the writer goes to the movies…

Movie theater. Southside, Chicago, Illinois
Movie theater. Southside, Chicago, Illinois

I don’t know if I have a favorite movie as an adult.

I mean, I have lots of movies that I like. Several have tickled my fancy, but I don’t know if a movie has really gotten to me as an adult. I wonder if it’s because we don’t have the ability to let go completely and focus as adults. We’re holding so fast to so many worries and things that need to get done that it’s difficult for that suspension of disbelief to take over and for us to really be in the moment.

I remember when I was in the throes of adolescent wonder and movies reached out and grabbed me by the scruff, ignited my imagination, tore my soul asunder and awoke a yearning for bigger and brighter. I remember crying in the darkness of a movie theater, being alive in the theater, laughing until my sides heart. I remember when the worlds that flashed across those golden screen become my very own reality for a few precious moments. 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off taught me how to make the most of High School. Beetlejuice ignited a need for humor in darkness. It was a jumper cable to my overactive imagination and the stories I had hidden inside me. Young Guns renewed a love of the adventurous old west stories, originally instilled by my grandfather. While watching Dead Poets Society the rest of the theater participants disappeared into the void and it was just me and Thoreau and Tennyson and Whitman and the marrow in my bones burned. Dances with Wolves defined my spring break I spent in Palm Springs, California and how I would forever see the Indian Canyons in that country. The Addam’s Family and Hook played with storytelling in my mind. Fried Green Tomatoes and The Commitments put me in touch with the sense of place.  Say Anything taught me what love might look like.

There was one movie that defined me as a kid. Stand by Me. The movie came out when I was twelve so I was the same age as the boys in the movie. I had the same angst, the same wonders, the same desires. Granted, I would have loved the girl version, but it wasn’t out there. Still, I was obsessed. With the friendship of it. The horror of it. The pain of adolescents trying to find their way. I memorized lines. A friend and I tried to go on adventures of our own, but in the concrete suburban jungle of Southern California, there is no undiscovered territory.

Stand by Me was based on a short story called “The Body” by Stephen King which is found in the collections called Different Seasons.

That one movie attached itself to my spine, set up its place in my thoughts and changed everything. I ate, drank and slept Stand by Me. I had my first crush because of that movie, enter the moody River Phoenix. I began to read, a lot, because of that movie. (Thank you Stephen King and VC Andrews and Ray Bradbury and Madeline L’Engle.) I began to write because of that movie. I wrote ‘fan fiction’ before I even knew fan fiction was a thing.

Movies always resonated with the writer in me. Of course so do certain pieces of art, songs, poems, and concertos. Art for the sake of art, art inspiring art and all that. So I’ve had the open-ended question in my mind for a while, is there a movie that has affected me the same way as an adult?

And I found it.

Midnight in Paris.

That movie spoke volumes to my writer-self.

Look, I love Hemingway, have for a long time, not as long as Stephen King, but almost. I didn’t come to love Hemingway for his writing first. I came to love him for his letters. The sheer volume of correspondence he kept was overwhelming. I loved his sense of adventure and his travel. And I loved who he hung out with and that he hung out with said crowd in Paris. In the 20s. There always seemed to be such substance and need and urgency in the group of people he hung out with. Then I read A Moveable Feast and from there I properly jumped down the rabbit hole.

When Woody Allen’s love letter to the Lost Generation came out, I was downright tickled. It was so clever, and so thoughtful and so well done and fucking fun. But I think what hit me most poignantly in the gut was the way he wrote Hemingway’s lines. As if they were supposed to be as over the top as the man, as indignant, but at the same time filled with as much heart as he was known to have.

Some examples:

To Fitzgerald who is bemoaning another tiff with his wife, Hemingway says: “You’re a writer, you need time to write, not all this fooling around.”

To Gil Pender (the time traveling writer from 2010) who is telling Hemingway about his book, and then backtracks and says, it doesn’t sound any good. Hemingway says, “No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”

In an effort to stop Gil Pender’s self-doubt, Hemingway says: “If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer. But you’re not, as long as I’m around, unless you want to put the gloves on and settle it.”

Gil asks Hemingway if he’ll read his book and Hemingway refuses: “If it’s bad, then I hate it because I hate bad writing. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and I’ll hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.”

And this wonder of a piece, “I believe that love that is true and real, creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And then the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face, like some rhino-hunters I know, or Belmonte, who is truly brave. It is because they make love with sufficient passion, to push death out of their minds, until it returns, as it does, to all men. And then you must make really good love again.”

Yeah, Midnight in Paris. It pushed back the demons and worries. It got me in the writing heart and pushed me to create and do better. And isn’t that the point of art? To push us to do, be, and create better?


  • Daniell Sharp

    Love it! I’m going to watch Stand By Me today! I watched a doc on River Phoenix recently and I said to myself then that I needed to watch stand by me again as an adult but I totally forgot until I read this. It’s on today!

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