Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Time for a break

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Time for a break

Ok, you’ve been writing for hours. Your carpal is flaming, your fingers are numb, and you can’t stare at the screen without screaming. Time for a break. Time for a movie.

A movie about writing, of course. Can’t stray too far off topic here.

As much as I love the art and craft of writing, both as practitioner and audience, I’ll be the first to admit that writing is not the most…uh…visually dynamic of arts. Think about it: painters can spread their works across endless easels and wallspaces; sculptors take chisel, hammer, and blowtorch to inanimate objects; dancers warp their spines in pursuit of truth in body modification; and actors bellow to the back row. But writing, from an audience perspective, always comes down to a solitary figure hunched over a writing implement of some sort, huddled and lonely in the pursuit of translating a thought into symbols.

Oooh. Riveting.

Take the Martin Scorcese segment of New York Stories; Nick Nolte’s romantically tortured painter, thrusting his misguided love onto canvas through globs of cadmium and ochre. Or Ed Harris’ Pollock (another painting movie), Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot (dance), or Kenneth Branagh’s In the Bleak Midwinter (acting). All surround the creation of art, and all include many visual examples of said creation. You watch Ed Harris paint, you see Jamie Bell dance, you watch Branagh’s troupe of actors rehearse.

But writing? How many movies are there that focus on the act of writing itself as an art? Not many. Not stylistically appealing. Dull. So, most movies about writers typically centre on the inner turmoil of the artist. A few pulled hairs, some anguish, maybe a spouse slamming a door, then a hardcover sitting in a display window. Did we get watch the author torture himself at the rewrite stage? What about his five days of coming up the just the right metaphor? So what if it’s not the same as watching Ed Harris splatter paint, it’s ART!

Where am I going with this? Not far. I just think it’s a damned shame that so few films truly capture the artistic process of writing.

That said, there are a few films I can watch again and again that each, to differing degrees, present a facet of the writer’s craft.

1) The Shining - the author’s tendency toward insanity. I think that’s what happens when you talk to imaginary people in your head for a living. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, indeed.

2) Barton Fink - writer’s block, as seen from the Coen Brothers perspective. Damaging, soul-searing, and ultimately dangerous. I still don’t want to know what’s in that box.

3) Adaptation - art verses commerce. Can it be art if you’re just doing it for the money? Is it your work when you’re adapting someone else’s words? And why doesn’t Nicholas Cage do more of these films, and less of these?

4) Wonder Boys - the perils of the second novel. God, how I understand this film. And has Michael Douglas ever been better?

5) Stranger than Fiction - how the author is God. Follows Vonnegut’s rule of causing as much pain to your lead character as possible.

6) Sunset Boulevard - how low an author can sink. Poor William Holden.

7) Naked Lunch - where does art end, and reality begin? And how does one exterminate a mugwump?

So, what do you think? Did I miss any?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Corey Redekop

Corey Redekop, author of the critically acclaimed novel Shelf Monkey, is a librarian and freelance writer. He lives in Thompson, Manitoba.

Go to Corey Redekop’s Author Page