Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Movies about Writers and the Writing Life: Sit Back, Relax, Learn.

I recently ran across the movie, Sylvia, on Netflix instant video. Sylvia focuses on the story of the relationship between American poet Sylvia Plath and her husband, the English poet Ted Hughes. I was intrigued and decided to watch the film because Plath was the first poet I studied years ago in my first poetry class. I still have her book of poetry, Colossus, on my shelf, which was the first book of poetry she published in the United States.

I had also read her book, The Bell Jar, which was an autobiographical novel that paralleled her life in many ways as it followed the life of a magazine editor who felt hemmed in by social conventions and was slowly taken over by mental illness. A movie based on The Bell Jar was released in 1979, and a new version is currently in pre-production to be released sometime in 2012.

Left: Sylvia Plath. Right: Gweneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath.

The Plath story is a sad one. It is the story of a talented poet and writer who suffered severe bouts of depression and, tragically, ended her own life at the age of 30.

In watching this movie I realized that, although we know filmmakers add drama and story elements to make movies more appealing and exciting to audiences, if we can look past the added drama and beyond our curiosity of the individual’s life, we can take away important truths from these stories of well-known writers about the writing life. They will show us that, no matter what an individual’s life is like, if they are a serious writer, their writing life becomes an important overlay to their reality. From this, certain themes filter through that can be true, and helpful, in the lives of other writers.

For instance, as writers we can understand how everyday life can get in the way of the time we want to spend writing. We understand that we sometimes have to balance and adjust the distractions of keeping the home together, holding down a job, paying bills, cooking meals, taking care of our families, etc., in order to keep our writing projects going.  We can also understand how jealousy between writers could arise when two talented poets such as Plath and Hughes are married and one receives more acclaim than the other. We can understand how frustration and insecurity can overtake a writer in that desperate wait to hear back from a publisher, an agent, or reviewer.

These are recurring themes in the lives of many writers, and watching Sylvia showed me that these glimpses of the writing life of other writers can be useful to help us understand that we are not alone in our range of struggles and efforts to become writers.

Seeing the movie inspired me to look for other movies that might be helpful to writers. As a result, I have added two new pages to this blog for you to check out. One is a list of "Movies About Writing" and the second is a list of "Movies Based on Well-Known Authors."

These movies aren’t listed because of cinema quality, but because of their focus on writers and the writing life. I have not seen all of the movies myself, but have pulled the list together by researching Amazon movie lists, Internet Movie Database (IMDB) movie lists, and recommendations from other sites.

I imagine you will have ideas of other movies that would be useful to writers and should be added to the lists. If so, leave a comment with your recommendation(s) and we’ll add them to the list.



elizabethbrinton said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have been a Plath admirer since high school. Her story is very sad, but her writing lives on. She was fantastic.

Patent Attorney said...

Thank you very much for this post, I am already perusing the lists with interest. I remember being awed by the claustrophobia and intensity of Plath's writing, and now I am inspired to revisit her poetry.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

I remember reading The Bell Jar way back in high school. Time to take another look!