Thursday, March 28, 2013

When I'm Supposed To Be Writing 2

I'm addicted to watching movies. I'm not even going to try to pretend like I watch culturally relevant stuff or that I'm trying to keep up with the latest blah blah blah. Most of what I watch is crap because only in crap does one see the kind of big-budget explosions and flashing lights and pretty noises that will appease my addiction. There are some movies that lack explosions but are still downright watchable, and today I'm going to write about some of these: namely, movies about writers.

Here's my caveat: nobody gives a rat's ass about writers or writing. A clear sign of a hack/novice writer is one who includes a writer as a character (especially the main character) in a story/movie/etc. This is because writing is BORING. Writing involves going off in a room by yourself and typing. There's no way around how boring that is to watch. It's worse than tennis. And so, the best movies about writing are those which realize that they'd better get pretty damned far away from the act of writing on screen pretty damned fast to be successful. So here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

Wonder Boys. We've all seen this and if you haven't, well, okay then. It's from a novel by the somewhat over-rated but decent Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys is the best of his novels I've read, including the one he won a Pulizter for and whatever the fuck that yiddish policeman's union book was). The reason this film is successful is that it isn't really about writing at all. It's about taking the next step in life, whether it be graduating college or moving on from a failed relationship. The acting is great (Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, even Katie Holmes...well, she doesn't get much screentime so it's okay). The big drawback to the film is, of course, that it follows almost exclusively a collection of priveleged, middle class white people, so it lacks a certain amount of depth, but it is funny. Here's a clip about murder.

Henry Fool, by Hal Hartley. Hartley came up in that wave of indie directors in the 90s, and he definately has his own style, which is most apparent in the acting. I think the easiest way to describe it is that his actors look like they're in stage plays. Also, they're all great. Henry Fool is about a writer who thinks he's a genius, but everyone who reads his work is so offended by it that they react quite  violently until he meets a garbage man who seems to "get it." The garbage man  begins writing his own work which isn't quite as far out as Henry's and, of course, begins to be successful. It's a great little character study from one of my favorite directors. There's a sequel which focuses on Parker Posey's character (she plays Fool's wife/the garbageman's sister) but it's really not on the level of the first one.

Adaptation. Charlie Kaufman. I know this is the hip mention, but I genuinly enjoyed the film mostly because of its ironic tone and, of course, the structure.

Barton Fink, by the Wachowski brothers. Haha, just kidding. It's by the Coen brothers. This is a stylized take on Faulkner's time in Hollywood in a noir style with John Goodman reminding us just how damned good he can be. Again, the "Faulkner" character is fairly ancillary, and the movie focuses on Turturro and Goodman's crazy. Everything about this movie is perfect. So go watch it.

Barfly. This is an autobiographical film about Bukowski's life, written by Bukowski. Bukowski complained that Mickey Rourke didn't look haggard enough to play the lead in this. Well, he certainly does now. Again, what works about this is it doesn't take itself too seriously. Here's the whole thing on youtube.

The Shining. Kubrick's version, obviously. Stephen King complained about one of the most iconic movies ever made because Kubrick edited King's source material down into a tight thriller. So he got on board a remake starring that guy from Wings. That's all I'll say about that. Likewise, Misery is a good one. King continues to write about writers, and he often pulls it off. So good for him, but he's certainly the exception.

Honorable mentions: Annie Hall. Yeah, okay, he fucked his step-kid. Hard to get past that, so it didn't make the list. Bullets Over Broadway is another good one with the same problem.

Throw Mama from the Train. Billy Crystal and Danny Devito. So bad it's good.

I'll also namecheck the BBC show Sherlock, which is technically about a writer and is excellent.

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