Monday, December 15, 2008

Grease: The Novel

Here's a movie novelization I bet you didn't know existed: Grease, by Ron de Christoforo.

Technically, that should read "Grease, by RON DE CHRISTOFORO, based on the screenplay by BRONTE WOODARD, adaptation by ALLAN CARR, based on the original musical be JIM JACOBS and WARREN CASEY". And then there's something about ACTION PHOTOS FROM THE MOVIE, but this is not one of those photo-novels you sometimes see where a cut-down version of the script is put next to movie stills; this is an actual 220-page novelization. Of Grease.

I do not know why there's a novelization of Grease. I realize it was a successful movie (in 1978, it was the third-highest grossing movie ever, just trailing Jaws and Star Wars), but you don't see that many novelizations of musicals. I'll get to the way they handle the songs later (hint: it makes no sense!) but let's count down the Crazy Things in this book.

5. "Another Original publication of POCKET BOOKS". I guess that's supposed to mean that this first appeared in paperback instead of first being in hardback, but it seems odd to trumpet the originality of a book whose author line includes the words "based on" and "adaptation by". I imagine this is related to the way paperbacks used to have a line about "This is the full and unabridged text of the original edition" to soothe fears that they were just cut-down versions of the hardback text.

4. "Ehey." That's not a word, is it? So how come it appears so often in this book? Like this: "Ehey, Danny-boy, I think that chick in the white is giving you the eye." I think it means "Hey", but I've never run across that spelling before. It's sort of the way John Travolta talks, I guess, with that sort of hiccup in the middle of a syllable, but his character isn't the only one that does it.

3. The author thinks this is a real novel. Seriously, he seems to believe he's writing a coming-of-age story set in 1959. This explains why, for example, there's a chapter about Richie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly dying. Maybe it's me, but I don't remember this scene in the movie:

We spent the rest of the day talking softly about the singers, mostly going over what it meant to have someone we cared about suddenly die.

"First it was James Dean a few years ago, and now this," I said.

"Shit, what a way to go -- a plane crash," Kenick said, almost to himself.

"Yeah," Roger said, "and what a way to wind up -- face down in the snow."

"Somewhere in Iowa," I added.

"You guys know what?" Danny asked quietly. "It's only the beginning . . . for us, I mean. I don't think from here on out that we're going to be having too many more new idols -- we're just gettin' too old for that stuff. But what's gonna happen is -- all of our ols idols, the people we grew up lookin' up to, they're all gonna fade on us, or die. . . . It's lousy, and I don't like it."

There was something too true and final in Danny's words. In his own way, he sometimes had a real sad understanding of things.

What? In the middle of freakin' Grease, we're stopping to consider our own mortality? Interesting choice!

Also an interesting choice: The first fifty pages of the book take place before the movie begins. We follow Danny (and Sonny, because he's the narrator and therefore has to be shoved into every scene except where he's being told about what happened by Marsha) to the beach and see Danny meet Sandy and blah blah blah eventually school starts. The last chapter happens after the movie's over (but before Grease 2):

Chapter 36

So school ended and we had our girls back and we were all in love and everything was terrific. Hunky-dory, right? Sure, we both know better.

Me, Kenickie, and Danny went to summer school together and finally graduated from Rydell without too much ceremony, except for a pretty good drunk we tied on in the parking lot of the Palace with the Ladies.

By the fall, things started changing, too quickly. It was too much to face and keep up with at the same time. We had to look for jobs, clean up our act, and things of that nature which I promised myself I wouldn't talk about here.

That New Year's Eve we had a big party with the T-Birds and the Ladies as we saw the last of the Nifty Fifties -- and, to be perfectly honest, I don't think any of us felt all that terrible about seeing that decade and that part of our lives finally coming to a close.

Yay! Now Grease ends on a downer!

2. I mentioned that Sonny is in every scene, right? I realize the character's around a lot, but he's not everywhere. The only times he hasn't been shoved in are where Marsha relates to him (in great detail) what happened at, say, the slumber party. It's distracting, because I keep thinking, "Wait, wasn't that scene just between Kenickie and Danny? Why did Kenickie say 'Ehhh, Danny, you and Sonny think you can hang around and help me out?'"

1. The songs. Whoo hoo hoo. Hoo.

Okay. I would have thought that there were two ways of dealing with the songs. First, you could pretend they didn't happen. You know, "Then Danny started talking up the car. He made it sound great. Now we were excited!" Second, you could accept the singing and dancing and put it into the narrative: "I saw Rizzo walking through the hall, singing about how there were worse things she could do." That sort of thing.

As it turns out, there's a third option: you take the lyrics of the song and pretend they're dialogue. Without, and this is important, editing them in any way. Allow me to demonstrate how the novelization of Grease does this in with "Beauty School Dropout". Frenchy is describing a dream she had:

"Not only did Teen Angel say that my story was a sad one to tell, he said I was the most screwed-up kid on the block! Oh, geez you guys, what am I going to do? I know he was right when he said that my career is washed up. On top of that he reminded me I couldn't even get a trade-in on my Beauty School smock!

"Teen Angel really rubbed it in. I mean he said "Beauty School dropout, Beauty School dropout" over and over again. He knew I flunked my midterms and that I even failed shampoo!

"Well he went on like this and pretty soon I started to get pissed but I didn't have nowhere else to go and I didn't know how to get out of the dream. So I was stuck . . . listening to this stuff."

And it goes on like that!

Incidentally, what I've got here is the original 1978 edition (I found it in a used book store, where it was next to one of the more normal "photo-novels" I mentioned earlier; I assume somebody was divesting themselves of their Grease collection), but it was apparently rereleased in 1998 (for the movie's rerelease). That means not only did somebody think it was a good idea to write this, it got published more than once.

Crazy, crazy book. It's awesome. And I've just now learned that there's a novelization of Grease 2! Stand by for further information.


Devin L. said...

Monty, this review was awesome. The book seems like an amazing find. Why would the author feel he needed to write it randomly in first person at all?? This new direction of your blog seems right on.

Alice said...

I had the Grease photo novel (or "foto-novel" as I believe it was called). It added thoughts into the scenes, which I always enjoyed. I wonder what happened to that.

Deanna said...

I too had a fling with the "foto-novel." My mom thought I was too young to see something as salacious as "Grease," so I had to settle for listening to the album at my friend's house and breeze throught the pictures in the foto-novel so I could pretend that I knew what all my friends were talking about.

Phillip said...

"pretend that I knew what all my friends were talking about"

I used Mad Magazine for this particular purpose. I have quite a few movie novelizations, too, but didn't get into those too much 'til I was older.

Matt said...

I actually remember reading the novelization of Grease 2 when it came out -- this is what happens when you have read almost every book in the library....

Robyn said...

And I thought I was the only one who read Grease the book! I must have found it at a used book sale when I was a kid and to this day, I still think it was one of the weirdest things I've read. For a while, I actually thought I imagined it...