Book People | February 2010 | Nicholas Basbanes

Paper Flicks

Well, we've had some pretty interesting responses to my open request earlier this week for movies that have had something to do with paper, the only stipulation being that they have some basis in fact. For those who need to be brought up to speed on what's going on, here's the link to my column. I will present the films in the order that they arrived.

I heard first from Pradeep Sebastian, a literary columnist in India, who offered the following dozen--count 'em, twelve--first-rate suggestions:

The Hoax (2006), a film about Clifford Irving, and the fake Howard Hughes biography; F For Fake (1974), written, directed, and starring Orson Welles, and based in part on the forgeries of Irving, and others, and available in DVD; Selling Hitler (1991) a made for TV movie based on Robert Harris' book about the faking of a Hitler diary; The Last Station (2009), about Leo Tolstoy's manuscripts and will, and recipient this week of an Academy Award nomination for Christopher Plummer for best actor. Also from Sebastian: Creation (2009), a dramatization of the life of Charles Darwin, featuring his diaries and notebooks as he developed his theory of evolution; Sylvia (2003), starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the tortured poet Sylvia Plath, seen often scribbling in notebooks, tearing up and burning pages; Naked Lunch (1991) William Burroughs, hallucinating over a clattering typewriter, with reams and reams of paper around him; Factotum (2005, based on the life of the hard-living, hard-drinking poet Charles Bukowski; Shattered Glass (2003), based on the fabrications of writer Stephen Glass, published unwittingly in The New Republic; and The Whole Wide World (1995), about pulp fiction writer Robert E.Howard, and the writing of Conan the Barbarian.

As a bonus, Sebastian offered a pair of documentaries: BookWars (2000), about New York City pavement book sellers, and Paperback Dreams (2008), profiling the struggle to survive among independent bookstores.

Arriving about a half-hour after that dazzling list came a terrific suggestion from Benjamin L. Clark in Oklahoma--he has a pretty nifty book blog of his own called exilebibliophile, which I highly recommend--to wit:

Cimarron (1931), winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, based on a novel by Edna Ferber (and winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1929), which was partly inspired by the life of T.B. Ferguson, a cursading Oklahoma newspaper editor, and his wife, Elva.

Next came an email from Eleni Collins, an assistant editor for the Martha's Vineyard Times, who wondered if a couple of movies based on outstanding children's books, Harriet the Spy (1996) and The Mixed Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968), might not create a category in their own right. I love the idea--maybe we can do that next (think Maurice Sendak and Where the Wild Things Are)--but more on point for this particular exercise was her third suggestion, Between the Folds (2009), a television documentary about the world-wide mania for origami that aired in December on PBS, and has just been released in DVD.

A suggestion from reader Mike Gindling advised that a key scene in his favorite movie, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), has Lawrence writing out an IOU to a shiek in return for help in the taking of an important city. I like that--an IOU is an example of a piece of paper whose value is only as good as the word of the person who gives it.

Just this morning, Joe Fay, manager of rare books at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, offered these beauties:

The Whole Wide World (1996) starring Renee Zellweger and Vincent D'Onofrio, a biographical account of the relationship between pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price Ellis; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), based on the life of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson; The Rum Diary, to be released this year, also inspired by life and career of Thompson.

Fay mentioned a 1988 mini-series starring Stacey Keach as Ernest Hemingway, titled Hemingway, and cited one documentary in particular as outstanding, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown  (2008), about the science fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft.

Finally, from daughter Nicole, who is weathering out the blizzard in Washington, D.C., a news flash about the release of a documentary with the improbable title of Miracle Banana, a Japanese film with English subtitles, "based on an actual project to make paper from banana trees in Haiti." To prove that this was no joke, she furnished this link.

Honestly, I am lost for words (that never happens with me).  But I do thank one and all for these fabulous films. I promise you, they will be used.