Recommended: ‘Zoetrope: All-Story’ is a magazine film lovers will want on their coffee tables

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Here’s recommended reading: Zoetrope: All-Story.

zoetrope_all_story_2005sumThe quarterly periodical, founded by industry mammoth Francis Ford Coppola, publishes a handful of short stories and plays each issue, including a reprint of a piece that eventually made it to the silver screen.

Above all, the editors select great writing. And the magazine isn’t subject to any genre restrictions beyond narratives with driving literary elements. A more conventional, dramatic piece could be sandwiched in between a science fiction tale or a bittersweet love story.

There’s the artwork, too. Each issue features a guest artist who designs the whole magazine with new creations or original content. My recent favorite has been Wayne White — you’ll know him by the stylized set designs from Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Sprinkled between the magazine’s pages, White ran photos of his work with oversized, sarcastic text superimposed on top of stock living room paintings.

But no matter how hip Zoetrope is, its relationships with movies serve as an examination of how different mediums approach the same source material. It gives readers and film nuts a chance to compare, and with content that hasn’t been rehashed ad nauseum.

Do films alone alone give us the chance to see different interpretations of the same story? Sure. This is the era of the Hollywood remake. And if it’s not the Hollywood remake, it’s the adaptation of the television show, comic book, video game — and for some really poor reasons, board games. But most of us are all too familiar with the source material for it to be of any interest to us to compare.

Recently, Zoetrope featured We Can Remember It For You Wholesale in it’s classic reprint spot. The Philip K. Dick short story was the basis for the 1990 and 2012 movies Total Recall.

I don’t remember (apologies) the 1990 version as first-rate sci fi, but it definitely took a lot of liberties with the source content. It played up some of the distopian themes, whereas Dick’s short story focuses on classic nature versus nurture debates: If science could give us the ability to change memories, does that mean we’re just organic machines, ready for manipulation, is there a core to each person that shouldn’t be scratched? But both accomplish what all good sci-fi does: offering commentary that challenges conventional wisdom about being human.

43Zoetrope readers also get to compare visual to written storytelling. Total Recall and similar sci-fi movies often portray gadgetry with wild intensity, while writers such as Dick plays down the technology in his writing. Readers infer that there’s some machine magic happening here, but that’s not at the core of the story. It isn’t the core of the film version either, but by comparison, one notices the visual workload movies have to take on when our brains aren’t filling in the gaps of the written world.

Then, there are the movies you haven’t seen yet. I’m looking forward to watching, Beasts of the Southern Wild, as Zoetrope published the play it was based on — Lucy Alibar’s Juicy and Delicious — in its Fall 2012 issue. Dreamlike and heavy on the psychology, I’m interested in seeing what adaptations were made to make it palatable in film format.

And anything that runs in Zoetrope has the potential to become a movie — that’s both a compliment and a legality. It keeps first serial rights and a one-year film options.

Above all else, it’s never let me down. Literary journals can be fickle publications, and when they publish less and cost as much as traditional magaizines, I want my money’s worth. But I haven’t read a bad issue. I haven’t read a mediocre issue. Zoetrope finds great stories and helps expand the universe of film.

– Michael Janney

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