Tuesday, June 08, 2010

romans à clef

I have this nagging feeling that there is something to be explored in how movies address the process of writing with regard to women authors. Most every time I watch a movie with a woman writing in it I get a *ping* of cinematic recognition at the sight of her making sausage of her life for fiction. Apparently it's as simple as writing it all down!

It seems like there is this trope of the female author just transferring (painful events from) her life to paper. Bing bang boom. Writing! As in Something's Gotta Give, the most flat-out example of it I can think of, when Diane Keaton turns her life into a play. Or in Little Women, where Jo recycles the plot of the movie for a book called Little Women.

I need to see Becoming Jane. And re-watch Angel at my Table and Henry & June and others--see how this idea lives. Because it's certainly something that happens to writers in movies in general, in some ways. Movies want a strong through line from cause (life) to effect (art). It makes more 'sense' that way.

But...I dunno. There's this Thing, this sentimental Thing, where women writers in film are conduit pipes only for the art that plops out the other end. It has an odd feeling, as if they weren't capable of anything else? Or needed, artistically, for anything else?


Mark Athitakis said...

"Margot at the Wedding" might provide useful fodder for your thesis. It may be that male writers on screen tend to be presented as Important Authors while female writers are presented as "Sad People Who Can Only Manage Their Heartache by Getting It Down on Paper."

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

Great recommendation, thank you! If I have the stomach for it there could be quite a film festival for all this (I am piling up a list). I think there is something to what you say--I was comparing these movies in my head to Wonder Boys when I wrote it. Male writers and their writing process in film are often about mystery and chaos. With women it's all bizarrely cut n dried at times.

Anonymous said...

I remember Angel @ my table not being like that, but would be curious to view it with this thought in mind. What about the Sylvia Plath film? (I haven't seen it). Or The Hours? (I can't remember a thing about it, except for, of course...the nose). Sheri

Esti said...

Hi, just got here from American Fiction Notes, and I was thinking that a good character to consider would be Margot Tenenbaum, of Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums. She starts out as a wunderkind playwright, but ends up blocked and finds her catharsis in an autobiographical (albeit in a displaced way) work.
I agree with you on the problematic fact of this trope in general, but I have to say that, in Margot case, it doesn't really bother me (possibly because every character in the film goes through a similar catharsis). Regardless, she's a pretty good example.

I was also thinking of Neil Labute's Possession, but I haven't read Byatt's novel and therefore feel somewhat unqualified to speculate.

amy said...

You might check out the movie Stranger Than Fiction (2006), in which Emma Thompson plays the author, but we never learn the first thing about her "real life". It's a nice antedote, in fact, to see an author only in terms of how she relates to her characters and her art.

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

Amy: Somebody else mentioned Stranger Than Fiction too. Must watch! Good recommendation.

Esti: Oh...Possession. I actually have read that book, but I don't remember well enough how the movie handled this aspect of the translation to film. V. good idea to check out.

Sheri: I haven't seen The Hours, but that has never stopped me from making fun of the nose. I actually think Angel at My Table is the only film I can think of that gets away from what I'm talking about here.


Thank y'all for comments!