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WesternSFA
The Boomer's Guide to Story
by Roemer McPhee
RMK, Inc., $19.99, 372pp
Release Date: June 9, 2011

This is a self-indulgent meander through the plots of three hundred short stories, songs, plays and films with the emphasis being on novels turned into film.

And just so you know--I am a member of the boomer generation.

They are listed alphabetically and cover material from 1930s forward. “Airport” to “Zodiac.”

The reason it is self-indulgent is what the author decides to discuss. In “Alien” for example; Roemer focuses on the corrupt corporation that sent out the space ship to find the aliens.

The corrupt corporation. Okay.

Dang! For me it was the fact that the alien mutated every time it was seen. As the viewer you never knew where it would turn up and what it would look like when it did. It has always made me think of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” A closed environment with people taken out one by one by a mysterious killer.

But Roemer focuses on the corrupt corporation. That floored me.

With “Mommie Dearest” it’s not the terrible mothering skills of Joan Crawford---no, Roemer zeroes in on Crawford telling the Pepsico board what she’ll do if they get rid of her sponsorship (her husband was head of Pepsico)….I mean the line quoted is wonderful…but..

What?

I guess it’s fascinating but wildly puzzling what Roemer has to say about the films, songs, plays, etc. chosen. To my mind his choices are obscure/random things like Springsteen’s “Mansion on the Hill” (Why not “Jungleland”?? Talk about a story!) “The Last King of Scotland” and the aforementioned “Zodiac.” He discusses the amazing and riveting “The Fisher King” (with Robin Williams) an insanely moving film about redemption---and Roemer spends a paragraph discussing how Teddy Roosevelt never got over the death of his wife and daughter….

Granted it’s his darn book and he can discuss whatever he wants. And it is obvious a lot of work and thought went into the selection. But for me—the sheer randomness of the selections and his essays on the items is too, well arbitrary. His insights are mildly interesting. On the other hand, check out the fourteen pages devoted to “The Deer Hunter.” Go figure.

He does not give the year these films were made or even the year the source material was published. He does mention the actors playing the parts and occasionally the director. We know nothing of the author or what his credentials are.

And more important, he doesn’t really say why he chose what he did except in general terms in the Preface: “…An extended search for the most valuable and important insights from modern stories, and parts of modern stories, that I can find.”

For me, his insights do not give me a much fuller appreciation of the work cited.

Let me quote Roemer one more time from his concluding paragraph on Barry Levinson’s “Diner” regarding Mickey Rourke’s character in the film:

“Self-confident, self-regarding ignoramuses don’t make much sense. One prominent theory is that early insecurity (well-founded) produces in the person a manufactured, compensating pomposity and arrogance.”

And there you have it. ~~ Sue Martin

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