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Literature, Interrupted

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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

The offending article: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

A school in America has committed a cardinal sin of the literary world by tearing out pages of a classic piece of modern literature because it contained sexually explicit material.

Susanna Kaysen’s bestselling memoir Girl, Interrupted, which was made into a major motion picture starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, was judged inappropriate for students by the senior staff at New Rochelle High School, New York.

The story tells of the writer’s time in a psychiatric hospital. The incriminating scene is believed to be one in which a girl is encouraged to engage in oral sex, thus acting against hospital policy regarding sexual intercourse.

The pages were initially removed from the set texts in 2001. A member of staff teaching a 10th grade course in mental health and conformity decided the sexual content was not appropriate for pupils between 15 and 16 years of age.

The term ‘censorship’ was only used this year when the bowdlerised versions were used to teach 12th grade film students. When the amendments to the literature were made public there was widespread criticism from organisations, which promote and protect the freedom of expression and local residents alike.

Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression said: “This is a very glaring instance of censorship.”

“No kid reading that book is going to not notice that pages have been pulled out,” said Rebecca Zeidel, programme director of the Kids’ Right to Read project, a joint initiative between the ABFFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Zeidel is currently working on a formal response to the school on the issue.

Angry residents of New Rochelle have voiced their concerns on a local message board, describing the school’s actions as ‘a blatant attempt to keep US teenagers in the dark, something US schools appear to be notorious for’, and an act, which ‘takes us back to the Dark Ages’.

The local education board said it had not been told about the alteration and it has since instructed the school to replace the vandalised books.

Cindy Babcock Deutsch, president of the board, told guardian.co.uk: “Censorship is wrong and will not be allowed by the school district.”

In a statement Richard Organisciak, superintendent of schools, said the district would carry out a review of policy and practices on book selection following the upset.

“I certainly understand that the word ‘censorship’ can arouse strong public feelings, and is an issue to which public schools must be sensitive.

“At the same time, I think many people will agree that some material should not be endorsed, or made mandatory, in school curricula. I hope we can all recognise the context, namely, how do we expose students to a wide range of ideas, often provocative or disturbing, without exposing them to materials for which they may not be ready, or which their parents may find highly objectionable?”

The more alarming thing about this story is that it is not a unique occurrence.

“While this is a very glaring instance of censorship, we have hundreds of censorship challenges in schools every year,” said Finan.

Zeidel said the majority of censorship cases were on a local level rather than national: “It’s in red states and blue states [Republican and Democrat] – all over the country. To date there have been 45 titles in 15 states challenged this year, not including Girl, Interrupted… In most cases most books are challenged by a parent or student who will complain about a book.”

But she pointed out that a ban or the distribution of altered texts may have the opposite effect. “Booksellers will frequently see a rise in sales when a book is banned because people want to read it – they want to know why it’s banned.”

A sign of Middle American fear or actual concern for child wealth?

Watch the trailer to the Girl, Interrupted film below:

Discussion:
Should this kind of censorship be accepted? Can you think of any instances where this sort of thing is justified? No? Neither do we.

Words: Dean Samways

Graphic novelist not phased by Hollywood calls

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Mark Millar with some of his comicbook creations

Mark Millar with some of his comic book creations

Celebrated Scottish graphic novelist Mark Millar has revealed he’s just as at home on the set on a Hollywood flick as he would be filming a Scottish soap.

Speaking exclusively to The Daily Record today the creator of Wanted the writer said he’d be just as happy working with esteemed Scottish actor Johnny Beattie on the soap opera River City as he would be adapting his novels for big-budget movie deals.

Following the success of Wanted, starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie, production companies in LA are poised to invest $1billion for the screenplays of six Millar stories.

Like the novels currently in the centre of a Hollywood bidding war, Wanted is an action packed rope that took more than £200million at the box office and looks set to pull in even more from the DVD release, which is out this week.

Modest man Millar

Amidst all the hype and promise Millar remains ever modest with his feet positioned firmly on the ground, declaring he real ambition is to hang out with Scottish TV veterans.

“Every now and again, I pinch myself that Wanted, my first film out the gate, has done so well,” said the 38 year-old, from Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.

“Instead of doing two years on River City and working through television into films, I’ve done an apprenticeship writing comics.

“At the same time as being involved in Hollywood, I am really sentimental towards Scottish actors. I would love to work on River City. I would be as thrilled meeting Johnny Beattie as I was meeting Nicolas Cage on my new film, because to me guys like Johnny are the real deal.”

Staying close to home

Scottish actor Glen Michael has been given a walk-on role in Millar’s next film, Kick Ass, starring Cage, but Mark still wishes TV duo Jack Milroy and Rikki Fulton were still doing their Francie and Josie show.

“Jack and Rikki were stars throughout my whole life, whereas Nicolas only became a star when I was in my twenties.

The cover of Kick Ass

The cover of Kick Ass

“Scottish actors are more exciting to me.  With Glen Michael being in Kick Ass, I was thinking, wouldn’t it be brilliant to grab these guys I grew up with. I wish Rikki and Jack were around so I could get them in the next movie, a £150million war film.

“We start shooting next Easter. My plan is to get work in Hollywood for all the veteran Scottish actors we know and love.

“I was talking to the comedian Frankie Boyle about this. He said everyone around the world would just see them as actors and everyone in Scotland would be thinking, ‘What the hell?’ because the last person you expect to see in a Hollywood film is someone you saw on the Hogmanay show 25 years ago.

“Sadly, a lot of the greats are dead. I loved that whole Seventies generation. Fran and Anna used to be my next-door neighbours in Coatbridge. Sadly, one of them passed away a few years back. I don’t know if she would be fit for it, but I would love to have Anna in there as well. Wouldn’t it be great to have her in a Hollywood movie next to Robert De Niro.

“Kick Ass is costing a couple of million a day to shoot and Glen has a day filming. He plays a New York hot-dog vendor. Even if it just lasts 20 seconds on screen, it will still be great. It feels good because I had never heard of superheroes until I saw Spider-Man on Cartoon Cavalcade. If Glen had decided not to do Cartoon Cavalcade, I would be doing a different job now. So I told him it’s my thank-you for him getting me into this.”

Glen, 82, made his last film appearance as PC Dixon of Dock Green the 1950 classic The Blue Lamp, starring Jack Warner.

“Glen is a member of the public who goes ‘Oh my God’ when Jack gets shot,” said Mark.

Young British actor Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski in new film Kick Ass. His character, a shy, retiring student and comic-book fan who decides to become a super-hero, despite his lack of powers.

The success of Kick Ass is so foreseen that a sequel has already been penned.

The next chapter

Wanted 2 begins production next year, along with War Heroes, about a US military experiment to produce super powered soldiers. The plot is a more pessimistic take on the War on Terror with further terrorist attacks on the US mainland leading to the invasion of Iran and the imposition of martial law in the States.

An image from War Heroes depicting the flying soldiers

An image from War Heroes depicting the flying soldiers

“The idea is that the conflict in the Gulf is going on for another generation but nobody wants to sign up any more. America has gone bankrupt and the only way they can get kids to sign up is to give them super powers. It’s Full Metal Jacket meets X-Men,” said Millar.

“These 19 year-old soldiers can fly or move at super speed. It’s a very commercial movie.  Super-soldiers versus super-terrorists.”

Mark admits the novel has unleashed an unhealthy interest in the current US election. He said: “It sounds awful but, as much as it would be nice for the world if Obama got in, part of me is rooting for John McCain because I wouldn’t mind seeing them in Iraq for another four years just so we can establish this franchise.

“War Heroes comes out in 2010. Kick Ass is going to be two movies. I have written a sequel to the Bible called American Jesus, which Matthew Vaughn and I are going to make.

“Wanted became a trilogy as soon as the first one made $340million. But I’m going to relax until spring, then create three movies.”

Said with such ease.

Mark is the envy of most Hollywood writers. Unusually he has complete control of his stories thanks to his own venture into the realms of film production, Millarworld.

“It helps being a producer. I can control who gets the property. A lot of writers are hired hands. What I am doing is retaining creative control, which is what JK Rowling did.

“I’m the person who makes the call to people like Angelina Jolie, Nicolas Cage and Brad Pitt. All my friends are egging me on to find out who is a bitch. But they are all dead nice. I’ve yet to see a tantrum.

“When you are paid $25million a film, it’s because you are good and just come in, do your job and go.”

Early developer

Mark talent with a pen was apparent at the early age of five. “I knew I wanted to do something to do with superheroes. When I was young, all my pals were into it. By my teens, they all grew out of it but I didn’t. I learned to keep it quiet. They’d talk football and I would want to ask if they’d seen the new Spider-Man.

“It was a 15 year overnight success story.  Comics were what I wanted to do and I was the biggest comic writer, so the movie guys asked me to work with them. I consulted on Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. and it was suggested I set up my own company.”

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man

His involvement in Iron Man was no small part either. It was he whom reportedly suggested bringing in Jeff Bridges villain, Iron Monger, into the first film, when originally writers had him drafted in to make an appearance in later installments.

“My brothers are all in their fifties and have kept all my early drawings in school jotters and on A4 paper. They say they are going to shove them on eBay if I ever get really famous.”

Tinseltown socialite

Aside from the glitz and glamour of writing for Hollywood Mark is married to Gill with whom he has a nine year-old daughter, Emily, and remains surprisingly unperturbed about his success.

“I still hang out with my primary school pals and they find all this hilarious. They ask me what I have been up to at the weekend and I tell them I’ve been having a curry with Angelina Jolie and they just laugh. It sounds so made up.

“Brad Pitt comes to Glasgow regularly but he doesn’t let anybody know he is there. After people finish filming, they go back to their hotels, then we text each other to go for pizza. We hang out in pubs.

“Jonathan Ross is a close pal. This week, Emily and I will go to see the Hannah Montana film with Jonathan at his studio, and the other week she met High School Musical star Zac Efron.

“She has an ordinary school life, then every now and then gets to hang out with Zac or someone like that.”

Watch Mark Millar talk about the movie adaptation of his graphic novel Wanted below:

This episode of the cult internet show iFanboy features Millar talking exclusively about his War Heroes novel, soon-to-be-Hollywood blockbuster starring some very big names:

Words: Dean Samways