A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “Blade Runner 2049,” the survival flick “The Mountain Between Us” and the J.D. Salinger biopic “Rebel in the Rye.”
Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies including the much anticipated “Blade Runner 2049,” the survival flick “The Mountain Between Us” and the J.D. Salinger biopic “Rebel in the Rye.”
There’s a meme that occasionally pops up on my social media pages. It’s a picture of a person slumped over a typewriter, fists clenched, captioned with the words, “Writing is easy. You just sit at your typewriter until little drops of blood appear on your forehead.”
Anyone who has tried to put words on a page will understand the joke. Writing at a high level requires a combination of talent, study, life experience and dedication; a folio of concrete and ephemeral elements that can blend easily or remain frustratingly difficult to access, depending on the day.
The story of James Joyce’s exasperation while writing his modernist novel Ulysses perfectly illuminates the writer’s frustrating process. As the story goes, a friend dropped by Joyce’s home to find the author upset that after a full day of work he had only written seven words.
“Seven?” his friend says. “But James that’s good — for you, at least.”
“Yes,” Joyce says. “I suppose it is. I’m just not sure what order they go in!”
It should come as no surprise that writers love to write about writing. Screenwriters have tapped out thousands of pages in an effort to illuminate the mysterious process.
From biopics like The End of the Tour and Capote to dramas like Adaptation and Misery, movie after movie has focused on the various ways words make it to the page in the right order.
This weekend Rebel in the Rye is a glossy look at author J.D. Salinger’s unlikely journey from losing a girlfriend to Charlie Chaplin, to the Second World War, from eastern religion to writing the classic novel Catcher in the Rye.
Movies about writers often feature scenes of typewriters clacking, pages crumpled and thrown in the garbage as authors attempt to whip their manuscripts into something readable. Crumpled loose-leaf is a tangible sign of the work, but does little to explain the author’s thought process.
The movie Genius, starring Jude Law as author Thomas Wolfe, does a good job of showing the very lifeblood that flowed through his veins. The You Can’t Go Home Again author creates exciting wordplay that could be compared to the free-flowing fluidity of jazz.
To illustrate the difference between his work and the more staid style of his contemporary Henry James, he pays a jazz band to play a straightforward, traditional version of Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.
“That’s Henry James,” he says as the players plod along. But as the band heats up, splintering off into melodic tangents, he grins and says, describing himself, “That’s Thomas Wolfe.”
The process by which artists go about their work is near impossible to effectively capture on film, but this scene comes close to explaining what it feels like when the creative juices are racing.
Subtler is Paterson, a gentle look at the life of a poetry-writing Paterson, N.J., bus driver played by Adam Driver.
The poems aren’t for publication, simply a way to express his joy in the beauty and art of everyday life. When his dog eats his notebook he has to start again but learns the writer’s greatest lesson.
“Sometimes the empty page presents the most possibilities.” There is great uplift in those words. The blank page isn’t a hindrance to the work but a canvas on which to create something new. It’s the simplest and most beautiful expression of how art is made I’ve ever seen in a movie.
“Rebel in the Rye” is a glossy look at author J.D. Salinger’s unlikely journey from losing a girlfriend to Charlie Chaplin to World War II, from eastern religion to Holden Caulfield. It’s a long strange trip, but would Caulfield label it phoney?
Nicholas Hoult plays Jerome David Salinger, a young man with a talent for words but a father (Victor Garber) who wants him to go into the meat and cheese distribution business. The sharp-tongued teenager isn’t accepted into uptown New York City society and is too square for downtown. The only things he’s good at are getting kicked out of school and writing.
His talent leads him to Columbia University and the Creative Writing class of Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey). Burnett recognizes Salinger’s gift but isn’t sure of his commitment to the writing life.
Meanwhile, Salinger is a man about town who begins a tumultuous and ill-fated relationship with Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona (Zoey Deutch), a pairing that begins his journey towards writing his most famous book.
First though, he yearns to get a short story published. Sights set on Esquire and The New Yorker he receives rejection after rejection until Burnett publishes “The Young Folks,” in a small literary magazine.
Salinger gets some notice, a high-powered agent Dorothy Olding (Sarah Paulson) and a healthy disdain of “phonies,” superficial people who talk one way and behave another. “My father hides the fact that he’s Jewish from our neighbours,” he says. “The first phoney I ever met was on my first day.”
At Burnett’s urging Salinger begins writing a book. “Holden Caulfield deserves a novel all his own,” Burnett drunkenly slurs after a night on the town. “Imagine the book you would like to read and then go write it.”
His burgeoning career is cut short, interrupted by World War II. Overseas he continues to write—he storms Normandy with six chapters of what would become the classic “Catcher in the Rye” in his pack—but when he returns to the United States he suffers PTSD and is unable to continue. “I have nothing left to say about Holden Caulfield,” he says. “Nothing left to say at all.”
Spiralling downward, his life is changed when he discovers meditation as a way to quiet his mind. He picks up the story of a troubled kid during the Christmas holidays, finishing “Catcher in the Rye.” The book is an immediate hit, capturing the consciousness of the nation. Salinger becomes a media star but his newfound fame and interactions with disturbed fans people who think they are Caulfield drive him from public life. In his remote New Hampshire home he built walls, physically around his home and mentally, to keep everyone out. “When people become a distraction,” he says, you remove the distraction.” He dedicates his life to writing—something his mentor Burnett was unsure he’d be able to do—but removes the pressure of having to follow up one of the most popular novels of all time by never publishing another word.
The word “phoney” looms large in the legacy of J.D. Salinger. His process was a search for authenticity, a journey writer and director Danny Strong seems to have veered away from. The handsome production design and period details bring style to a film that is almost completely without substance. The complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss and connection that Salinger loved and brought to his work are reduced to platitudes. Yes, the World War II scenes effectively showcase the horrors of war but Salinger’s reaction to them feel, well, phoney. Later, when he finally begins to create again it’s because he “learns to write not to show off his talent, but to display what is in his heart.” It’s a line that would have made the real life Salinger red faced and the movie is full of them.
From its on-the-nose title to the standard biopic conventions “Rebel in the Rye” could probably best be described by Caulfield himself: “You never saw so many phonies in all your life.”