Cinema is besotted with particular breeds of writers – the scoundrels, the neurotics, and the frenzied. The Authors & Auteurs Book & Cinema Club just celebrated these fictional wordsmiths with Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, along with Curtis Hanson’s big screen adaptation. Following this, we’re taking a look at a few other (and maybe worse) cases than Chabon’s ne’er-do-wells. Warning: some spoilers do follow.
Listen Up Philip (2014, dir. Alex Ross Perry)
Philip Friedman is the quintessential depiction of an arrogance in the 21st century. The opening scene has Philip meeting with an ex-girlfriend just to gloat about his success as he awaits the publication of his second novel. Philip is taken under the wing of Ike Zimmerman, an aging author whose miscreant qualities only fuel Philip’s ego. Philip is unaffected by his own behavior but it is through the stretches of this picture without Philip, we see the others in his life grow and prosper, and it is in these scenes we see just how Philip, even with success, is lonely. Listen Up Philip is part homage to authors like Philip Roth as well as the cinematic neurotics of Woody Allen and Paul Mazursky.
Deconstructing Harry (1997, dir. Woody Allen)
Author Harry Block is now out of focus and creatively barren after years of alienating friends and lovers by basing his works on their lives. Harry, aptly named after the knight in The Seventh Seal, is finally on the descent to his comeuppance where he must face both his fictional creations and the people that inspired them. Unlike other neurotics typical of Allen, Harry is truly a scoundrel so much so that while in hell he quips “Jeez, you know I could be very comfortable down here.” But even as a person deserving of hell, Harry is still one of the funniest protagonists in all of cinema and his journey plays like a cinematic short story collection where Dante meets The Marx Brothers.
Adaptation. (2002, dir. Spike Jonze)
In this post-modern gem, Charlie Kaufman’s on-screen persona is a hapless schlub struggling to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction bestseller, The Orchid Thief, into a narrative feature film. Kaufman just wants to make a picture about how extraordinary flowers are only he is unsure if they are extraordinary. Reflecting on everything from the minute to the profound, and fueled by his anger with his (imagined for the screen) twin-brother for his own hackneyed screenwriting success, Kaufman plunges into a rabbit hole of orchid thieves, motion pictures, passion, and obsession.
Barton Fink (1991, dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Barton Fink is a writer so unhinged, his reality comes apart the moment he is given a shot at success in Hollywood. Fink, a writer slightly less hysterical than Jack Torrence, pinballs off cartoonish Hollywood moguls, intimidating detectives, rummy authors, shady insurance salesmen, and one strange bellhop that appears out of a door in the floor. Every moment that Fink staggers through the circus of Hollywood takes a toll on his psyche culminating with him blowing up on a group of sailors in a dancehall, “I’m a writer, you monsters! I create! I create for a living!”
Through a Glass Darkly (1961, dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Set within a 24 hour period, a family of four confronts David who has been exploiting his daughter’s mental health for his literary success, all the while Karin’s mental state continues to deteriorate. Along with mental illness, the picture explores incest, suicide, and the family unit under the absence of God. Famous for its description of an interpretation of God as a stone-faced spider, that reflects David’s treatment of his daughter, Through a Glass Darkly is unrestrained in its depiction of a wretched author.
Despite the mythology of such types of authors, it has been my experience meeting professional authors on a daily basis at the bookstore that most are wonderful, generous folks who love to share their experiences with fans and booksellers alike. Even if many of them write about the same type of rascals as I have above. Do you have a favorite rascal authors in cinema or in literature? Any that rival Chabon’s lot of losers? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
– Gregory Day