Books Vs Films Essay Contest

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Team Book Tops at Second Annual 'Animus' Fundraiser

1877 Society hosted its second annual fundraiser, “Animus: Film vs. Book,” October 20, 2016, at Aksarben Cinema.

About 60 attendees gathered for a lively film and book comparison. Up for debate was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson versus the 1998 film of the same name, which stars Johnny Depp.

The night began with a cocktail and appetizer reception at 5 p.m., followed by a screening of the movie at 6 p.m. and a passionate and spirited panel discussion.

Enthusiastic readers and self-proclaimed film critics constructively discussed whether the book is superior to the film (or vice versa).

Attendees were encouraged to first read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas prior to watching the film at Aksarben Cinema.

Panelists included Karen Pietsch of Omaha Public Library, speaking in support of the book; and Ryan Syrek, a film critic with The Reader, speaking in support of the film. Moderating the panel and audience discussion was Cameron Logsdon, a local slam poet and standup comedian, who also teaches for the University of Nebraska at Omaha School of Communication.

Omaha writer Kevin Simonson joined the discussion, as well. Simonson has written extensively about Thompson and interviewed him several times before his death in 2005.

“What (director) Terry Gilliam did was less a direct adaptation and more a satire of the ‘buddy road trip’ film genre,” Syrek said at the event. “The film also served less of an enthusiastic endorsement of Thompson’s ideas about drug culture and more of a critique of them. It was if Gilliam was saying, more than two decades later, that what Thompson thought was brilliant and transgressive was actually pretty dumb and worthless.”

Syrek added: “When it comes to showing the effects of drug use, the book requires readers to draw upon their own experiences or lack thereof, but a movie can use so many different elements to show what the experience of ‘tripping’ feels like.”

Pietsch was prepared to counter Syrek’s arguments.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and a good movie adaptation can be a compliment, a heartfelt homage to the artist that came before,” she said. “Some adaptations are works of art in their own right – we think of ‘The Godfather,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ or the Coen brothers’ ‘True Grit’ – while others are more by the book. ‘Fear and Loathing’ is a by-the-book version and it fails to capture much of the rambunctious spirit, raunchiness, and deadpan humor even though much of the script is quotes from the book.”

Pietsch added: “Terry Gilliam’s big oversight when he decided to create a copycat adaptation was that he chose to focus on style over substance. He spent a lot of money creating beautiful-looking and incredibly realistic drug sequences and forgot to give the movie a beating heart. It presents no new ideas or perspectives, and therefore I can’t consider it a work of art as I can with Thompson’s book.”

Following comments from the audience and closing arguments from Syrek and Pietsch, a vote was taken. Team Book won (for the second consecutive year), although some attendees voted in favor of the film.

Proceeds were donated to Omaha Public Library adult literacy, programs, and services. Event sponsors were Aksarben Cinema and Oxide Design. 

Notting Hill Editions is an independent Publisher devoted to the best in non-fiction essay writing. The Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize has offered a £20,000 prize for the best unpublished essay of between 2,000 and 8,000 words on any subject. Notting Hill Editions also supports the annual Curious Arts Film Prize. Future submission and date details for both will be announced here later.

The 2017 Essay Prize was awarded to William Max Nelson for his illuminating essay Five Ways of Being a Painting

Panel of Judges for 2017 included

Rosalind Porter (Chair): Rosalind Porter is the editor of two anthologies: Four-Letter Word: New Love Letters and The Seven Deadly Sins: A Celebration of Virtue and Vice. She has worked as a book editor for Random House UK and Oneworld Publications and is currently the Deputy Editor of Granta Magazine. Read Rosalind’s thoughts on the essay and the prize here

Sameer Rahim: Sameer Rahim is an editor and critic who has worked in literary journalism for 10 years. Currently Arts and Books Editor of Prospect magazine, he spent seven years working on the Books Desk of The Daily Telegraph. In 2013, his essay, “The Shadow of the Scroll: Reconstructing Islam’s Origins” was one of the winners of the Notting Hill Editions Prize.

Kirsty Gunn: Kirsty Gunn is the recipient of several awards and prizes including the Scottish Arts Council Bursary for Literature, the New York Times Notable Book award, the Sundial Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. She is Professor of Writing Practice and Study at the University of Dundee.

Daniel Mendelsohn: Daniel Mendelsohn is an internationally bestselling author, critic, and essayist. His essays and reviews appear frequently in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and he has been a books and culture columnist for the New York Times Book Review, New York magazine, and Harper’s. His books include The Elusive Embrace, a reflection on sexual identity and classical literature, which was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; the international bestseller The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; a translation, with commentary, of the complete poetry of Constantine Cavafy, shortlisted for the Criticos Prize (UK); and two collections of essays, How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken (2008) and Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (2012). His awards include the National Book Critics Circle Award (US), the National Jewish Book Award (US), the Prix Médicis (France), and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Prize for Prose Style.

Travis Elborough: Acclaimed by the Guardian as ‘one of the country’s finest pop culture historians’, Travis Elborough has been a freelance writer, author, broadcaster and cultural commentator for more than a decade, His books include Wish You Were Here: England on Sea and The Long-Player Goodbye. The latest, A Walk in the Park is a loving exploration of public parks and green space described as ‘quirky and delightful’ by the Observer.

Image: William Max Nelson is a writer and historian born in California and raised in Maryland. He now lives in Canada where he is a professor at The University of Toronto.

The five runners up were:

Karen Holmberg, Garret Keizer, Patrick McGuiness, Dasha Shkurpela and Laura Esther Woolfson


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