Films about writing

Films about writing: PopcornFollowing on from last week’s list of books, this post turns its attention to cinematic examples of writers and the act of writing. Films of this description are, it turns out, especially tough to find, so I would like to offer a particularly grateful hat tip to Pop Matters and Tales of the Pack for pointing me in the right directions.

The Films

1. The Hours. Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Virginia Woolf is completely engrossing. The entangled stories of three women, linked by Woolf’s creation, Mrs Dalloway, are a wonderful example of understated anguish.

2. Wonder Boys. A modern, Hollywood-hit about writing. I am not personally a fan, but it is on here because a lot of people are, and who am I to judge?

3. Barton Fink. The Coen brothers supposedly wrote this film in three weeks whilst struggling to write another film, Miller’s Crossing. The title character is a New York screenwriter brought to Hollywood in 1941, and the film deals very deliberately with the process of writing and the culture of the entertainment industry.

4. Stranger than Fiction. Will Ferrel plays it straight in this film as a man who begins to hear his life being narrated as he lives it. Emma Thompson, the narrator, turns out to be a novelist, struggling to finish her latest work. Once the two have met, the question of the book’s ending becomes evermore complex.

5. American Splendor. A film about the comic book writer, Harvey Pekar, whose comics of the same name paved the way for the tradition of outsider narratives. The trailer alone was enough to convince me it deserved to be on this list.

6. Capote. Detailing the story of Truman Capote as he wrote his non-fiction account of the brutal murder of a Kansas family, In Cold Blood, this also stars the consistently excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman.

7. Adaptation. I shall hand over to Tales of the Pack to describe this one: “this film did meta before meta was cool. Chock full of enough silliness to entertain cynical writers, seemingly every sort of trope is touched on in this treatise of the mental instability of the gigging writer.”

8. Wilde. Stephen Fry. Oscar Wilde. A classic, and with good reason.

9. Sex and the City. A flippant choice maybe, but Carrie Bradshaw is a writer, and I think the film (and series) perfectly depicts the lifestyle that non-writers think writers have, and which writers can only dream of. Hey, you’ve got to have a dream right?

10. Howl. A combination of first person narrative, dramatisation of the obscenity case and animations illustrating Ginsberg’s famous poem, Howl. It looks both beautiful and fascinating, and I can’t believe I have not seen it yet.

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5 Responses to Films about writing

  1. Jennifer Delaney February 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Oh… I do wish I had more time to read.

    Although not relevant for your list it made me think of The French Lieutenant’s Woman by Fowles. I studied this a long time ago, but the idea (put very simply) is that within the book the ‘act of writing’ is at the forefront of the novel, and so in the film version the process of making the film becomes part of it, so you see cameras and runners and other film bits and pieces. I don’t really remember too much, I shall have to hunt it out – I’m sure its on a shelf somewhere.

    Also, recently watched Millers Crossing and can’t say I was overly impressed – so interesting to know they struggled to write it.

    Jen.

    • Matthew Stibbe February 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      Definitely wish I had more time to read too! Thanks for the comment.

  2. Matt Bright February 15, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    Yes on Barton Fink. Surely the most nightmarish depiction of writer’s block ever committed to screen.

    ‘Howl’ is sort of compromised by the ongoing insufferability of James Franco (seriously, dude, you’re somewhere near a tenth as clever as your eagerly nodding entourage is letting you think you are), but that’s not the film’s fault.

    • Matthew Stibbe February 15, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

      I’ll show you the life of the mind! The line still sticks with me 20 years on.

  3. Gabriel Smy February 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Thanks for the list – seen half, will check out the others!

    A few more novelist films for you: Iris (Iris Murdoch), Shadowlands (CS Lewis), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S Thompson) and Stand By Me (semi-autobiographical from Stephen King); all excellent films.

    There’s also Sylvia, Quills, Becoming Jane and Finding Neverland, but I’ve not seen those. Source: http://thetonguesofmen.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/5-cracking-films-about-novelists.html

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