Bookish pros (and cons)
As I wrap this portion up with nothing more to add, I scan the comments of a respected blog where the host explains, “film appreciation that pays scant attention to form is, for me, flawed, incomplete, not as deep and substantive as it could be.” And I look over the above, and then at my work — all of it — and wonder if he and others simply wave it all aside and toss it on that vast heap of spent, insignificant, temporary internet prose. My writing may not be all that it could be, but I don’t agree that anyone should invest too much time or thought composing for this electronic medium. It doesn’t pay the bills, and it has no future… except to expedite the death of print.
Which concerns me because, like a character ripped from Sam Fuller’s Park Row, I have ‘ink in my blood.’ I was born too late, however, and the field didn’t carry me as sufficiently as it could have had I retired twenty or thirty years earlier. That’s when I began in the trade, at a time when you could make an excellent wage with good benefits in a company to stay with decade after decade, all of it capped by a tidy little pension. Desktop publishing, the internet and affordable computers erased that dream forever, and the old companies were sold off to backstabbers and power junkies who thrive in the manufacture of junk mail.
In some comments on Self-Styled Siren, I’ve dropped recommendations for The Jane Austen Book Club (2007), a neglected movie about reading books — real hardcopy, bound books, the kind they sell in bookstores. (Or are we all shopping on Amazon these days?) The ensemble cast includes Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman and Maggie Grace as Austen devotees who read and discuss her novels as they act out Austen scenarios in real life. The meager box office take was under $4 million, which means we’ll never see an Emily Brontë Book Club or even a Danielle Steel Book Club.
As it examined a culture consumed by the written word, two other movies in 2007 were made with similar literary spirit, albeit with fluctuating results. Opening with a line from T.S. Eliot — “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers” — Marc Klein’s Suburban Girl uses a middling romantic comedy to soften what could have been a pungent observation of book editing and cronyism within publishing. Also with Maggie Grace, the lead is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who works on her syntax as well as sundry daddy issues via older boyfriend Alec Baldwin. The Jane Austen Book Club may have crashed and burned at theatres, but Suburban Girl went direct to video.
For the written word itself, Andrew Wagner’s Starting Out in the Evening has Frank Langella as a retired professor and one-time novelist faced with his expiring mortality and a changed literary world. (The publisher’s once grand and noble search for the Great American Novel drowned in a sea of corporate buyouts.) Pecking away on a Royal manual (do they still make ribbons?), work on his last novel is interrupted by his 40-year-old daughter’s (Lili Taylor) race against her biological clock, and a sycophant university student (Lauren Ambrose) eager to deconstruct the author’s work and life. The latter’s clinical response to his reserved sensitivity shows the best and worst aspects of critical analysis. She illustrates an endeavor which can sour the emotions and limit the breadth of an artist, and, like Langella’s anachronistic character, I began questioning why we would need such things to guide or carry us at all.