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steveg144
08-27-2008, 03:26 AM
“Of all things written, I love only what a person has written with his blood.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Think hard: have you ever seen an interesting movie or documentary about a writer? In the past several weeks, I have seen documentaries that did wonderful jobs of portraying two very different art forms: musical composition and painting. A Labyrinth of Time gives us American composer Elliott Carter, while the truly gonzo, loopy documentary Condo Painting shows us the painter George Condo at work. And this is the key: we see these artists at work.

We see Carter working with musicians, hunched over the piano sorting out a composition problem, conducting an orchestra; and when he isn't doing much of anything, the filmmakers show him wandering the streets of his beloved Manhattan with his compositions as background music. With Condo, the visual “photogenic” aspects of his art form are even more obvious; I have a hard time imagining a boring documentary when your raw materials are paint and turpentine and canvases where new work is constructed as the camera watches.

And there’s the problem with writing. There is nothing visual about it. With Carter and Condo, we get to see them doing their art – and it is exciting. Watching a writer do his art is about as exciting as watching a tree put out new growth rings. Making a film in which the main action would be a writer writing would be a disaster. Films about writers always show the writer living his life, not doing his art. There is basically nothing to show.

The other problem with writing as an art form is that (until recently) there have been very few non-traditional outlets for the writer’s craft. We’ve all heard the story (probably apocryphal) of the woman who kick starts a photography career by hanging some of her work in a local bank lobby. We’ve all heard about the actor who got his start acting off-off-off-Broadway (or even doing street theatre). We even have the unforgettable image of Basquiat bombing the walls and subway trains of New York City with his spraypainted art.

Maybe blogs and forums like this are what we writers have other than the all-too-rare experience of publication. Maybe the internet is how our art finally gets to be photogenic. Maybe what we’re doing out here is bombing the digital subways with our art.

DeeCaudill
08-27-2008, 04:00 AM
Adaptation
Finding Neverland
The Hours
Stranger than Fiction

Maybe we're not talking about the craft so much, but it seems like writers do get portrayed quite a bit on film.

MadScientistMatt
08-27-2008, 04:09 AM
Another writing-related movie that came to mind was Shakespeare in Love.

Jackfishwoman
08-27-2008, 04:34 AM
Sideways was fantastic! I love that Miles was such a depressed, despondent character who faced rejection after rejection and couldn't pay the rent. No sugar coating the writer's life there! They nailed it - probably because it is based on book by a then struggling writer.

Jackfishwoman
08-27-2008, 04:36 AM
Under the Tuscan Sun was another entertaining flick based on a non-fiction best-seller by a real-life writer (Frances Mayes). The movie was a little hokey, but the actual memoir was a very fine read.

jessicaorr
08-27-2008, 04:42 AM
Here's an interesting list: http://www.getlisty.com/movies-about-writers/

Jackfishwoman
08-27-2008, 04:46 AM
Here's an interesting list: http://www.getlisty.com/movies-about-writers/


...that list reminded me of Capote - what a great film! Very well acted and well written. It was absolutely engrossing to view how Capote developed a complicated relationship with his subjects, and how the process of writing In Cold Blood affected him emotionally.

Speaking of, the film In Cold Blood was also quite captivating - but not so much about the writer, more about the murderers.

hammerklavier
08-27-2008, 05:14 AM
There was a segment in Love Actually about a writer that I really liked; and there's always Funny Farm.

But I still voted for the composers, those films about composers always get to me somehow, almost like It's a Wonderful Life.

Claudia Gray
08-27-2008, 07:14 AM
I agree with Jackfishwoman -- Capote is almost singularly wonderful in depicting both a writer and the process of creation. And with Dee: Finding Neverland and Adaptation both do some ingenious blending of life and the creative process. For my own contribution: Though it's not realistic and over-the-top funny, Shakespeare in Love does a wonderful job of dramatizing the playwriting process.

Is someone scratching a pen on paper visually mesmerizing? Not for long. But honestly, neither is painting or composing, at least not to a much greater degree -- and even most films about painters and composers tend to focus more on their life than the actual, moment-to-moment creation of the work. (The single best film about a painter I've ever seen, especially in regards to being about the work too, is Frida, and if there are five solid minutes in that movie of Frida Kahlo actually putting a brush to canvas, I'd be surprised.)

I think the creative process is hard to dramatize, period. But people have pulled it off for writers as well as for other kinds of artists.

steveg144
08-27-2008, 12:20 PM
Sideways was fantastic! I love that Miles was such a depressed, despondent character who faced rejection after rejection and couldn't pay the rent. No sugar coating the writer's life there! They nailed it - probably because it is based on book by a then struggling writer.

This makes my point for me, as do the other movies people have mentioned. They're all about the writer's life, while the ones I mentioned about Carter and Condo are mostly about the artists doing their art.

steveg144
08-27-2008, 12:23 PM
...that list reminded me of Capote - what a great film! Very well acted and well written. It was absolutely engrossing to view how Capote developed a complicated relationship with his subjects, and how the process of writing In Cold Blood affected him emotionally.

Speaking of, the film In Cold Blood was also quite captivating - but not so much about the writer, more about the murderers.

Ah, OK, actually there's a magnificent exception right there. Capote demonstrates how god-awful hard it is to show our art form in a "cool" way in the movies, simply because (unlike most other movies about writers and writing) Capote does it well.

JimmyB27
08-27-2008, 02:02 PM
The Shining? ;)

steveg144
08-27-2008, 02:25 PM
The Shining? ;)

Hmm ... pretty good choice, actually! Esp. the way that the horror of writer's block is portrayed, you can almost feel the guy's sense of being "blocked" (a sense we can all empathize with ..)

willietheshakes
08-27-2008, 04:56 PM
The real problem with writing is that there's no middle ground of works in progress that can be shared as works in their own right. A painter picks up a woman in a bar, they can go back to his studio and she can wander through his half-finished canvasses and look at his studies and be wowed by his talent. A composer can play bits and pieces of a larger -- still incomplete -- work. Pity the poor writer, though -- you get a lovely, impressionable young thing back to your place, what are you gonna do, point at your laptop and say, "Yup, the next bestseller, right there. Love me."?

That's the real drawback. And why I'm taking up abstract impressionism in my spare time.

Shamisen
08-27-2008, 06:16 PM
Misery?

And Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I suppose...

steveg144
08-27-2008, 10:11 PM
Misery?

And Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I suppose...

I think Misery was a movie about the power of obsession, and the object of obsession just happened to be a writer. Could just as easily have been a movie star or a sports player. Her forcing him to write a new ending was just a convenient McGuffin.

Fear and Loathing rocked, but more for the memories of my own dubious youth it brought back than for any real-world portrayal of the writerly life as such. But still one hell of a good flick!;)

Higgins
08-27-2008, 10:29 PM
Adaptation
Finding Neverland
The Hours
Stranger than Fiction

Maybe we're not talking about the craft so much, but it seems like writers do get portrayed quite a bit on film.


Another writing-related movie that came to mind was Shakespeare in Love.

Providence is about a writer at work. It shows the imaginary worlds he is working on.

http://movieposters.2038.net/movieid-1546

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076574/usercomments

http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9F03E1DC103FE731A25755C2A9679C946690D6C F

Higgins
08-27-2008, 10:31 PM
The real problem with writing is that there's no middle ground of works in progress that can be shared as works in their own right. A painter picks up a woman in a bar, they can go back to his studio and she can wander through his half-finished canvasses and look at his studies and be wowed by his talent. A composer can play bits and pieces of a larger -- still incomplete -- work. Pity the poor writer, though -- you get a lovely, impressionable young thing back to your place, what are you gonna do, point at your laptop and say, "Yup, the next bestseller, right there. Love me."?

That's the real drawback. And why I'm taking up abstract impressionism in my spare time.

Good point. I second the abstract expressionism. Make it big, make it sexy. Also...as a writer...maybe going to her place works out better. Maybe she can wow you. You can suggest she show how she did all that inky painterly print work using nothing but ink on her naked body.

Wow...you said abstract impressionism. Clever. Try that one out on your next artistic endeavor before going into tatoos...

willietheshakes
08-27-2008, 10:35 PM
Also...as a writer...maybe going to her place works out better. Maybe she can wow you. You can suggest she show how she did all that inky painterly print work using nothing but ink on her naked body.

Yeah, that could work...

As does, "So, do you have any tattoos?"

Higgins
08-27-2008, 10:47 PM
Yeah, that could work...

As does, "So, do you have any tattoos?"

aren't writers supposed to be good at telling stories? I always find I'm better at getting stories out of other people than I am at wow-ing people with my tales of inky triumph.

Oh. tatoos... You always have to be very interested in those. Best not to have to go into tattoo subplots too soon...I always say.

RG570
08-27-2008, 11:36 PM
I'd have to disagree on a couple of things. Mainly that it's exciting to become disillusioned and to spoil the artistic product by being present at its conception. I think such reflexivity ruins art (among other things). I think it's better if these things exist under mystique and lies.

I think what the OP stated as writing's weakness is actually one of its strengths. I think that's partly why it's hanging on in a culture where culture isn't cool anymore. It's because people can't see it, because they can't easily dissect it and try to appropriate it through interpassivity (documentaries, websites that expose 'behind the scenes' things, etc.) that it still carries a kind of autonomy that's been lost in a lot of cases.

Higgins
08-28-2008, 12:15 AM
I'd have to disagree on a couple of things. Mainly that it's exciting to become disillusioned and to spoil the artistic product by being present at its conception. I think such reflexivity ruins art (among other things). I think it's better if these things exist under mystique and lies.

I think what the OP stated as writing's weakness is actually one of its strengths. I think that's partly why it's hanging on in a culture where culture isn't cool anymore. It's because people can't see it, because they can't easily dissect it and try to appropriate it through interpassivity (documentaries, websites that expose 'behind the scenes' things, etc.) that it still carries a kind of autonomy that's been lost in a lot of cases.

Good points all. I wish I could agree totally...since the line about "...hanging on in a culture where culture isn't cool anymore" is about the most brilliant formulation I've seen in years and is absolutely true and clarifies a lot of what I've been wondering about lately...but...If you look at the other arts, it's not exclusion from coolness (or a culture defined by the aspects of culture that it excludes more than the very limited "cool" stuff that it includes) that has marginalized worthwhile art, it's the mixed up aesthetic of modernism. Writing has survived as a living, almost popular art because genre writing never signed up to be modernist in terms of aesthetics.
If you talk to artists in other media (installations being a fairly representatve case) the problem is keeping modernist intensive/reductivist aesthetics out of their "process"...which is hard because in most of the arts (except for genre writing) modernist values are still the norm...possibly because by some horrible, unimaginable, nightmarish back-route through the beat generation "cool" and "modern" have to some degree become conflated.
The dissection of the other arts...that they are open to because their process can be represented in film...actually makes them a little less modernist and is probably constructive...or at least could be eventually.

Or to put it another way: its not reflexivity that leaves artists stuck in the margins of an uncool realm, it's a dead aesthetic.

But that leaves open the question of the dynamics of a culture where culture is not cool. My theory is that what is happening is that there is just so much cultural stuff available that for most people, most of culture exists under a kind of veil of nothingness. Most of culture is present but invisible or placed under a label that makes it equivalent to nothing as in "Classical Art"...which is something I was looking into last year:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=60414

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=78744

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=62824

Phaeal
08-28-2008, 12:33 AM
Interesting thread. The last movie I saw about a writer was Miss Austen Regrets. We did get to see Jane scratching away in the parlor, but most of the movie was about her early decision to turn down a proposal of marriage and its repercussions near the end of her life.

jessicaorr
08-29-2008, 04:38 AM
I know it's not a movie, or even based on a real writer, but the anime series Read or Die T.V. has a great depiction of writer's block (episode two); complete with the writer falling asleep at at the computer desk and awaking to a still blank screen. Later, the series very effectively illustrates that waterfall effect- when you've got a good thing going and can't stop writing, when you HAVE to write, regardless of where you are.

Aglaia
08-29-2008, 05:40 AM
I liked Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Inasmuch as you don't often get to see writers sitting around writing in movies, I liked seeing a bunch of writers sitting around talking to each other. Seeing a depiction of their thought processes was almost as good. :)

steveg144
08-29-2008, 11:11 PM
I'd have to disagree on a couple of things. Mainly that it's exciting to become disillusioned and to spoil the artistic product by being present at its conception. I think such reflexivity ruins art (among other things). I think it's better if these things exist under mystique and lies.

I think what the OP stated as writing's weakness is actually one of its strengths. I think that's partly why it's hanging on in a culture where culture isn't cool anymore. It's because people can't see it, because they can't easily dissect it and try to appropriate it through interpassivity (documentaries, websites that expose 'behind the scenes' things, etc.) that it still carries a kind of autonomy that's been lost in a lot of cases.

Hmmm, sort of the old "you don't want to see how sausage is made" idea, eh? Intriguing!

steveg144
08-30-2008, 01:56 AM
Hubert Selby, one of the great unsung writers of his generation. Last Exit To Brooklyn was good, but The Room was magnificent. Good quote. I think all real writers have experienced that sense of writing with one's own blood.