As Ruby Sparks arrives in local cinemas, we look at a few other, earlier films about idiosyncratic authors.
“The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.” – John Stuart Mill, British philosopher.
Writers are acutely aware that their very existence relies solely on how successfully they convey the idiosyncrasies of the world around them. So is it any wonder a good percentage are... oh, what’s the word... nuts?
Filmmakers by and large understand the inherent mental anguish and drama in creating a whole new world on paper. This week in theatres, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris introduce Australian audiences to Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a novelist so eccentric he is able to write the love of his life into existence. Ruby Sparks may sound a little off the wall but in the cinematic world of eccentric writers, it fits somewhere in the middle...
Walter Kranz in Satan’s Brew (Satansbraten; 1976)
Kurt Raab’s grossly immoral, anarchistic-poet Walter Kranz is the cinematic poster child for the messed up author. When his publisher cuts his funding, he kills one of his many mistresses for her life insurance. He must also contend with a toxic marriage, an insane brother and a tightening police investigation.
Charlie Kaufman / Donald Kaufman in Adaptation (2002)
Some favoured Nicholas Cage’s manifestation of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s alter-ego over his Oscar-winning turn as terminal alcoholic Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas (1995) simply because it was funny rather than sad. But each character shares a deeply troubled psyche, and Cage is at his off-the-wall best in both.
Antonin Artaud in My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud (1993)
Post-WWII Paris is a drug-addled bohemian wonderland. Star-struck young poet Jacques Preval (Marc Barbé) keeps the mentally-deteriorating writer Antonin Artaud (Sami Frey) high on a cocktail of pain-numbing substances and existential debating. A film of exhilarating dialogue and tragic consequence.
Karen Eiffel in Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Everyman IRS auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) wakes to finds himself the central character of the new novel being penned by the creatively challenged Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). The truly eccentric aspect of the film comes when Eiffel refuses to believe that her words could alter an entire existence. (What writer doesn’t strive to alter their readers’ perception of the world...?)
Bill Lee in Naked Lunch (1991)
For many, William Burrough’s unfilmable novel became David Cronengberg’s unwatchable movie. Peter Weller’s trippy Ben Lee banged out his words on a typewriter which was alternately a cockroach-like mega-bug or a talking sphincter.
Paul Sheldon in Misery (1990)
Had we heeded Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, the whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon might never have happened. (Did you know that book first started as Twilight fan fiction?). Author groupies like Oscar-winner Kathy Bates’ Annie should stick to stalking and ankle-smashing and leave the writing to the likes of James Caan’s Paul Sheldon.
David in Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
Gunner Björnstrand’s David is a shell of a man, and his yearning for success as a novelist compromises his morality; he chooses to exploit his daughter Karin’s (Harriet Andersson) mental state and use her as the central figure in his latest novel.
Clifford Irving in The Hoax (2006)
The line between conman and delusional eccentric blurs in the true-life swindle/publishing phenomenon that was Clifford Irving’s made-up interview with famous recluse Howard Hughes. An unfairly dismissed film and one of Richard Gere’s best performances.
Dashiell Hammet and Lilly Hellman in Dash and Lilly (1999)
There’s a two-for-one eccentricity in director Kathy Bates’ accomplished account of the larger-than-life love affair between noir master Dashiell Hammett and feminist Lilly Hellman. The period-precise rendition also features Bebe Neuwirth’s superb spin on the eccentric author and icon Dorothy Parker. (See also Jennifer Jason Leigh’s take on the unforgiving socialite in Alan Rudolph’s Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, 1994.)
Janet Frame in An Angel at My Table (1990)
Jane Campion’s landmark biography of New Zealand author Janet Frame is a sublime study of the effects of mental illness on the creative process. Harrowing and deeply affecting, Fox’s portrayal of Frame is a masterclass in melding mental anguish with physical torment. This universally-acclaimed film represents the near-perfect case study of the victimisation of the eccentric creative personality.
...and Woody Allen in just about everything
One doesn’t have to dig very deep to find the neurotic author in the vast majority of Woody Allen’s work. On screen, he has been the talentless screenwriter/patsy in Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976), the hapless film critic in Herbert Ross’ Play It Again, Sam (1972) and any number of variations on his own hapless persona in films such as Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Hollywood Ending (2002) and Midnight in Paris (2011).
Based on Tony Wong's long-running comic book series. Dragon and his brother Tiger emerge from the back streets of Hong Kong to help the powerless fight injustice. Nominated for Best Action Choreography at the 2007 Hong Kong Film Awards. Directed by Wilson Yip and stars Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yu. (From Hong Kong, in Cantonese) (Action/Adventure) (2006) (Rpt) M (V)
As election time nears, current triad chairman Lok faces competition from his godsons. Jimmy is the perfect candidate: smart and entrepreneurial. Even the Chinese authorities are interested in what Jimmy has to offer. The only problem is, Lok isn't one who gives up power easily. Winner of the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award for Best Film in 2007. Directed by Johnnie To and stars Louis Koo, Simon Yam and Nick Cheung. (From Hong Kong, in Cantonese) (Mystery/Crime) (2006) (Rpt) MAV (V)
Tuesday, 21st May
Night And Fog
Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui paints a realistic picture of domestic violence in this dark family drama. Beginning at the end of the story, the film opens with the brutal murder by a man of his wife and daughters. Going back through witness testimonies and flashbacks, we learn how turmoil and violence lurked underneath the surface of a seemingly idyllic family. Nominated for three Hong Kong Film Awards in 2010, including Best Director. Stars Simon Yam, Jingchu Zhang and Amy Chum. (From Hong Kong, in Cantonese and Mandarin) (Drama) (2009) MAV (A,V)
Wednesday, 22nd May
Brendan Frye is a loner, someone who knows all the angles but has chosen to stay on the outside. When his ex-girlfriend Emily turns up dead, he is determined to find out why, and plunges into the dark and dangerous underworld of a high school crime ring. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Rian Johnson and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas and Emilie de Ravin. (From the US) (Mystery/Crime) (2005) M (V,D) CC
On the surface, Henrik and Nina Christofferson are a seemingly ordinary couple with a happy family life. But their 14-year-old daughter, Stine, has a habit of telling lies in class. When Stine accuses her father of sexual abuse, and is believed by seemingly eager social workers, their family is thrust into crisis. Nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2005. Directed by Jacob Thuesen and stars Troels Lyby, Sofie Grabol and Kirstine Rosenkrands Mikkelsen. (From Denmark, in Danish) (Drama) (2005) (Rpt) MA (A)
Thursday, 23rd May
Estomago: A Gastronomic Story
After landing a job in a diner to pay for his meal, a tramp proves to be a talented cook as he works his way up in the hospitality world and falls for a prostitute who is taken with his culinary skills. A multi-award winning film, including the 2009 Cinema Brazil Grand Prize for Best Film. Directed by Marcos Jorge and stars Joao Miguel, Fabiula Nascimento and Babu Santana. (From Brazil, in Portuguese) (Drama) (2007) (Rpt) MAV (N,L,S,N)
Friday, 24th May
Manual Of Love 2
Monica Bellucci leads a host of good-looking Italian actors in this heart-warming, comical anthology of four interconnected tales of love. A radio DJ invites listeners to call in and tell their love stories. What follows are the stories of four different kinds of relationships. Directed by Giovanni Veronesi and also stars Carlo Verdone, Riccardo Scamarcio and Sergio Rubini. (From Italy, in Italian) (Romantic Comedy) (2007) (Rpt) M (S,L,N,V)
Empire Of The Wolves
Jean Reno stars in this fast paced action thriller in the vein of The Bourne Identity. Two police officers scour the underworld of Paris to investigate a series of brutal murders. The case leads them to a mysterious Turkish far-right group called the Grey Wolves. Directed by Chris Nahon, and also stars Arly Jover and Jocelyn Quivrin. (From France, in French and Turkish) (Thriller) (2005) (Rpt) MAV (V)
Saturday, 25th May
Based on true events, 16-year-old Jamie falls in with his mother's new boyfriend and his crowd of self-appointed neighbourhood watchmen, a relationship that leads to a spree of torture and murder. Winner of six Australian Film Institute awards in 2012, including Best Direction. Directed by Justin Kurzel and stars Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens and Louise Harris. (From Australia) (Mystery/Crime) (2011) MAV (A,V,L) CC
Out Of The Blue
A powerful and haunting film based on the Aramoana massacre of 1990 where local recluse David Gray shot 13 people dead before going into hiding on the outskirts of the small New Zealand seaside village. As he stalked his victims the terrified and confused residents were trapped in the village for 24 hours while a handful of under-resourced and underarmed local policemen risked their lives trying to find him and save the survivors. Directed by Robert Sarkies and stars Karl Urban, Matthew Sunderland and Lois Lawn. (From New Zealand) (Drama) (2006) (Rpt) MAV (V)