The Stories Behind Writers

Aren’t you curious about writers? The faces behind the words you read, what inspired them as writers, who they are, how they write? I know I am. And judging by two films and one series I watched recently so are others. All three focus on writers, their lives, experiences and influences. They are: Agatha Christie and the Truth of Murder (2018 film), Tolkien (2019 film) and Little Women (BBC television series 2017).

Of the three Agatha and the Truth of Murder was the one I liked least. I’m not a fan of Agatha Christie plots. And this film addresses Christie’s own doubts about the predictability of her stories. In real life Agatha Christie went ‘missing’ for a number of days during her career and Agatha and the Truth of Murder is an imaginative story of how Christie might have spent that mysterious time. The writers place Christie squarely in an actual murder case which she is forced to solve. This experience ultimately helps her own writing – or so the story goes. The point made by the film is that an author’s lived experiences informs their writing.

Tolkien makes this very point clearly. In this film, however, what is portrayed may reflect actual events in the author’s life. The film is an in-depth, sensitive biography of the famous author’s formative years and how the many influences in his life ultimately had great bearing on his famous works. His poverty, orphanhood, intelligence, love of language, and desire for friendship all influenced the man and the writer he became. His romance with fellow orphan Edith Bratt, which ultimately matured into marriage was an integral part of his life. And WWI, which cut through everything – his studies, career, romance and friendship circle – profoundly affected the man and writer he became.

Slightly more subtle on the theme of experiences influencing writing is the BBC television series Little Women based on the book by Louisa May Alcott. Of the four sisters in Little Women, Jo March was the writer. She wrote initially because she loved writing. Then she wrote out of necessity. And finally she wrote out of pain, as a way to process the death of her beloved sister, Beth. Jo’s life circumstances obviously influenced the writer she became.

Practical Criticism or New Criticism is a branch of literary theory that studies the form of texts. The theory disregards author intention and reader response. There is certainly merit to this approach to studying literature, especially with poems or stories for which the reader has no idea of the author’s intent.

However, I just can’t help wondering… What influences of your life can be brought to bear on the writer you are?

 

 

Message in The Monuments Men meanders vaguely

A review by Brenda Daniels

The Monuments Men is a World War II drama based on a true story. It recounts how artworks in the form of paintings and sculptures, stolen by the Nazis during the war, were recovered. The film features a cast of big names including George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Bill Murray.

Seven men, previously unconscripted because of age, are handpicked by Frank Stokes (Clooney) for their art expertise. They don uniforms right near the end of the war and set out on their mission to find the artworks and return them to their rightful owners.

There are no flashy heroics in this film. The characters are old and ordinary. And their mission of saving artworks seems silly when compared to saving human lives. But, argues their leader Stokes, preserving art is preserving culture. And culture reflects the importance of a people and their achievements.

What the group did recover is indeed staggering. What they helped prevent is monumental. Hitler had plans to build his own Führer Museum. He needed art, books and other treasures to fill it so stole what he needed, storing it up in hiding places. This ragtag bunch of chaps was instrumental in putting an end to his dreams.

Unfortunately The Monuments Men meanders through a vague plot, throwing in some sentimentality and personal suffering just for good measure. This makes what promised to be a fine film slow and unnecessarily long.

The actors do a good job, particularly Cate Blanchett as a sour but helpful source of intelligence. As a group they don’t leave a lasting impression nor do they capitalise on some potential for humour. Although The Monuments Men fails to make more of its noble message, the message does get through and is worth watching just for this.

The Monuments Men opens at NuMetro Theatres in South Africa on 14 February.

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle               (Source: Creative Commons)

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle (Source: Creative Commons)