Writers in films

I was watching a film noir classic on MUBI last week and it got me thinking about all the films that have writers in the spotlight. Some offer a sliver of insight into the writing process, some perpetuate myths, and some are just entertaining.

Here are the ones I could recall at the kitchen table that I have seen, and would recommend:

Her Alibi – Tom Selleck’s murder mystery author takes unusual steps to overcome writer’s block, vouching for a murder suspect he barely knows. We’ve all been there, desperate for inspiration.

In a Lonely Place – Humphrey Bogart’s washed-up screenwriter prefers the bottle to a pen, until he meets a mysterious neighbour. It’s bad timing that a woman is murdered, he’s the last known person to see her alive, and the police see him as the prime (only!) suspect. Writers are naturally suspicious and curious – not a good combination if you’re the one under scrutiny.

Adaptation – Nicholas Cage plays twins, a seasoned scriptwriter struggling with an adaptation (see what they did there…) of a well-known and tricksy novel, and his down-to-earth brother who decides to write his own film script. The film explores the writer’s internal process and what artistic rivalry looks like up close and personal. Perfect viewing for any author who lamest that their artistic creation gets less airtime in cyberspace than the latest slasher / thriller / bodice ripper.

My House in Umbria – Dame Maggie Smith is a prolific romantic novelist, projecting on to the page a life very different from her own. When tragedy strikes she finds new meaning in the people around her and accidentally hears what one reader really thinks of her prose. That scene could be sponsored by Amazon!

Misery – James Caan learns that his biggest fan can also be his biggest nightmare. On the plus side, his novelist is a great example of working to a deadline and writing / rewriting to order. Fear is a greater motivator.

Iris – Dame Judi Dench shows the side of writers that’s rarely appreciated by readers. Experimental, far from perfect, and challenging to be around, sometimes the closest writers can get to truth is in our fiction. It can be hard for friends and partners. Here’s a quote from the film that speaks volumes: I should feel like a deprived animal if I can’t write.

Murder, She Wrote – Angela Lansbury’s sleuth and novelist epitomises the writer’s curiosity and her time management skills (solving murders, writing novels and doing the promo work) set a high benchmark. You could say that she writes some killer prose.  

Anyway, that’s my selection. Which films would you have chosen?

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