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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I'll Show You the Life of the Mind! 

My Creative Writing students just got done watching Barton Fink and tomorrow they'll be going into the computer lab to write about it. So I figured I should have some thoughts down for them to peruse. Warning: Major spoilers below. Do NOT read this if you haven't seen the movie.

After we got done discussing some items from the film, I gave them these three questions to think about:
  1. How does Barton change from the beginning of the story to the end?

  2. What's in the box, and why does Barton have it?

  3. As a writer, are you more like Barton Fink or WP Mayhew?
I shan't discuss the first in detail, except to say that Charlie's speech at the end answers it pretty nicely for me; Barton is willing to listen once he's surrounded by the flames. (This is as good a time as any to insert the following quote from Italo Calvino.)
There are two ways not to suffer from the inferno we are all living in every day. The first suits most people: accept the inferno and become part of it to the point where you don't even see it any more. The second is riskier and requires constant attention and willingness to learn: seek out and know how to recognize whoever and whatever, in the midst of the inferno, is not inferno, and help them last, give them space.
Me, The Writer

I certainly began as a WP Mayhew (souse!) -- I just liked making stuff up. But the more I wrote (in high school and, most of all, in college), the more I realized that it wasn't enough. I wanted to say something significant about the human condition. Some people see Barton's character as quintessentially anti-intellectual, but I must disagree. His heart is in the right place ("We need more heart in motion pictures.."), but he's not willing to listen. I certainly agree with Barton that the best writing comes from some kind of inner pain (whether or not that has anything to do with wanting to help others).

There are plenty of good writers (King, Pratchett, Rowling, even Grisham at times) who seem motivated purely by the desire to tell an interesting story, if not necessarily an important one. But the writers I look up to most (Roy, Algren, Danticat, Shakespeare, Lem, Jorge) all work to bring a confluence of the significant and the entertaining. Pretension can get in the way, but I've long preferred obtuse diatribes to its un-meaninged counterpart.

What's In the Box!?

I told my class they sounded like Brad Pitt at the end of SE7EN. "What's in the box?" We all know what's in the box -- the real question for me is why Barton has it. Charlie said "It isn't mine." Whose then is it? Well, if she wrote WP's books ("Well .. this"), then who gets credit for the movie script? What's in her mind? ("Isn't it yours?")

I'm trying not to come right out and say it. The play (and now movie) Rent was basically stolen from Sarah Schulman, but no one even knows her name. Who owns the idea we rip off from someone else? ("Isn't it yours?") What does it mean to write -- especially when we're writing about the lives of the people around us? (Let's assume I can own the rights to write about my own life.) Never mind how long I've been in pictures .. Wait, I mean: Never mind what Hollywood wants; Barton is finally catatonic because he doesn't know (may have never known) how to own the material.

I Never Noticed That

As with Primer, I see something new every time I watch Fink ("You're a sick [man], Fink.") This time...
  1. When he gets in the elevator, he says to Pete (the operator): "6, please." Pete replies: "Next stop: 6. .. This stop: 6."

  2. The woman on the beach is shading her eyes from the sun; she's also saluting. ("Now if you'll excuse me, there's a war on.")
There's more I could say, but I'll end it here. What do you think?

Don't forget to look at the trivia bits on the IMDB.


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Today I'm listening to: Little Brother! (No, not Lil' Brudder!)