Monday, November 9, 2015

Movies and Writers

I haven’t written much lately, and that is because my new book has really taken off.  I only hope it’s as good as I feel when writing it.  As I started working today, however, I happened to think about writers in movies and how they are portrayed when they write, how they appear to others, etc.  Some are not so great—frightening, even (The Shining, Misery, anyone?), but then there are others that I feel are true to a writer’s (or this writer’s at least) idiosyncrasies, habits, thoughts, personalities, and work.  And so, I started making a list in my mind of some of my favorites and why they are my favorites.  The result is the following list, a combination of two of my favorite things, writers and movies:   

As Good As It Gets
This movie always springs to mind when I think about writers.  Jack Nicholson’s characters suffers from OCD and does not relate well to people, though he appears to be a popular writer, as his publisher tells him that he does make a lot of money for them.  He lives alone, and doesn’t like to be around people a lot (save a waitress with whom he is secretly—even to him—in love).  This is something I need a lot of as a writer, but something I don’t get a lot of.  As a working mom of two small adorable kids, I don’t get a lot of alone time, and so I have to take my writing time when I can.  I work in a library, so I can do some there, but I get interrupted often and before I know it, the day is over.  Having said that, I think the scene I can most relate to in this film is when Jack Nicholson’s character is sitting in front of his computer, waiting for inspiration and viewers can tell it is just beginning to happen because the music lightens and he starts to smile, puts his fingers on the keyboard and then—KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK on the door!  This happens a couple of times more and Nicholson’s reaction of cursing and yanking off his glasses and throwing open the door describes my inner reaction of getting interrupted multiple times perfectly!

Something’s Gotta Give
One of the things I love about this film—I’ll just go ahead and say it—is Diane Keaton’s house.  What a gorgeous place to live and write!  But I also love the way she portrays her writer character.  She says she is ten percent talent and ninety percent hard word—yup, can totally relate.  But I also love the way the process of writing is portrayed, from her printing it out and walking around the house or beach analyzing what she’s written, walking around as she thinks before leaping back in front of her laptop to get her latest idea down, staying up all hours of the night and not realizing how late it is.  She is inspired by little things at first—things people say and do and then gradually other happenings and people in her life work to inspire her.  The result is a cathartic experience after suffering a traumatizing breakup, leading to what one character classifies as her best work yet.

The Golden Girls Episode, “Sick and Tired.”
This is one of my all-time favorite episodes from one my favorite television shows.  It is largely about Dorothy suffering through the effects of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but Blanche steals the show from the moment she announces she is going to be “a great romance novelist!”  She stays awake for three days straight writing her “great” work, only to stumble into the kitchen, ask what day it is and declare that she has “discovered a new form of writing.”  Hilarity ensues as Blanche makes Rose read her work, then discovers a bag of egg yolks on the counter, claiming she first sees “little balls of sunshine in a bag” and then “little yellow eyeballs” staring at her.  So, what is the result of all her hard work? Rose tells her it doesn’t make sense, and she gets several rejections from publishers, but it all makes for one of the funniest scenes the show ever produced!  And I appreciate that it shows how difficult writing and getting published can be.

Finding Forrester
Like As Good As It Gets, this film centers on a reclusive writer.  A young basketball player, who, it just so happens is an avid reader and writer, happens upon him one day.  Forrester lives in an apartment with little technology—not even a phone, and does most of his work on a gloriously loud typewriter.  He has his protégé do the same, demanding that he “punch the keys!”  They have a lively debate about conjunctions and learn that sometimes you only need one good line to get going on a good story.  They learn a lot more from each other about writing and life and the basketball player goes on the write the best work of his life—and will only get better, the viewer knows, because of his time with Forrester.

The Muse
Okay, writer friends, do you ever wish you could summon a muse to give you a great idea you could just go with?  You knew it would work and turn into story, novel, screenplay, etc., that you know was good?  This is the film for you if you said yes.  Albert Brooks plays a screenwriter who has been suffering from writer’s block.  He visits a successful friend who introduces him to the secret of his success—a beautiful woman by the name of Sara who agrees to inspire him but in return, bombards Brooks with demands of gifts from Tiffany’s, trips to aquariums, late-night runs food runs, and more.  She even moves into his house and kicks him and his wife out of their own bedroom so she can sleep there because she just wouldn’t feel like a real part of the family otherwise and therefore couldn’t inspire him.  Surprisingly, all of this works, and he ends up writing a great screenplay.  Funny movie—I just couldn’t see myself giving in to that much, though!

One True Thing
I have loved this movie since the first time I saw it because it is about a college instructor (of which I am) who is also a writer (of which I like to think of myself as) who has a daughter who has followed in his footsteps (which I admit, I hope my children will do).  But, I grew to love the film even more when I became a wife and mom and I’ll tell you why.  The career-driven daughter in the film must move home to take care of her ailing mother, a homemaker the daughter didn’t respect, love, or look up to the way she did her father.  But as time passes, and she does the daily work of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc., she realizes how hard her mother has worked all those years and begins to appreciate her, as evidenced when she asks, “How do you do this, every day in this house, and no one notices?,” and then when she tells her father, “Do you have any idea what it takes to keep your life running smoothly?”  If ever a film blended being a mother, wife, and writer so well, but in different ways, I think this one would be it.

Wonder Boys
The film takes a look inside the life of Grady Tripp, a professor and writer (of one book anyway—he is over 1000 words into his next one and is nowhere near the end) over the course of a cold, February weekend in which he loses his wife and job, is an accessory to one of his students killing his boss’s dog and stealing the man’s most prized possession.  Through it all, Trip maintains a shaggy, witty, relaxation about him.  He’s older; he’s lived.  He’s a writer who sees life and is not intimidated by anything about it because of his age and his experience.  That’s not to say he’s arrogant, though.  He’s just accepting, goes with the flow when something happens, and likeable because of it.  He says many insightful and witty things in the film but my favorite quote of his is this:  “Nobody teaches a writer anything.  You tell them what you know.  You tell them to find their voice and stay with it.  You tell the ones that have it to keep at it.  You tell the ones that don’t have it to keep at it, too, because that’s the only they’re going to get to where they’re going.  Of course, it does help if you know where you want to go.”

Stand By Me

I enjoy the film’s and Richard Dreyfuss’s portrayal of the writer here because it shows the process.  It begins by showing the writer looking somberly at a tragic news article that we do not know affects him directly until we are given his childhood story in flashbacks.  Move to the end of the film and we see the man at his computer, finishing up writing the story we have just watched, but as a parent, I think what I can relate to most is when his son timidly opens the door to his dad’s office to ask if he’s ready to take him and a friend of his swimming.  Still distracted at his computer, the dad asks, “You ready?”  The son replies, “Yeah, we’ve been ready for an hour.”  The dad looks at them, laughs more at himself, and says, “Okay I’ll be right there.”  The boy’s friend says, “He said that a half hour ago!”  The son, obviously accustomed to his father’s line of work says, “Yeah, my dad’s weird.  He gets like that when he’s writing.”  I can almost envision myself and kids in that same scenario ten or so years from now.

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