While his or her position as part of the process is often romanticized all out of proportion, it’s the rare medium that can exist wholly without the input of the writer. From lyrics to dialogue, character cues to stage direction, the man or woman of letters plays an integral role in the realization of almost every artistic dreamscape. And yet, for some odd reason, they are consistently marginalized, made to seem irrelevant to a process that basically cannot thrive without them. Perhaps that’s why films featuring writers and writing have become benchmarks in the war on words. Without their constant cerebral reminder of what life is like for those ensconced in scribbling, the poor author would be far worse off. Heck, even real life examples of the skill frequently suffer in the comparison.
A good example is the upcoming serial killer thriller, The Raven. Supposedly centering on the troubled last days of Edgar Allan Poe and a murder’s fascination with his works of macabre fiction, the end result is more bluster than believability. Even worse, the famed frights created by the man from Baltimore are little more than gimmicks in a Se7en styled stunt. Poe’s problematic interpretation did get us thinking about his fellow cinematic scribes, leading to this list, the 10 Greatest Movies About Writers and Writing Ever. Sure, we left out a few that may or may not actually apply (is Sunset Blvd. really about putting pen to paper?) and the ancillary nature of some situations kept us from including other heralded works. In the final analysis, however, these ten terrific titles help explain the movie’s fascination with their own makers, beginning with:
In one of his rare actor-only appearances, Woody Allen plays a talentless schlub who becomes the celebrated stand-in for a bunch of blacklisted writers. Reluctant at first, he soon becomes a studio favorite. With success comes ego and a defiance that helps set-up the movie’s main message, to wit: group think and witch hunting only leads to tragic, tear-filled ends. Perhaps best remembered for Zero Mostel’s moving portrayal of an exiled funnyman desperate for redemption, (the actor himself had been banned during the McCarthy era) the film is one big middle finger to the crazed Conservatism of the ‘50s and its painful professional fallout.
During his heyday, playwright Joe Orton was handpicked by the Beatles’ camp to create their next collection of big screen hijinx. One look at the homoerotic romp and the scribe was stuck with an unproduced project. It didn’t matter, really. After a youth filled with promise, promiscuity, and a couple of criminal prosecutions, Orton became the voice of new British theater, creating cheeky classics like Loot and What the Butler Saw. Sadly, he died at the hand of a jealous male lover, forever sealing his manic melancholy fate. As portrayed by Gary Oldman in this excellent career overview, Orton remains forever rebellious and relevant.
Daniel Day-Lewis stunned ill-prepared audiences with his devastating portrayal of handicapped Irish poet Christy Brown. Using only the title appendage, this brave victim of cerebral palsy would not let life drag him down. Instead, he battled his own internal demons before discovering his own sense of independence and self. Uplifting and heartbreaking, it represents the ultimate expression of overcoming adversity in light of limited options or opportunities. With Day-Lewis anchoring the insights, and director Jim Sheridan setting the stage, the end result becomes a primer on pursuing one’s dreams no matter the limits, legitimate or otherwise.
Alice in Wonderland is a classic of fantastical fiction. It’s creation offers up an equally compelling tale. While many believe the complex fairytale of logic to be nothing more than a closeted pedophile’s (the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) love letter to a neighbor girl he could never have (the real life Alice Pleasance Liddell), the truth is far more murky. Perhaps that’s why noted British writer Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) decided to explore a psychologically dense dissertation on its creation. With the help of some horrific puppets via Jim Henson’s studios, the unsettling nature of Wonderland becomes the movie’s main metaphor.
Only crazy screenwriting genius Charlie Kaufman could turn an actual assignment (trying to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief for the big screen) into a mindblowing manifesto on the pains of personal expression. Suffering from writer’s block and unable to figure out what Thief is/was supposed to mean, Kaufman’s fictional alter ego (a brilliant Nicolas Cage) comes down with a bad case of depression, as well as a visit from his nogoodnik brother Donald (Cage as well). It’s not long before everything turns into a mesmerizing mobius strip of references and re-imaginings. Often indecipherable but always imagination.