Hollywood has long had a knack for cranking out interesting films about writers. Classics like “Sunset Boulevard” and “A Face in the Crowd” have stood the test of time, but what about more modern fare? I gave it some thought and then took a stab at compiling a list of ten of my favorite modern films about writers.
Naturally, opinions may vary (“Where the hell is “Adaptation”?”). Feel free to hit the comments section and tell me what I missed.
The Film: “A Merry War” (Directed by Robert Bierman)
The Writer: Fictional poet Gordon Comstock
The Set-up: In this film adaptation of Orwell’s early novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, poet Gordon Comstock (Richard E. Grant) is forced to reconcile his notion of “pure art” with the realities of life.
Classic Quote: “When you’re lying in the gutter, you’ve got nowhere to fall.” – Gordon
The Film: “Kafka” (Directed by Steven Soderbergh)
The Writer: Franz Kafka
The Set-up: Kafka (Jeremy Irons) gets a taste of his own Kafkaesque medicine as he is caught up in a fictionalized underword that rivals his most surreal creations.
Classic Quote: “I write by myself… for myself.” – Kafka
The Film: “Barton Fink” (Directed by the Coen Brothers)
The Writer: Fictional playwright and aspiring screenwriter Barton Fink
The Set-up: Broadway’s toast of the town (John Turturro) heads west to write for the movies, only to experience a bizarre case of writer’s block while being caught up in a nightmarish chain of events.
Classic Quote: “You ain’t no writer, Fink—you’re a goddamn write-off.” – Lipnik
The Film: “Permanent Midnight” (Directed by David Veloz)
The Writer: Comedy writer Jerry Stahl
The Set-up: Stahl (Ben Stiller) lays bare his soul in this adaptation of his memoir depicting his double life as a writer and junkie.
Classic Quote: “People always ask, “What’s the worst thing heroin drove you to do?”. I always answer, “showing up on Maury.”" – Jerry
The Film: “Naked Lunch” (Directed by David Cronenberg)
The Writer: William Burroughs’ alter-ego Bill Lee
The Set-up: Burroughs’ masterpiece of drug-addled paranoia is brought to the screen with Peter Weller, giant bugs and talking assholes. A can’t miss.
Classic Quote: “Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come to.” – Bill
The Film: “Factotum” (Directed by Bent Hamer)
The Writer: Charles Bukowski’s alter-ego Hank Chinaski
The Set-up: Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon), when not distracted by sex, booze and gambling, tries to get some writing done—usually about sex, booze and gambling.
Classic Quote: “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs. And maybe your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery, isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance. Of how much you really want to do it. And you’ll do it, despite rejection in the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Hank
The Film: “Henry and June” (Directed by Philip Kaufman)
The Writers: Henry Miller and Anais Nin
The Set-up: In 1930s Paris, Miller (Fred Ward) meets Nin (Maria de Medeiros) and their personal lives, along with those of their spouses, become tragically intertwined.
Classic Quote: “June appeared like an Angel, and I offered her a fool’s faith. She was a taxi dancer. I paid my dime, she put her head on my shoulder, but then the lies began. She told me her mother was a gypsy and her father was a count. Later, I saw a film and realized she swiped her whole childhood right out of the film.” - Henry
The Film: “Sylvia” (Directed by Christine Jeffs)
The Writer: Sylvia Plath
The Set-up: Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) struggles with depression and her inner demons against the backdrop of betrayal by husband Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig).
Classic Quote: “Sometimes I feel like I’m not… solid. I’m hollow. There’s nothing behind my eyes. I’m a negative of a person. It’s as if I never – -I never thought anything. I never wrote anything. I never felt anything.” - Sylvia
The Film: “Total Eclipse” (Directed by Agnieszka Holland)
The Writers: Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Verlaine
The Set-up: A stark examination of the mutually-destructive and tumultuous relationship between the two poets, played by Leo DiCaprio and David Thewlis.
Classic Quote: “The only unbearable thing is that nothing is unbearable.” – Rimbaud
The Film: “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” (Directed by Alan Rudolph)
The Writers: Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber
The Set-up: Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) navigates the social and artistic maelstrom of the Algonquin Round Table.
Classic Quote: “But I can’t understand what God is saying, because he’s got a mask over his face. Isn’t that just like Him?” – Dorothy