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Sunday, July 26, 2009

LOOK AT ME: Why are the Europeans better at making films about writers

In continuing on my Netflix viewing, I came across a recent French film Look at Me about a writer/publisher and his relationship with his insecure overweight daughter whom he constantly demeans in a subtle yet ruthless manner. The excellent screenplay is by the writing team of Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnes Jaoui who also wrote The Taste of Others. The two also starred in both films and Jaoui also directed both.

What struck me about the movie though is that it is about the writing world, a story about a writer and his daughter and his dealings with another writer and that writer's wife. It's intelligent and engrossing. And unlike any film in the U.S. on the subject of writers.

What I would like to know is why, when Europe makes movies about writers, we get this and movies like Reprise and Late August, Early April, among others, and in the U.S. we get The Shining and other movies about horror novelists with writer's block?

I once read, I believe in the New Yorker, though it was so long ago I can't be sure I'm right, that when a book in France wins one of their writing awards, it instantly becomes a best selle; one can't find the book stocked in bookstores; and everyone starts talking about it. I have never read the same about a book that wins the Pullitzer Prize or National Book Award. So is this why the Europeans can take writers in movies so much more seriously? Because they take writers so much more seriously in every day life?

I read and do coverage for a production company and contests (where many screenplays, especially the good ones, are not written with commerciality in mind or whether there is an audience for their subject matter) and in thinking about it, I can't really remember anybody even writing a screenplay about this subject much, if at all. Why is that? Could it be because screenwriters don't know very much about the writing world outside screenwriting? Are we that insular? How many screenwriters in the U.S. even have novelists and short story writers, much less poets, as friends? How many screenwriters have even had a novel published or even written one (unless it's to try and get their screenplay purchased)? Could it be that in the U.S., there is such a complete lack of interaction between these two worlds that it would never even occur to screenwriters to write about this subjec matter? After all, if one doesn't even know a novelist, how can one write about them?

Of course, I'm not any better. I've never written a screenplay about a novelist or the literary world. I don't really have any novelist friends. I am that insular, perhaps. And I don't live in Europe, so the reality could be totally different than what I'm describing here. But I do think America has developed an attitue toward novelists and poets in which we don't really consider them that important to society.

It's not that we don't read in the U.S. Book sales are up and though the economy has affected publishing like all other businesses, people can still be seen looking at novels in coffee shops and on busses (except that I'm writing this in L.A. and according to Joan Didion no one takes the bus here).

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