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No Time for Mutants; Adaptation, Times Two; I Vant to Be Alone

Feelin' Penultimate:  The Spike Report is currently scheduled to cease publication in OJR at the end of this month.  Please see this column (final item) for more information.


No Time for Mutants

A legal ruling that the X-Men are not human has fans of the perpetually misunderstood comic book mutants howling in protest.

The recent decision by U.S. Court of International Trade judge Judith Barzilay settles a dispute between X-Men copyright holder Marvel Enterprises Inc. and the U.S. Customs Service, writes Neil King Jr. in an entertaining Wall Street Journal report.  In an effort to recoup duties paid to the Customs Service, Marvel sought to establish that plastic X-Men figures imported from China in the mid-1990s were toys rather than dolls.  "According to the U.S. tariff code, human figures are dolls, while figures representing animals or 'creatures,' such as monsters and robots, are deemed toys," writes King.  Toys are assessed a lower tariff rate than dolls.

"Judge Barzilay sat down with a sheaf of opposing legal briefs and more than 60 action figures ..." writes King.  Her ruling that characters who "use their extraordinary and unnatural ... powers on the side of good or evil" must be "something other than human" was a victory for Marvel Enterprises -- but it didn't sit well with X-Men fans.  "This is almost unthinkable," howls fan site editor Brian Wilkinson.  "Marvel's super heroes are supposed to be as human as you or I."  "[Superman] changes his clothes in a phone booth and flies through the air," adds former comic book editor Christian Cooper.  "Does that mean he's now an animal?"

Not only human, but ...  The X-Men have a particular appeal for gay readers, argued Erik Dussere in Salon in 2000. 


Adaptation, Times Two

"The film 'About Schmidt,' directed by Alexander Payne, is based on my novel of the same title," writes Louis Begley. 

In an essay in Sunday's The New York Times, Begley acknowledges that the screenplay by Payne and Jim Taylor took enormous liberties with his 1996 novel, whose main character was a successful New York lawyer rather than a mediocre Nebraska actuary.  Nonetheless, says Begley, many of the book's key themes and characters were retained in the film -- with the exception of Schmidt's anti-Semitism, and the character of "an improbably beautiful and adventurous half-Puerto Rican waitress, just a tad over 20 years old [whose] love for Schmidt, and the torrid sex between them, ripen him and open the possibility that he will become a freer and wiser man." 

In a far less conflicted piece published in the Times the same day, Michael Cunningham has nothing but praise for the film version of his 1998 book, "The Hours."  " ... I find myself in an enviable if slightly embarrassing position as one of the only living American novelist (sic) happy about his experience with Hollywood," writes Cunningham, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel seems to have survived the adaptation process more or less intact.  "These actors are not who I imagined when I wrote the book, but I feel as if they are reincarnations of people I've known intimately."


Ticket for One

When David Macfarlane goes out to the theater, opera or symphony, there's only one person whose company he can bear: David Macfarlane. 

In an unusual essay in Canada's The Globe and Mail, Macfarlane says that given his druthers, he'd rather attend most performances alone.  Having to discuss a play or recital as soon as the lights go up is a real buzz-kill, he complains, and having to wait for someone else -- like his wife -- to get ready to go out is a real drag.  A companion also makes it tough to walk out of a performance on a whim.  In short, when it comes to attending movies, music or theater, other people are a pain. 

Not that the critic and novelist always gets to fly solo.  "Going out alone must be done judiciously, of course -- that is, it should only be undertaken when your spouse is out of town," he writes. "A marriage can only be so open."  Although Macfarlane's essay is partly tongue-in-cheek, the writer does take some curmudgeonly digs at his wife; he may find it increasingly easy to commune with himself in Toronto theaters.

"All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music ..."  Macfarlane's paean to solitary concert going reminds me of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's description of Sherlock Holmes, from the story "The Red Headed League."


Short Takes

"The Sports Guy" Goes Hollywood
Bob Baker chronicles Boston sportswriter Bill Simmons' unusual journey from online columnist to television comedy writer, in the Los Angeles Times; Simmons describes life backstage at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in his latest column.

Farewell, Richard Crenna
The veteran actor who started out playing "idiot adenoidal kids" on radio shows like "Our Miss Brooks," was 75, writes Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times.

But Nina Lives On
Richard F. Shepard and Mel Gussow remember legendary theater caricaturist Al Hirschfeld in a fond New York Times obituary; the Margo Feiden Galleries offers a selection of the artist's work.

A Hit, a Very Palpable Hit
Mel Brooks and Tom Meehan discuss their collaboration on the musical "The Producers" in the Writers Guild of America, East publication On Writing -- but you'll have to download the lengthy article as a .pdf file(Requires Adobe Reader)

"Not Over Clean; Food Only Fair"
Rudyard Kipling often toured France as a persnickety hotel inspector, writes a surprised Julian Barnes in The Guardian.

Want more links? The Spike Report regularly follows links from these useful daily Weblogs: Jim Romenesko's MediaNews and The Obscure Store offer highlights in the areas of news, features and media gossip; Arts Journal and Arts & Letters Daily cover the arts and culture beat; the Utne Web Watch Daily cherry-picks the alternative press; E-Media Tidbits and the UK Guardian weblog find consistently interesting selections; Metafilter, Boing Boing and Eliot Gelwan's Follow Me Here offer an eclectic mix of political, technical, scientific and general-interest items.

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