“Boléro”

"10" featured "Boléro" by Maurice Ravel ©1929

In recognition of today being 10/10/10, an item related to the Blake Edwards movie "10", starring Bo Derek, Dudley Moore, and “Boléro”, a musical composition by Maurice Ravel.

The piece owes its existence to copyright.  The project began as an orchestral arrangement of a fairly recent Spanish composition, but Ravel discovered that source material was still under copyright, and produced a composition of his own, inspired by a music and dance form of the same country: bolero. It is a very minimalist composition, maintaining a steady percussion line throughout, and repeating the same melodic theme as it’s passed from instrument to instrument. That also makes it rather memorable.

First published in 1929, it would have entered the Public Domain in 1987, several years after it re-entered public consciousness thanks to Blake Edwards.

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Whose Body?

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayer ©1923

Whose Body? is a novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, which began a series of novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, an aristocrat who fancies himself as an amateur sleuth.  While not exactly James Bond or Miss Marple in terms of profile or public recognition, Lord Peter was the subject of 11 novels and several short stories by Sayers, which were adapted into television series by the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s. Jill Paton Walsh has resumed the novel series, first working from Sayers’ unfinished work, then writing original works, all with permission from Sayers’ heirs.

Whose Body? was published in 1923, which places it at the outer limit of copyright protection in the US; it was originally supposed to enter the Public Domain here in 1980, but will now remain off-limits until 2019. Because Sayers died in 1957, all of her books are now under copyright in the EU until 2028.

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“Exactly Like You”

"Exactly Like You" by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields ©1930

“Exactly Like You” is a song from the Broadway musical Lew Leslie’s International Revue with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Jimmy McHugh. It was a popular hit in 1930 along with “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, another McHugh/Fields song from the show.  It became a jazz standard, recorded by a who’s who of singers and musicians.  It’s a sweetly sentimental song, expressing the feelings of a person who is content just to be with his beloved, someone who is a perfect match for him and makes him happier than various things that money could buy.

With a copyright date of 1930, it would have entered the Public Domain in 1987.  That still would have been a few years too late to benefit Paul Bartel, whose 1982 cult dark comedy Eating Raoul used the song over the opening credits, and had to pay royalties for the privilege.

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Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot ©1939

T.S. Eliot’s collection of poems entitled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is best known today as the basis for the mega-hit musical Cats.  The poems were originally written for his godchildren, whimsically inventing a society and psychology for the feline species.  Although written over the course of the 1930s, the copyright clock did not begin ticking until they were published – with illustrations by Eliot – in 1939, and would have entered the Public Domain in 1996.  The illustrations by Nicolas Bentley in the 1940 edition would have become public property a year later.

For good or ill, the songs and staging of the musical would be unaffected if the source material were in the Public Domain. Likewise, the illustrations that accompanied later editions, such as those by Edward Gorey (1982) and Axel Scheffler (2009) would still be safely under copyright.

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Casino Royale

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming ©1953

Ian Fleming’s spy novel Casino Royale was published in 1953.  It introduced the characters of stalwart CIA agent Felix Leiter, the villain Le Chiffre, and the beautiful but unpredictable Vesper Lynd…. oh, and some guy named Bond… James Bond. Although there are many elements of the 007 franchise that are not included in this book, and which would remain under copyright until they were also over 56 years old, the character of Bond himself would have entered the public domain at the beginning of 2010.

This is – or at least would’ve been – a very big deal. The later novels and all of the films would still be under their own copyright restrictions, and EON Productions would still have active trademark protection on “007″, “James Bond”, and presumably the titles of all of the novels. But with a little creativity another studio could produce their own films starring the fictional famous spy, or another member of MI6 with a license to kill.

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I Was a Male War Bride

I Was a Male War Bride ©1949

I Was a Male War Bride was a low-key screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan, directed by Howard Hawks.  Based on a true story, Grant and Sheridan play a French captain and an American WAC lieutenant assigned to work together on a mission. The gender-role reversals begin when Sheridan is required by regs to pilot their motorcycle and Grant has to ride in the sidecar.

Although they dislike each other at first, they eventually fall in love and get married (not quite a cliché yet, at the time). Their wedding night is interrupted by Sheridan being transferred Stateside, and when Grant tries to accompany her under the War Bride Act more hijinx ensue, culminating with Grant in drag as an army nurse to pass more easily.  This last bit proved to be a huge hit with audiences, and the film became one of the top-grossing releases of the year.

Under traditional copyright law, this film would have become public property at the end of 2005.

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The Big Trail

The Big Trail ©1930

John Wayne’s first starring role was in The Big Trail, a western written by Hal G. Evarts and directed by Raoul Walsh.  It was this film in which handsome 23-year-old Marion “Duke” Morrison became “John Wayne”, a name chosen by the director and the head of Fox Studios.  The film told the story of a wagon train on the Oregon Trail less than a century before, shot on location across the West, with remarkable attention to authenticity. Marguerite Churchill played the young woman who catches Wayne’s eye.

John Wayne in The Big Trail ©1930

One of the early widescreen productions, it was filmed with two cameras (one standard 35mm, the other a wide-format 70mm), sometimes side by side, other times restaging or reframing scenes to fit the format.  It was also a talkie, but not shot in color (the other hot new technology of the day).  Although the 35mm version allowed it to be screened widely, the limited number of cinemas capable of 70mm projection, and the weak market of the Great Depression, hurt it at the box office.

Under traditional copyright law, The Big Trail would have entered the Public Domain at the end of 1986.

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Slam Bradley

Slam Bradley by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster © DC Comics 1937

Although none have been quite as popular as their character in the blue tights and red cape, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created other comic book characters too.  One was Slam Bradley, who debuted more than a year earlier.  He appeared in the first issue of Detective Comics, more than two years before that title introduced another caped crusader in a bat mask, and remained as a regular feature for 12 years.  Slam was a pre-superhero hero, a two-fisted private eye with a fondness for drink and dames, shown here taking on racist caricatures of Japanese thugs (sadly common in those days).

Unlike their more famous creation, which they developed on their own, Siegel and Shuster created Slam Bradley as “work for hire”, meaning that National Publications (as DC was known then) was legally considered the creator, rather than the actual creators.  Under PD56 the copyright would have expired after 1993; as a corporate work it won’t enter the Public Domain until 2058.

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