On a Note of “Relevance”; or, What I Learn from Fellow Bloggers

Well, I had this particular spot reserved for two; but, as you will see, it got considerably more crowded here. Watching the Joan Crawford melodrama Possessed last night, I noticed in the opening credits that the screenplay was an adaptation written by playwrights once well known for their work in radio: Ranald McDougall and Silvia Richards. I had come across McDougall’s name only yesterday, when his propaganda piece “The Boise” reached me by mail (between the covers of Erik Barnouw’s Radio Drama in Action).

McDougall’s plays for the series The Man Behind the Gun are notable for their effective use of second-person narration, an addressing of the listener as a character in the drama to follow:

You’re a chief bosun’s mate aboard the “Boise”—a gun pointer—the guy that points and fires the fifteen big guns of the cruiser. Right now you’re standing by for action [. . .]. You’ve sighted the enemy, and your eye is jammed into the telescopic gun sight, searching for a target. [And] now, very dimly, you see a light-gray spot on the lens . . . then another . . . and another—five of them. It’s them! You can see them plainly.

As those listening to old-time radio shows know, the technique was later used to announce each upcoming episode of Escape). McDougall’s collaborator writing the screenplay for Possessed was Silvia Richards. I assume that is the Sylvia Richards who wrote scripts for the thriller anthology Suspense. At any rate, I was going to discuss the influence of radio writing and technique on the structure of Possessed, a film noir that also makes use of radio’s voice-altering Sonovox, readers interested in which Google occasionally refers to broadcastellan.

The second topic on my mind was the narrative genre of soap opera, which occurred to me after misreading the date marking the demise of four long-running radio serials back in 1959, the anniversary of their silencing having been 2 January, not 1 February. I occasionally contribute a definition to Waking Ambrose and was interested in redefining “soap opera” for myself. It is a word that has become rather too loosely used, but might actually fit certain commercial blogs.

So, this is what I had planned to write about today; but technorati made me reconsider all that. After posting my essays here, I often go in search of other online journals discussing subjects similar to mine. Not infrequently, this leads to some follow up on my part. The other day, for instance, having written about the radio promotion for Cecil B. DeMille’s Four Frightened People, I searched for recent mentions of that title elsewhere. And what did I learn? That the film is going to be released as part of a DeMille DVD anthology. Both the Alternative Film Guide and Trouble in Paradise will tell you as much. That’s another product of popular culture recalled from obscurity. Unfortunately, my similarly obscure journal had little to do with it; but bloggers are doing their share by spreading the word and signalling interest in or demand for such films.

Yesterday, having just mocked the “relevance” of the Academy Awards, I came across an entry in the Popsurfing blog, shared by someone who, unlike me, took time to look at the entire list of nominees. And what is nominated in the documentary (short subject) category? “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin,” a film honoring the foremost exponent of American radio dramatics. How relevant (to me, the broadcastellan blog, and readers in popular culture) can an Oscar nomination get? The next question on my mind was not a rhetorical one: how can I get my hands on a copy of this film?

By sharing all this I meant to comment on the enriching interactivity of the blogosphere, on the flow of information (correct, false, relevant or not) that can sweep past, engulf, or uplift you, if only you bother to keep surfing. “There will be time later” (to quote a line from Corwin) to retreat into that world between my ears. Right now, I’m eager to look around and partake . . .

5 Replies to “On a Note of “Relevance”; or, What I Learn from Fellow Bloggers”

  1. Just a couple of notes: That Boise script comes from a series for which MacDougall was the primary writer – \”Man Behind the Gun\” produced by William Spier and an excellent example of quality radio drama. You can read more about \”Man Behind the Gun\” in Howard Blue\’s book \”Words at War.\”I have to look up the email address, but you might try contacting Richard Fish at Lodestone.com concerning the Corwin documentary. Lodestone has the rights to distribute Corwin\’s radio work and is touch with Corwin himself regularly. He might be able to shed some light on when and if the documentary will be available on DVD.


  2. Thanks for the suggestion. I sure wouldn\’t want to bother Mr. Corwin with another email; he\’s still recovering from a fall, his website reports.I will probably discuss this \”Boise\” episode from Man Behind the Gun on 21 March to commemorate its original broadcast. I also wrote about it in Etherized, in a chapter on radio propaganda plays.


  3. Your bookshelf makes me feel very much at home. But I did not see Norman Corwin\’s essential volume \”Trivializing America\” (1983) – a visionary book, that helps put the present time into perspective.


  4. I am glad you feel at home. It’s a good feeling, if home is good. Having had library access to so many books while studying in New York City–and so little space in my place in Manhattan–I did not add many a significant volume to my own bookshelf. Right now, I am concentrating on script anthologies and \”how-to\” manuals from the 1930s and \’40s.


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