Sunday, January 08, 2006

The writer's ego

There are no really good movies about writing. What is there to show? I did try to fire up my magazine-writing class last semester by showing the first 45 minutes of Almost Famous, both for protagonist William Miller's persistence in getting the interviews and for Philip Seymour Hoffman's wonderful portrayal of the late Lester Bangs, editor of the music magazine Creem.

(To be truthful, Terry Chen as Rolling Stone's then-news editor, Ben Fong-Torres, was fun too.)

"That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter," says Hoffman as Bangs.

Hoffman is back as Truman Capote in Capote, which M. and I saw last week. He is an actor, as opposed to someone who merely plays a glamorized version of himself in different costumes (John Wayne, Tom Cruise, many others.)

Capote was a chameleon with a typewriter, and we see him creating different personae for different situations, all the while collecting material for the most famous work of creative nonfiction of the last century, In Cold Blood.

If you want to see Capote himself playing a sort of self-caricature, find the 1976 spoof-murder mystery Murder by Death.

Or watch Hoffman, who is 5'9½", use every actor's trick to suggest Capote's short stature (5'3"). Hear him mimic Capote's creepy-childish voice and display lip twitches and gestures to create Capote's flamboyantly gay public persona. Capote biographer Gerald Clarke suggests that Hoffman's cinematic Capote is truer to its original than Capote's own.

You can't make a movie about writing. But as a movie about a writer, this one is tops.

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Anonymous NeoWayland said...

Finding Forrester was a pretty good writer film, although I have a hard time buying Sean Connery as a recluse

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Deborah Lipp said...

My favorite movies about writing are BARTON FINK (yes, writing is hell) and WONDER BOYS.

I have never seen MISERY, but after reading the book, I absolutely adored it about writing. Writing imprisons, tortures, and lames you. Yes, I get it.

12:04 PM  

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