian archetypes (she had clearly taken a 200 level psychology class and wanted to show it) and I would start doodling in my notebook while the conversation took on the quality of Charlie Brown‘s teacher “wah-wah-WAH-wah…”.

So who the hell cares about archetypes anyway?  Well, it turns out writers should care, because a study of archetypes can offer tremendous insight into the characters we try to flesh out in mere words.  Sometimes books and writer’s guides call them simply archetypes, but there are other versions that exist like personality types, enneagrams, and zodiac signs which can all prove to be the brain jumper cable we require to see our character as a three dimensional person and transmit that understanding to our reader.

But before we go further, what exactly is an archetype?  At it’s most basic, an archetype is “a very typical example of a certain person or thing” usually seen as a general label that invokes immediate understanding in the listener or reader (like when someone calls your character a “player” in contemporary romance or a “rogue” or “rake” in historical romance).(New Oxford American Dictionary)

The psychology piece takes it a step deeper as Jungian psychology believes in archetypes as “a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) In this school of thought, the idea reigns that we have embedded in our cultural psyche ideas of “the hero” or the “wise old woman.” Jung and some other psychologists believe tarot cards to be an example of people channeling the idea of archetypes and creatively using them to understand their world and their future.  This is really rather helpful for writers, since it means that we can spin variations of this theme but often merely have to invoke this archetype in the minds of our reader with a few broad strokes and the reader’s brain will automatically categorize the character accordingly.

When entering into a “literary” discussion of the romance genre, it helps to get an intellectual heavyweight on your side.  Jayne Ann Krentz, known to her fans under either her actual name or one of her many pseudonyms – Amanda Quick or Jayne Castle, are two popular ones – is an award winning author who is able to encapsulate the key points of romance in language that ties critics in knots.  Try telling the following to the next brandy-swilling snootypants who attempts to suck the fun out of you.

“The thing is, romance novels, like the other genres of popular fiction, descend from a different storytelling tradition — the heroic tradition. They feature the ancient heroic virtues: honor, courage, determination and the healing power of love. Most modern literary critics are stuck in a time warp that dates back to the middle of the twentieth century when the only fiction that was considered GOOD fiction was that which was heavily influenced by existentialism, various social agendas and psychological theory.” (Source: interview with Jayne Ann Krentz)

Krentz knows what she’s talking about.  Not only did she get her bachelor’s degree in history and her master’s in library science (whoo-hooo!! fellow librarian!!), but she worked for years in academic libraries.  Add in her thirty plus years of being a published author and you have someone who REALLY has given a lot of thought to the genre.  (For an even clearer view, take a look at the collection she edited, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance.)

Archetypes have definitely been a piece of this thought process.  In a recent interview given to the Popular Romance Project (SUCH a good site with one amazing video interview after another, like Jayne’s, and well-written guest articles, be sure to check it out), she paints with a few words why we love romance so much. It’s (thankfully) not about existential post-modernism or the deeper symbolism regarding the parrot on page 73, but instead about a story that is about two people on a journey, facing their problems with characteristics we can all admire. “[T]he hero and the heroine overcome their problems not with social engineering and not with psychology, but with core heroic virtues and they’re always the same. It’s courage, determination, a sense of honor, integrity, and the ability to love, and that’s at the core of all our heroic archetypes.”  Can you even think of a hero that didn’t have, at his or her core personality, these values?  Of course you can’t, because we wouldn’t love him or her as a reader.

Popular fiction employs archetypes as much as literary fiction or sweeping Greek epics do, because they are essential to our understanding of story.  Noting that no one seems to ask what need popular fiction fills in our mind and heart, Jayne has a theory.  “…I’ve, over the years, sort of evolved a Jayne’s theory of popular fiction evolution, which is that it wouldn’t survive unless it served a real purpose for the survivability of our culture; and I believe that it’s in popular fiction that we preserve our society’s—our culture’s—core values.”  If those core values are about love and caring, about courage and integrity, then I am incredibly glad that I live in a society that recognizes their importance.

One of the other criticisms I hear of popular fiction is how “unrealistic” it is. Conversely the opposite is praise for literary fiction (which never gets called popular fiction no matter how popular it gets) which is often touted for being gritty and realistic. But Jayne Krentz has a rebuttal for this negative perspective.

“It is not the task of popular fiction to be realistic. It may feel realistic upon occasion…. Popular fiction encapsulates and reinforces many of our most fundamental cultural values. Romance is among the most enduring because it addresses the values of family and human emotional bonds.” (Interview)

Is this the reason women in particular value romance so much?  Because we are geared to value those emotional bonds between people, particularly those of love and passion? The “realistic” thing always makes me cranky.  No Harry Potter is not realistic, or a girl falling in love with a vampire, or a guy who dresses in black and protects Gotham City with his ginormous wealth and infinite array of gadgetry. Are they stories people love to read?  Hell, yeah, and the characters are all archetypes at their core.

With this in mind, understanding archetypes is an important tool in the writer repertoire. There are plenty of books for writers out there that deal with character development, but one that might help is a book by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters.  I have so many post it notes in this book, it looks like a pink paper porcupine!  After a brief discussion of archetypes and their importance, Victoria Schmidt goes into several female and male archetypes, discussing their overall character traits, their flaws and positive qualities, how other characters view them, and, for many of the archetypes seen as positive, how they could become villainous.

Supporting characters are also given their own mini-archetypes and it’s impressive how as you read, you can’t help but think of characters of books you loved.  The last part of the book is spent outlining the feminine and masculine journey our characters/archetypes might take.  It really gets the brain juices flowing!

So for writers or would-be writers of popular fiction, don’t underestimate the power of archetypes to help your character development and plot brainstorming. Remember popular fiction is worthy of respect and admiration for the same celebration of human values that literary fiction possesses. By learning about the commonalities between them, we can appreciate all fiction and what it teaches us about being our best selves.  Enjoy!

Video Wednesday: Fabulous Love Scene from The Last of the Mohicans

14 Mar

It’s amazing that a book that I absolutely HATED in high school (sorry, James Fenimore Cooper) would result in a movie I can literally watch over and over again.  While Cooper is not going to win any RITA award for his romance between Hawkeye and Cora Munro (and the much less elaborated upon love between young Uncas and Cora’s sister, Alice), the 1992 movie adaptation (which owed its plotline and deviations from the novel to the fact that it is based more on the 1936 movie than Cooper’s original work), directed by Michael Mann, was deemed instantly swoon-worthy by people all over the globe who were drawn to Daniel Day Lewis‘ depiction of this literary character.

Cooper spent numerous (and I mean numerous) pages elaborating upon what would become known in American literature as the “noble savage” ideal, a concept rather nauseating in today’s day and age, but was publishing gold back in his day.  Another interesting twist is Cooper’s understanding of how and why his couples work or don’t work.  Hawkeye, a white man raised as a Mohican and known by the moniker the various Indian tribes of the area have given him rather than his given white name, Nathaniel Bumppo, would have been deemed unacceptable and ruined for polite society, but he is an ideal match for Cora Munro, who is the daughter of Colonel Munro and a mixed race woman from the West Indies who Munro married.  Also suitable for her would be Uncas and she actually dies with him in the book during the final fight of the novel, with his father inferring at the funeral that she was his chosen bride in eternity.  Because of Cora’s heritage, her chances of a good marriage are actually severely limited (despite her suitor in the form of Duncan Heyward in the movie, in the book he pursues Alice) so the love match between her and Hawkeye is ideal on all levels, particularly as a match to her adventurous personality.  Keep in mind that if you do decide to read the book, you can usually get it for free since it’s in the public domain.

I guess we should all thank Cooper for giving us a “meh” book that has somehow managed to be such an excellent inspiration for some tremendous love stories.  One of the most outstanding spinoffs has to be Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati.  In this epic, Elizabeth Middleton. a 29-year-old spinster, travels from England to upstate New York in 1792.  Her domineering father plans on pressuring her to marry the local physician, but she finds herself drawn to Nathaniel Bonner, son of (wait for it) Hawkeye. [I don’t know if she did this for copyright reasons, but she renames Hawkeye “Daniel Bonner” and then gives the name Nathaniel to his son, but its still the same family.]  Nathaniel considers his ties to the Mahican nation strong – Chingachgook is his grandfather and his dead wife was a Mahican woman, but there is tremendous tension between the Bonner family and Elizabeth’s father.

Part of her inheritance is a parcel of land the Mahicans want to repurchase because of a long-standing claim on it, but physician Richard wants Elizabeth for the power he would gain owning that piece of the wilderness.  That Nathaniel and Elizabeth fall in love is just another complication but one that shakes them both to their foundations.  This is the best book of the series, but the other books in the series include (in order) Dawn on a Distant Shore, Lake in the Clouds, Fire Along the Sky, Queen of Swords, and the final book in the series, The Endless Forest, which takes the reader up to 1824 with this family that never seems to catch a break with all the trouble they encounter.  You must, must, MUST read them in order, because one of Donati strengths is painting rich, multidimensional characters and there are a lot of them that ebb and flow in prominence in the various novels.

Back to today’s video Wednesday clip.  I think the reason this kiss scene works so well is due to the shadow but largely due to the acting of Madeleine Stowe (and I bet there were a LOT of women who would have been happy to take her place here).  Her look of passion and tenderness as she and Hawkeye finally give into the need to touch each other as well as her ragged breathing ramp this sensual moment from smoldering to scorching.  The video is a little dark, but you’ll be able to see all the good parts, I promise.  Enjoy!

What is truer than truth? Answer – The Story: Isabel Allende on Passion

7 Mar

Like many people I have loved Isabel Allende‘s work for a long time.  Her work has always typified what is powerful about “saga” books – books that span a lifetime or two, often in one family.  I learned so much about Chile and its politics from her novels, but it was her ability to craft strong female characters which ensured my total devotion.  Her stories capture heartbreak, political oppression, misogyny, mysticism, love, and endurance in a way that I have not seen from any other novelist.  I think The House of the Spirits is probably my favorite work of hers.  If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

Anyway, I was surfing TED Talks (do you know about TED Talks?  They are videotaped speeches or lectures from some of the world’s leading artists, writers, scientists and thinkers and I’m addicted) and came across one entitled “Isabel Allende tells tales of passion.”  Color me there!

It’s a sad fact that lyrical writers are often quiet or lackluster public speakers, but Allende does NOT fall into that category.  She spoke for about 20 minutes about passion using the story arc of her experience as a flag bearer in the 2006 Winter Olympics.  Observing herself surrounded by athletes who embodied the very idea of passion as their driving force, she expounded upon the theme of living a passionate life.  Her personal experience of the Olympics provided wonderful levity while showcasing her charm and humor.  This humor provided an emotional respite from the harrowing tales of women working to save their families or others from desperate situations (warning: you probably will need a tissue for a few of them).  But she uses these stories as inspiration and I certainly came away inspired.

There are definitely some nuggets of wisdom for any student of literature or any writer in this talk.  Take this gem for example (the words in parenthesis are the audience reaction as noted by the transcription):

Heart is what drives us and determines our fate. That is what I need for my characters in my books: a passionate heart. I need mavericks, dissidents, adventurers, outsiders and rebels, who ask questions, bend the rules and take risks. People like all of you in this room. Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. (Laughter) They only make good former spouses. (Laughter)(Applause)

She mentioned that she had no need to make up the strong women characters in her novels – she was surrounded by them, so she simply observed the women around her and used them as inspiration.  She also took the time to connect her feelings about women and passion into her personal passion for feminism, noting how for many young women in the West, there is a feeling that feminism is outdated or passe while in actuality, feminism, defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men” is needed everywhere, but particularly in the areas of the world where women and children make up the majority of the poor.  She quoted the statistic that 80% of the world’s refugees are women and children.

Some readers might think that this famous author discussing feminism has nothing to do with reading romance fiction, but think for a moment.  How many novels are about women leaving a past filled with violence (usually at the hands of a man) behind?  Or going up against a government or villainous entity determined to silence her?  While we might not think of a romance heroine’s journey as one of feminism, often it is, at its core, about that individual recognizing that she is an equal to the people around her and especially to the men in her life.  Even if the heroine is totally actualized and empowered, sometimes our heroes (particularly in historical fiction) must take the time to undergo an evolution in which they realize that the woman in their life is a partner and an equal.  It doesn’t mean that they are the same, but that, in their differences, they are each intelligent people worthy of respect. Food for thought!

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