“I create things out of boredom with reality and with the sameness of routine and objects around me.”
― Patricia Highsmith, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction
If films about writers are to be believed, all you have to do is live an interesting life, write it down, and change the names. Making things up always fails, like Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. Mike Hodges goes further to suggest that cynically manipulating the truth is the true way to success. The director whose work spans gritty neo-noir like Get Carter and the sublime silliness of Flash Gordon, made two films about writers decades apart, but they share some interesting qualities.
Pulp (1972) features the legend Michael Caine as the man who grinds out the titular tripe, first glimpsed in an office where panting typists churn out his fevered stew of sex and violence to support his indolent emigrant lifestyle in the Mediterranean. He’s tapped to ghost a veteran actor’s memoirs (Mickey Rooney in top form) then everything starts to get strange. Generally thought of as a cult classic, it mixes in a host of winking nods to the genre and ambles along to an odd conclusion.
I’ve only recently got around to Croupier (1998) thanks to Anne Billson and I can’t believe it took me this long. I think a lot of it had to do with how it was marketed as a crime film—which it is, but that’s not what’s interesting about the movie. From the first Clive Owen voice over he sounds like Guy in Your MFA who is writing ‘noir’ in his ironic Chandler persona. I may never get over the first shock of Owen as a blonde though. His girlfriend (fabulous Gina McKee) is clearly keen to think of him as a writer—so romantic! She’s disappointed when he takes a job as a croupier though astonished at how much he’ll make.
One of the things I appreciate about the script is how his whole back story in South Africa is built in little pieces throughout the film but never spelled out completely. Owen’s Jack is so tightly wound yet so clueless about himself. Gradually he begins to think about writing a novel about his co-worker, then at last just straight up autobiography (released anonymously). Of course it’s a success: imagination is overrated.
Bonus Alex Kingston, too.
The weirdest thing may be the writer, Paul Mayersberg, who has worked in and written about the film industry, as well as penning the Pulp-worthy erotic novels Violent Silence and Homme Fatale. Better known for scripts like The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, he also wrote and directed The Last Samurai (1988). No, not the Tom Cruise one: the Lance Henrikson one. Who knows what happened between script and release, but the results were not stellar. On IMDB there are several scathing one star reviews along with a ten out of ten stars review, so who knows? Maybe it’s a hidden gem. I suspect it’s not.
Writing is hard. Live a life someone else can write about and you will probably be better off in the long run.
K. A. Laityis an award-winning author, scholar, critic and arcane artist. Her books include How to Be Dull,White Rabbit, Dream Book, A Cut-Throat Business, Lush Situation, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, Chastity Flame, and Pelzmantel. She has edited My Wandering Uterus, Respectable Horror, Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and Drag Noir, plus written many short stories, scholarly essays, songs, and more. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
She also writes crime as Graham Wynd and historical fiction as Kit Marlowe.
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