Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bad Movies Are The Humanities' Real Problem

Wilfred McClay, "The Burden of the Humanities," Wilson Quarterly. So many things to say about the humanities, and McClay says them all, which makes this essay hard to sort out. Apparently the humanities both are and aren't in crisis, for reasons that may or may not have to do with scholarship, which is either exploring the sort of knowledge precisely appropriate for its field or is parroting abstract philosophical categories, which is a problem for the separate fields of study, which is exactly how we shouldn't define what the humanities are. Ooookay.

David Baddiel, with the aptly titled "David Baddiel on the dearth of great films about great writers," Times UK. It's true! I can think of good documentaries about great writers, but not feature films. Nor can I think of any great films about bad writers. There are good films about politicians and journalists and historical figures, but not really any worth watching (that I can recall) about literary writers. The only one I can think of is Edouard Molinaro's Beaumarchais, which is merely okay, Carrington, but Lytton Strachey isn't a creative writer, or the portrayal of Cicero in Rome, which is (to say the least) a special case.

I invite counterexamples in the comments thread, along with movie pitches -- despite their lack of success, Hollywood and the British heirs of Merchant and Ivory keep making these things.


Matt Penniman said...

Would "Capote" count as a movie about a literary writer? Or, for that matter, "Becoming Jane"?

Tim said...

Capote is a great suggestion, and I think it does count. I haven't seen Becoming Jane, but the Masterpiece Theater Miss Austen Regrets (with Olivia Williams!) is quite good.

But seriously, isn't there a good movie to be made about Dickens, or Byron, Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy? Or in this century, Gertrude Stein, or James Baldwin?