While book to film adaptations of renowned classics and contemporary fiction in the world of modern cinema are easy to find, film centred around the art of literature itself can be rarer to find. Films that explore the world of literature and the authors who create them can be just as valuable to the reader as an adaptation of their favourite book could be. Many recent efforts at making biographical films centred around the authors of great literature have garnered success in cinema and provide a look beyond the books themselves which can be just as valuable for a reader.
Midnight in Paris takes a playwright suffering with writer’s block back in time to the 1920s while on a trip to Paris where he meets Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali among other artists and writers. The film takes its audience on a journey back to the ‘golden age’ of literature and presents the greats of the time performed by an acclaimed cast who do them justice. The film is made not only for the writer, but the reader too, reminding us of the rich culture, lifestyles and characters which permeate literature as an art. You cannot help but feel drawn to the presentation of the past, almost envious that you weren’t alive to experience literature as it was, but we’re also reminded of the greatness and power of the literary art, both past and present.
Midnight in Paris… takes its audience on a journey back to the ‘golden age’ of literature
Looking from Midnight in Paris to films that provide more than fleeting studies of the writers that they are about, Stephen Daldry’s 2004 drama, The Hours, explores the lives of three women, all surrounding Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. The film explores Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman, as she battles depression to write her novel in her home. In separate decades, the film follows the stories of Laura Brown, played by Julianne Moore, a bored suburban housewife, and Clarissa Vaughn, played by Meryl Streep, who is trying to organise a party. The three storylines run parallel to each other and the film alternates between each story as it progresses. Woolf is shown beginning to work on her novel just as we are about to see Brown pick up the novel and read it in an attempt to escape from the mundanity of her life.
The film is framed by the audience’s knowledge of Woolf’s eventual and tragic death. It lingers throughout the narrative but that is not what the film is about. We’re given an interpretation of how a great writer like Woolf may have worked; erratically, without plan and yet stationary. Woolf sits in one chair to write for the majority of the day and moves little but the film captures a sense of vivid movement and energy in the room as she works. The film cuts from scenes like this to the stories of the two other women who are both struggling in their own times and cities and in that sense the film not only offers a brilliant presentation of Virginia Woolf but also the ways that literature becomes immortalised and is able to ripple through time.
We’re given an interpretation of how a great writer like Woolf may have worked; erratically, without plan and yet stationary
Finally, John Krokidas’ 2013 film, Kill Your Darlings, follows the early lives of some of the first members of the Beat Generation, focusing on characters like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The film is suitably dark and gritty for the time and culture that it presents. The anti-establishment feelings of the characters and counter culture of the 1940s are captured in the frantic and moody style of the film. We don’t see the characters how we, as readers, know them but how they began: young, inexperienced and dissatisfied with modern America. The performances of Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan, who play Ginsberg and Carr respectively, succeeds in capturing the complicated essence of the relationship of the two characters. Where the film exceeds other films that have been made surrounding the Beat generation is that it does not simply accept the movement for the philosophy that is now so widely known. The film questions the movement and at times seems sceptical of it, allowing for a much more insightful and valuable exploration of its controversy, centring its story around the Riverside park killing of Kammerer in 1944.
Kill Your Darlings looks past the often romanticised surface image of the Beat generation and creates an alternative and insightful portrayal, as many other films centred on literature are able to. While book to film adaptations will always be important to the reader and the world of cinema, those looking for a view beyond the book might consider watching some of these films.