It used to be that documentaries didn’t draw crowds to cinemas, but that’s changed. Now they’re often the best surprises of the year.
This past year, I was caught off guard by “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” — its humor and honesty totally charmed me. In the documentary, a Marine Corps World War II G.I. gets a job at a gas station on the West Coast and turns it into a gathering place for his buddies. That is, if they are willing and able to serve as “escorts” for movie stars, guys or gals, either way.
What was so endearing about the portrait of Scotty was his total lack of self-pity, the absence of complaints and propaganda, the amorality, not immorality, and his sheer cheerfulness! He married (women) twice, had a daughter he was devoted to until her untimely and tragic death, and then bounced back into his natural happy state, which lasted into his late 90s! With curly silver hair and a good-natured grin, he digs through his garage, which is stuffed with souvenirs of his multiple adventures in love, pleasure and enduring friendships of all kinds. It’s not even “sentimental,” but more like just accepting people as they are: strange, talented, lucky, doomed.
It’s a great, astonishing movie, but I made so bold as to seek and purchase the book from which the material was derived, and ... surprise again! ... the film was much better than the book. It was the reversal of the obvious but misguided notion that a flick over-simplifies the text. Not so, not necessarily. This book was a bit pretentious, and even tedious, while the charm of Scotty in person wins over any audience that is free from prejudice against eccentricity.
On the other hand, I was deeply disappointed by “The Wife,” for its prejudice against men. The husband is a phony who exploits his wife, a former student who actually creates his career while he babysits and handles household chores. He’s a real heel, with a former family — a wife and kids — he abandoned.
This “politically correct” film is clunky and mean-spirited, with unseemly close-ups of anger and disdain on the faces of the hard-working actors. The concept is that men are no damned good while women are admirable achievers, a fashionable and profitable bigotry that passes for artistry.
Moving along to books, I was once again astonished. I used to think that “self-publishing” in a “vanity press” was the wrong way to proceed from idea to book, with only a rare exception. After all, nobody bothers to fix your errors, discuss the tone of your approach, or correct your research in the world of self-publishing. But in 2018, two “vanity press” books came my way from a couple of accomplished writers.
Paulette Cooper Noble has produced 26 volumes — most under the name Paulette Cooper — in many genres, from memoirs to collections of “pet” stories gathered from her columns. Her latest effort, “Battlefield Scientology” (subtitled “Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ ”), co-written with Tony Ortega, is a review of her victory over Scientology in the courts.
I knew this remarkable, elegant, delicate-but-sturdy lady years ago, and have since caught up with her on several occasions: she is a Holocaust survivor, eternally youthful, and earned the nickname “Miss Lovely.”
Her husband, Paul Noble, reviews his career as a producer of radio and television interviews in his autobiography, “My First 83 Years.” Co-written with his wife, it details meetings with such personages as Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Basil Rathbone, Pope Paul VI, Dr. Ruth — you name any 20th-century celebrity, and chances are that Paul has wined and dined him or her. The book reads like a marvelous — if name-dropping — conversation. Actually, it’s quite delightful and unassuming. Charming, in fact.
These two brightly illustrated texts within nicely designed covers share a kind of happiness and an intimate quality of sincerity. Have you ever had a chat about how you met your partner? People seem drawn to this subject, and the Nobles reveal that they met, parted, and then, decades later, found each other again, wed and worked together. They look forward, as well as backward, with a style that gives the lie to the notion that self-publishing is a lesser path to follow than seeking success through established publishers.
As Paulette explains, while waiting for book manufacturers and distributors to make up their minds, the tide begins to ebb on a project. So she and her collaborator on “Battlefield Scientology” simply did the chores themselves.
It’s a refreshingly independent decision, and Paul and Paulette’s dedications to each other, in the other’s book, add a pleasant aspect to their estimable efforts. You can acquire these treats via firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIKE FINK (email@example.com) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.