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Classic Films About Writers


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Outside of The Life of Emile Zola with Paul Muni as the lead and as the titled writer, what other films made from the silent film era to the 1980s are culturally distinctive about writers that you know? 

 

 

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The first which comes to my mind is:The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (1938).

 

It is a very touching movie of the coming-of-age of one of the greatest writers of all time. It is so very powerful that thinking about it moves me even although I have not watched it in many, many years.

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"Julia" (1977) was derived from Lillian Hellman's book "Pentimento" and starred Jane Fonda as the author-playwright and Jason Robards (in an Academy Award-winning supporting role) as her longtime love interest Dashiell Hammett.

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I guess SUNSET BLVD doesn't count, eh? :)

 

Other than LITTLE WOMEN, there's that whole movie about the Bronte sisters with Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino but of course I forgot what it's called. Plus there's one about the Brownings starring Fredric March and Norma Shearer. Can't remember what that's called either. BRIGHT STAR is fantatic too but that's past your limit. Wait, let me look up what those two movies are called...

 

The Bronte movie is called DEVOTION (1946) -- no wonder I forget the name of it:

devotion1.jpg

But you'd think I could remember a name like THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (1934):

shearer334.jpg

(I wish men still dressed like this all the time, but that's another thread)

 

Oh! Oh! Then there's that Fredric March movie about Mark Twain called...

 

THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1944) -- you'd think I could remember that one, too:

march-twain_opt.jpg

 

 

Okay, I was going to let it go, but I don't care what you asked for, you're getting BRIGHT STAR too!! (about Keats):

restrainedbliss.jpg

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I'm not sure I want to go out on a limb and say it's "culturally distinctive", but Beloved Infidel (1959) chronicled the time F. Scott Fitzgerald spent in Hollywood and his relationship with Sheilah Graham. I know post-1980 is verboten, but I liked both the Capote movies and the recent Howl about Allen Ginsberg.

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Let's not forget "Out of Africa," the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 1985, which starred Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, the Danish writer who wrote about her experiences under the pen name Isak Dinesen.

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I can't think of a film that successfully (that is, cinematically)  depicts the very solitary writing process. Sunset Blvd has the scenes in the producer's office as well as Gillis going over the script with Norma. But those scenes are collaborative, as is Act One as well as The Dick Van Dyke Show (like My Favorite Year and Laughter on the 23rd Floor, based on the real-life writing staff of Your Show Of Shows/Caesar's Hour).

 

I haven't seen Youngblood Hawke (based on the life of Thomas Wolfe) since the '80s at least. IIRC Delmer Daves turned it into a Warners Summer Place soaper -- the one scene I remember fondly has Edward Andrews as a waspish literary critic at a publisher's party to honor Hawke winning the Pulitzer Prize, and to drag Hawke down a notch he lists a bunch of great novels that did not win the Pulitzer.

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If newspaper reporters count, then you can open the floodgates -- Redford and Hoffman as "Woodstein" in "All the President's Men" (1976); Sally Field in "Absence of Malice" (1981); Bogart's swan song in "The Harder They Fall" (1956); Joel McCrea as Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock in Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent" (1940); and Sam Waterston as New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg in "The Killing Fields" (1983).

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The original poster was interested in movies actually about famous writers, like THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET, and DEVOTION.

 

Among more recent films, THE HOURS was about novelists both actual (Virginia Woolf) and fictional. Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway have turned up in several movies, including MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and WAITING FOR THE MOON. A most interesting film about the process of writing is THE WORDS, which is about how an author might make use of another person's work.

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Jack Kerouac, father of the Beat movement, and his relationship with Neal and Carolyn Cassady inspired the biographical movie "Heart Beat" (1980), starring John Heard, Nick Nolte and Sissy Spacek. In 2012, Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley starred in "On the Road," based on Kerouac's 1957 novel.

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Hmmmm....lets see here. They must be pre-1980 and about a famous writer, not a fictional one, eh?!

 

Then this disqualifies 1976's "The Front", which presents fictionalized writers who were blacklisted during the '50s and who ask a non-writer(Woody Allen) to front for them, and it disqualifies 2000's "Wonder Boys", a story about a fictional college English professor/novelist suffering from writer's block.

 

(...I especially liked the latter here) 

 

Okay then, how about two movies made in 1960 about Oscar Wilde? "Oscar Wilde" starring Robert Morley, and "The Trials of Oscar Wilde" starring Peter Finch. 

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The original poster was interested in movies actually about famous writers, like THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET, and DEVOTION.

 

Cross Creek (1983) is a film based on a memoir by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling. Mary Steenburgen plays Rawlings, and her then-husband Malcolm McDowell has a cameo as legendary literary critic Max Perkins.

 

I know of one other film in which Perkins is mentioned: Jeff Chandler discusses him with Carol Lynley in Return To Peyton Place.

 

In the TV movie of Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again (1979) Hurd Hatfield plays a fictionalized version of Perkins. I just learned two fascinating things about this film from its IMDb page. It was cut down from a 6 hour miniseries (that cut has never been seen publically AFAIK) and even more amazing, it was a pilot for a TV series. Can you imagine -- a TV series about Thomas Wolfe?!!

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OH! And, how about 1949's "Madame Bovary", and which opens and closes with James Mason portraying 19th Century French novelist Gustave Flaubert defending his writing of this novel in a French court of law against the charges of "being a disgrace to France and an insult to womanhood"?

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