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Weekend Reel Reads: Writers on Writers on Writers (and Cardigans and Bill Murray)

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by Steve Greene
September 23, 2012 3:41 PM
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CBS Films "The Words."

Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at critic@indiewire.com.

How to Write a Movie About a Writer

Films about screenwriters is a ripe genre, but there are plenty of other films about novelists. Either way, Michael McGrath makes the case at The Millions that these films (especially in the case of movies with “literary titans” at their center, like the recent "The Words") rarely give us any reason to believe that the protagonists are capable of transcendent work. We take it on faith that they are worthy of the accolades they receive in their respective narratives, and there might be repercussions for our conception of intelligentsia.

"What feeds these temptations? The blank page, a fear of rejection, claustrophobia, philosophical questions of ownership. The darker elements of creation are excellent fodder for thrillers and effective platforms for comedies. These films take the work itself less seriously (often a lack of literary merit is part of the joke) and instead focus on the pitfalls of the creative life. They ignore the words for the work and all that can inspire and disrupt it: psycho fans, ex-wives, portals to the Underworld. These writers can be cynical hacks (As Good As It Gets), genre stars (Misery) or dislocated sportswriters (Funny Farm). In romantic comedies, the writer is often a witty Lothario or a good-natured wimp. Either way, the profession’s primary function is to provide the character with plenty of free time. A more successful genre is the Literary Young Man Coming of Age. In these cases (The Squid and the Whale, Orange County) the films succeed because the film is the novel and the focus is on the yearning for a fulfilling creative life rather than a specific written work. The most offensive depictions usually appear in melodramas (The Words, A Love Song for Bobby Long), which exploit a milieu in order to tell vapid stories that wish to be considered intelligent simply for acknowledging the existence of literary culture."

Tom Hardy in Lawless: The Knitwear Anti-Hero

Although John Hillcoat’s recent film "Lawless" wasn’t quite the critical smash that "The Proposition" was, but one element that seemed to draw widespread acclaim was Tom Hardy’s performance. But, since a performance alone does not a character make, Chris Laverty at Clothes on Film took a quick look at the knit cardigan (heretofore known as the "Hardigan") that Hardy’s Forrest Bondurant wears throughout the proceedings. The investigation and explanation reveals that the piece of wardrobe is not as out of place as some might assume.

"This contrast between the man and his clothing provides an ironic twist. The knitted cardigan is soft to the touch and not especially hard wearing; Forrest is neither of these things, and thus the assertion that ‘we are what we wear’ does not apply. Unless we consider that garments cannot express meaning away from the body; that unless fulfilling their purpose (i.e. to be worn) clothes are merely a blank canvas devoid of expression. Forrest wears a cardigan many decades before its correlation with the repressed 1950/60’s Madison Avenue husband – trapped behind a desk, literally dressed and fed as he waits for time to catch up with him. Forrest would despise this man. When Forrest dons the cardigan it takes on new meaning, a flip reverse of the hard leather jacket seen on Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953). In Forrest’s can-do world, real men wear knitwear."

A Day Spent Packing With Bill Murray in His Hotel Room

It’s not a in-depth profile, but aside from an MP3 of a recorded elevator conversation, Jada Yuan’s write-up of Bill Murray is the closest that a reader can get to feeling like having a conversation with the living legend. If that’s on your bucket list (or if you just enjoy dialogue that sounds too good/surreal to be unscripted), this piece was written for you.

"He walked into his room with O'Hara and me and stepped on an envelope. “Oh, I got mail!” he said. 'Someone from the Hollywood Foreign Press? Who knows what it could be. Who knows?! Well, we could see.' He opened the envelope — a DVD from an Italian lady — as I peppered him with questions, thinking that at any second I’d be kicked out. He offered me a gigantic glass bottle of water, a box of chocolates, and a single Twizzler. Three emptied shots of 5-hour Energy sat on the nightstand. 'Well, that can be really fatiguing to do those five hours of journalism at a time, so I say, ‘I need five hours' worth of energy,’ and I don’t like to drink coffee through the whole thing for five hours, so I just sort of did that to, you know, disembody,' he explained. His suitcase, sherbet orange and hard-shelled, lay open on the bed, colorful checked shirts strewn about it but mostly not in it. He wasn’t kidding about his packing technique."

This year's foreign Oscar race reflects a growingly global medium

It’s not even October and awards-season talk might be a bit premature for some. But Guy Lodge’s Hitfix piece on developments in the Best Foreign Language Film category is a handy guide for digesting recent festival offerings and their perception in the international arena in the coming months. Lodge highlights a trio of foreign-language films that have an increased shot of qualifying for a nomination after recent rule changes that allow for greater production cooperation between multiple nations.

The submission of these films is healthy proof that the Best Foreign Language Film award is slowly growing out of the Academy's archaic conception of it as a kind of elementary-school cultural fair, where nations were emphasized more than the films themselves. (To this day, the statuette is officially awarded to the winning country rather than the winning filmmaker, who at least gets to keep it as a kind of representative figure.) That the Academy is allowing such hybrid-identity films to compete acknowledges that the notion of films and filmmakers belonging to single countries is an outdated one in this era of global film production -- an era where even a brand-name Hollywood director like Brian De Palma had to call on France and Germany to finance his latest film. At the same time, their admission shows up the quaintness of the Academy's existing system for the category, whereby the longlisting process is outsourced to competing countries, each required to select a single film to represent their entire national industry.

Should some movies be taken more seriously than others?

There’s a movie that came out a few weeks ago called "The Master." Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Yet, weeks later, the film is still inspiring different kinds of reactions. In an essay for the AV Club, Stephanie Zacharek tackles the issue of ambivalence, especially towards a film that some consider a masterpiece. And, in the case of Anderson’s latest, does it merit a greater level of reconsideration (and a higher number of pre-judgment rewatches) than slickly-crafted, late-summer fare?

"But what if viewers see The Master once and not only don’t warm to it—or find it engaging in any of the ways we engage with films we don’t exactly like—but also don’t think there’s much to get? Serious moviegoers who care about reviews—and, admittedly, there may be fewer of those than there were 40 years ago—may be baffled by all the accolades, or possibly cowed by them. Everyone who goes to the movies (critics included) has those 'What did they see that I didn’t see?' moments. But there’s something distressing about the urge to anoint Paul Thomas Anderson as—finally! at long last!—a cinematic genius. For one thing, he is at precisely the point when filmmakers often become less interesting rather than more. (I would argue that it happened with Kubrick and Godard, to name just two, though you may have different examples.) The idea that certain filmmakers reach a point where respect is their due, rather than something they earn film by film, defies one of the most immediate and visceral pleasures of moviegoing: The pleasure of seeing for yourself."

What I owe to Chris Marker

Chilean director Patricio Guzmán’s relationship with the late Chris Marker was one of mutual admiration, but also resulted in a resuscitation of Guzmán’s projects when political pressure threatened to render them useless. After Marker’s recent passing, Guzmán penned a remembrance of their interactions, a touching series of anecdotes that reflect a great artistic cooperation and a sincere expression of gratitude.

"After the coup, and after being imprisoned for two weeks in Chile’s National Stadium, finally I was able to fly to France. It was an exciting moment. The ticket was paid for by my old Spanish colleagues from the Madrid Film School. At Orly Airport, Chris was waiting in a room, almost completely on his own. He looked at me with curiosity; he used his hands to shade his eyes, he shifted position. He could not recognise me because I had shaved off my beard. We drove to Paris in a new car. We arrived at a luxurious house where we had lunch. The atmosphere was elegant. There were beautiful women (maybe from the film world); Chris was a great seducer. But he was undoubtedly the most important Martian in the meeting. My French was dreadful. For years I could hardly ever understand what was being said. My ability to simulate comprehension became almost perfect. After the lunch we went to return the car (it was borrowed). Finally, we took the metro, dragging my suitcases. We eventually arrived at a cheap hotel. We said goodbye and Chris drove off on a second-hand motorbike (that was his own)."

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Also, if you haven't checked it out already, on Friday we compiled a list of the best Internet writing about Clint Eastwood. Any of those pieces should keep you busy as you wind down the weekend.

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