Hundreds Of Literary and Cinematic Works Just Entered The Public Domain. Which One Should We Butcher First?
Since I quit marijuana more than a year ago, my life has improved enormously, with one exception. While weed made coping with everyday reality difficult, I often came up with awesome ideas for stories while high. Since sobriety, I’m happier, but a little less creative. I worry that new ideas may never come again. From what well will my poorly-paid creative projects spring now?
Fortunately, Congress just released the copyrights on hundreds of literary works, films, songs, and other works of art. The works range from 1923 to 1977. The copyrights were supposed to expire 20 years ago, but they got an extension, denying us all the opportunity to rip off The Prophet by Khalil Gibran in our spare time. But now that opportunity has arrived. Like all creatures in Charles Darwin’s animal kingdom, we must adapt, or die.
I mock, because I have no other mode, but, as the Duke School Of Law notes, this is actually a significant cultural event. Important works of art like Cecil B. DeMille’s first Ten Commandments movie, films from Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, and compositions by Jelly Roll Morton, Bela Bartok, and Noel Coward belong to We, The People now.
Tilting At Books About Windmills
The real copyright treasure awaits in the literary section. The greatest prize here must be Don Quixote, not only the first novel ever written, but also the greatest novel ever written. But I was under the impression that the Quixote already belonged to us. And that’s true. Just a deadly-dull translation, by the long-dead Charles Jervas, has come available. However, fair warning: the William Dean Howells “abridgment” remains copyright-protected. William Dean Howells, the legendary editor of The Atlantic Monthly and author of epic lit-class snooze-fest The Rise Of Silas Lapham, found time late in life to abridge Don Quixote. That’s like David Remnick rewriting “Hamlet” in his spare hours, which he probably has actually and annoyingly done. Regardless, slay those windmills, 21st Century residents. They’re yours now!
Beyond that, there’s quite a feast available of literary works both obscure and semi-obscure. You have volumes of poetry by e.e. cummings and Robert Frost to tackle. Second-tier novels by first-tier writers come into play as well, like the excellent social satire Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo, which, regrettably, is not about a boxing kangaroo. But in your hands, it could be! If you want to tackle Rootabaga Pigeons by Carl Sandburg, you should. Just don’t change the title.
There are also novels by Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, which I’ll leave in more skillful hands, the amazing Harlem Renaissance masterpiece Cane by Jean Toomer, a book by Djuna Barnes called A Book, BS translations of Gogol’s Dead Souls and The Overcoat. There are also a ton of P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves stories which only Jonathan Ames should tackle. Hilariously, the list features a book called The Titanic by a guy named Hubbard, who died on The Lusitania.
A certain translation of The Three Musketeers is available, though you’d be hard-pressed to top the end of My Favorite Year. Also Frenchly, several stories of Guy de Maupassant have emerged into the clear. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious and pretentious, you could try to adapt Bertrand and Dora Russell’s The Prospects Of Industrial Civilization. You could also try H.L. Mencken’s The American Language, though I suspect the Sage Of Baltimore would rise from his problematic grave to give you ghostly cigar burns.
Tarzan Meets The Lion King?
Quite curiously one Agatha Christie novel has come up for grabs, as has one Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novel. Also, quite intriguingly, one, but only one, Bobbsey Twins novel by Laura Lee Hope can now be ransacked. In my adaptation of The Bobbsey Twins Camping Out, gender-ambiguous bi-curious twins Nan and Bert try to rescue their brother and sister Freddie and Flossie from an evil clown demon who lurks in the sewers. Kids today call that a mash-up.
Speaking of gender-ambiguous characters, Heidi is now available for adaptation, possibly by Bo Burnham, who loves making movies about spunky tween girls. I imagine something like Heidi crossed with The Exorcist, where a defrocked priest tries to rid Heidi of all her plucky optimism by making her go to church on Christmas morning. That will be hilarious and relevant.
See? Who needs marijuana when you have all these recently de-copyrighted works to mock? My creativity is really flowing now! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go compose an operetta based on the Jean Huguenot by Stephen Vincent Benét. It’s going to be a smash.
Rejoice, my friends! At long last, we can perform Yes, We Have No Bananas in public without having to pay royalties to the estate of Irving Cohn.