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Posts Tagged ‘Ernest Hemingway’

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
—John Donne (from the poem For Whom the Bell Tolls)

HEmGraveVSmall_E4119

Yesterday I visited Ernest Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, Idaho. After college I did the drive around the county and find yourself thing and made a stop in Ketchum. This was in the days before cell phones and points of interest were harder to gather and I missed seeing his grave.

I read my first Hemingway book when I was 17 years old. Not because I knew he was a literary giant, but because The Old Man and the Sea was the thinnest book of the selection that my American Literature teacher offered us to chose to do a report on.

A couple of years later I visited Hemingway’s house in Key West and wondered what Key West was like back before it became a cruise ship tourist mecca. I wonder the same thing about Ketchum. It’s a much more refined town than when I visited back in the ‘80s. It’s more like Aspen than Ketchum of the 1950s and 60s when Hemingway liked to rub shoulders in bars with everyday people. But it’s a fine mountain town that I’d love to call home.

HemSign_E4126

The Sun Valley Lodge is just a mile or so from downtown Ketchum and is said to be where Hemingway finished writing the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

P.S. Here’s the view looking west from Hemingway’s grave. Fitting for a man who had a love for nature going back to his younger days spent in northern Michigan.

HemView_4123

Scott W. Smith 

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“[Robin Williams] was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”
President Obama on the death of Williams whose first starring role was as an alien on the TV show Mork & Mindy

“Robin signing on definitely was the linchpin for [Good Will Hunting] getting made.”
Producer Chris Moore
Good Will Hunting: An Oral History
Boston Magazine article by Janelle Nanos, January 2013

“We are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die…Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society (1989)
Screenplay by Tom Schulman

Related posts:

Jonathan Winters (1925-2013)
Where Do Ideas Come From (A+B=C) Whenever I give a talk on creativity I always mention Robin Williams.
“The Greatest Gift” How the much loved movie It’s a Wonderful Life is a story rooted in depression, disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. 
Don’t Waste Your Life Screenwriting (2.0)

P.S. When comedian and actor Freddie Prinze (Chico and the Man) shot and killed himself at age 22 in 1977 I started to understand a connection between creative talent and depression, and sometimes depression mixed substance abuse.  And that even comedic ability didn’t not make one immune to suffering from depression and/or substance abuse problems. Johnny Carson, Jim Carrey, and Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody have all talked about their struggles with depression. Not all who suffer from depression take their lives as Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, or (apparently) Robin Williams—but I really believe there is something going on in the brains of some (many, all?) artists that helps them reach great heights, but also causes them to experience tremendous— even debilitating— lows.

Final thought: “All humor is rooted in pain.” —Commedian Richard Pryor

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m not interested in characters who aren’t broken.”
3-time Oscar nominated screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator)

“All characters are wounded souls, and the stories we tell are merely an acting out of the healing process. They are the closing of open wounds, the scabbing-over process.”
Richard Krevolin
Screenwriting from the Soul

Today is the sixth anniversary of Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, and I’m pleased to announce my loose and distant connection to a recent (and controversial) Oscar nomination. In fact, Deadline called it the “Academy’s Most Obscure Nominee—Maybe EVER.” Since one of the inspirations for starting this blog was the movie Juno, let me start there.

When Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) was 17 she got pregnant. When Joni Eareckson was 17 she broke her neck. The movie character Juno gave her baby up for adoption and went back to singing indie songs. The real life person Joni became a quadriplegic and went back to singing gospel hymns.  Screenwriter Diablo Cody walked away with an Oscar for writing Juno. Joni spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair—but also recorded a song that’s just been nominated for an Oscar.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”
Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

The now 64-year-old Joni also become a speaker, author of 50 books, married Ken Tada, and for the past 35 years has provided a global outreach to people with disabilities—including an organization that restores 10,000 wheelchairs per year and ships them to people in need around the world. If you like heroic underdog stories then you’ll enjoy Joni’s.

The Hollywood Reporter says the Oscar nominated song she sings (Alone Yet Not Alone) caused a “mini-controversy.”  The Week called the nominee “shady” and a “genuine head-scratcher.” You can read those links, but what’s speculated is the song (music by Bruce Broughton and lyrics by Dennis Spiegel—the two who actually got the nomination) benefited from a little Hollywood back scratching.

Hollywood studios spend millions—sometimes $10-15 million on promoting their movies. There’s much written about the fierce battles to win Oscars and how every front door, back door, side door, trap door—and even no door— is explored to win the coveted award that can result in millions of dollars on the back-end of a movie. The stakes are high.  (My friend Matthew recommends the book The Men Who Would Be King which gives insights into the Oscar process. He told me, “In short, it’s ugly. Makes a UFC bout look like a Tupperware party.”)

Hollywood has been called the world’s biggest high school and at this year’s Academy Awards Alone Yet Not Alone is not sitting at the cool kids table. It’s the kid in the wheelchair sitting alone in the cafeteria.  And I hate to throw out the C word here, but adding to the controversy is the song  (which beat out songs by Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Celine Dion and other heavyweights) is from a little seen Christian film shot in the Ohio Valley.

Who knows, maybe the song’s nomination was the Academy’s version of adding a little diversity to the Oscars. A wild card—like sprinkling in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa into the Oscar nominations (Steve Prouty for hair & makeup). And maybe, just maybe, the song was nominated on merit. Broughton after all does have an Oscar (Silverado) and 8 Primetime Emmys. (Talent not typically found on a smaller independent film.)

But keep in mind there are four Biblical films coming out this year including Russell Crowe as Noah and the February release of Son of God —and even the book that’s the basis for the Angelina Jolie directed Unbroken (scheduled for a December release) has a Christian theme. Studios are concerned about every Christian with ten dollars in their pocket and just the Academy nominating Alone Yet Not Alone (for whatever reason) I imagine is seen as an olive branch by many Christians.  That olive branch didn’t hurt a little Mel Gibson film a decade ago.

Several years ago when I was based in Cedar Falls, Iowa I provided camerawork for an episode of a TV program that Joni and Friends produced.  (Couldn’t find that program online, but Wheels for a Kid’s World gives you a solid glimpse into Joni’s work and world.) I also produced a video of Joni talking at the Minneapolis Convention Center and remember it well because she quoted a classic Frank Darabont script and movie.

(Here’s a similar context I found online from a book Joni wrote about visiting someone she knew in intensive care and unresponsive after a tragic accident. )

“I sat there by Gracie’s hospital bed. I read Scriptures to her. I sang to her: ‘Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side.’ I leaned over as far forward as I could and whispered, ‘Oh Gracie, Gracie, remember. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.’ She blinked at that point, and I knew she recognized the phrase. It’s a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Hope…the Best of Things

While I did talk with Joni it’s doubtful she’d remember me, but I remember her well. And I got a signed book out of the deal.

Because Joni can’t use her arms she signs books with a pen in her mouth. (And singing is no simple task either for Joni. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Her lung capacity is just 51 percent of what it ought to be — so weak, in fact, that her husband needed to push on her diaphragm while she recorded the Oscar-nominated song to give her enough breath to hit the high notes.”) She’s an amazing woman and I’m thrilled to see her in the spotlight. And the best thing about a little Oscar controversy is it puts the spotlight on the global work she’s done and continues to do for people and their families dealing with disabilities. You know the old cliché , “Hollywood couldn’t have written a better story”—but I’m glad they added a chapter to Joni’s story.

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That book,  Joni, An Unforgettable Story, is an updated version of the book she wrote that became the feature film Joni (1979) written and directed by James F. Collier and stars Joni herself.

“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these things.”
George Washington Carver

1/29/14 Update: According to Indiewire tonight, “The Academy’s Board of Governors voted to take back the Original Song nomination for ‘Alone Yet Not Alone,’  music by Bruce Broughton and lyric by Dennis Spiegel. The decision was ‘prompted by the discovery that Broughton, a former Governor and current Music Branch executive committee member, had emailed members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.'”

No additional song will be added. One good thing that came out of this Oscar controversy is it shed a little light on the work Joni is doing.

And really, if you’re a producer of Alone Yet Not Alone you have to take this news like Bill Murray in Scrooged did when he’s told about a woman who had a heart attack over a TV promo his network ran. Murray at first looks distraught, then exclaims, “You can’t buy this kind of publicity!” Alone But Not Alone was put on the radar because of this controversay and today’s news seals the deal on it being locked in as a permenat footnote in Oscar history. Can’t hurt ticket or DVD sales when the film is released. And in ten or twenty years people may forget who won for best picture, or best actor—but will remember the Alone But Not Alone controversy. Call it the year of the “Oscar-nomination but not an Oscar-nomination.”

P.S. When I lived in Burbank, California back in the ’80s I would sometimes get calls to my house asking if I was “the editor Scott Smith.” At the time I was a 16mm operator/editor, but I knew who they were really looking for—  M. Scott Smith. Smith at that point had edited  To Live and Die in L.A. and Some Kind of Wonderful. Other big projects he’s edited are The Crow and Ladder 49 starring John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix. Turns out he’s the editor on Alone Yet Not Alone.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m more interested in politics than anything in the world.  Much more interested in politics than I am in movies, art, or anything. I’m absolutely fascinated by politics and have been all my life…The truth is every piece of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it you—the audience is going to get dizzy—when you deliberately make it you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I think some movies and some books, and god some paintings, have changed the face of the world. But I don’t believe it’s the duty of every artist to change the face of the world. He is doing it by being an artist.”
Orson Welles at Q&A at USC in 1981
(Welles was most personally politically active during the ’30s and ’40s—”FDR used to say, ‘You and I are the two best actors in America.'”—Orson Welles)

This concludes a week of posts of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC after they screened his film The Trial. It’s interesting to note that in the Q&A he mentioned that he never watched his film after he made them because they are so much better in his mind.

It’s also worth noting that in the last few years before Welles dies in 1985,  filmmaker Henry Jaglom recorded conversations with him at the original Ma Masion restaurant where Welles held court in his later years.Those conversation were edited by Peter Biskin (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) and recently  published in the book My Lunches with Orson Welles. I have not read the book yet but from what I’ve read it does offer some new—and unplugged—revelations into a man who at just 24-years-old directed one of the masterpieces of cinema—Citizen Kane.

“When asked to describe Welles’s influence, Jean-Luc Godard remarked, simply, ‘Everyone will always owe him everything.'”
Peter Biskin introduction to My Lunches with Orson Welles

For Welles Citizen Kane was his mountaintop experience. The movie was released in 1941 and his journey, and creative & financial struggles, over the years have been well documented. If you were born after his death you may be surprised to learn that in the ’70s—and era before cable TV, DVDs, and Internet streaming—Welles was mostly known to the American public as the spokesman for Paul Mason wine. For his Shakespearean delivery of the line, “We will sell no wine before its time.”

An average young person  today is more likely to know Welles from his drunken outtakes from those Paul Mason commercials. The kind of video that ends up on Funny or Die and I’ve actually seen a video of the outtakes below re-shot with actors today as either a spoof or a class project.

By this time in his life the well had run dry for Welles. In a sense he had become like what became of many legends in their later years (Elvis, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams) a shadow of his former greatness. But like Elvis, Hemingway, and Williams the sun is shinning once again. The good, the bad, and the ugly has turned the man who once stood on the mountaintop to become his own mountain. Welles like a select few people in Hollywood—a place he called “a snake pit”— has become through appointments and mythology reached the status of legend and icon.

In the spirit of who “Who was Charlie Kane?” and “Who was Rosebud?” — Who was Orson Welles?   Biskin and Jaglom I imagine have added another chapter to the growing story of the man now sometimes called Citizen Welles.

The final scene of The Lady from Shanghai is perhaps the most autobiographical truthful metaphor in all of his work. It is ultimately impossible to find the real Orson Welles among all the fun-house mirrors he so energetically set in place.”
Henry Jaglom

And to end this full circle, I found a quote online from Jaglom’s talks with Welles that touched on politics.

“Politics is always corrupting. Even saints in politics. The political world, in itself, is corrupt. You’re not going to satisfy that urge to spiritual perfection in any political movement without being betrayed and without betraying others. Only service, direct service, say, helping a lot of starving kids in a Third World country, is impeccable.”
Orson Welles
My Lunches with Orson Welles

And instead of ending with the a scene from The Lady from Shanghai or a clip of one of Welles’ films I thought you might enjoy this clip of Welles talking about Ernest Hemingway.

P.S. If you happen to be in the Orlando area, the Enzian Theater will have a Saturday matinée of Citizen Kane tomorrow (1/11/14) at noon.

Related links: The USC Spectator Spring of 1982 about Welles visiting USC

There is an entire You Tube Channel dedicated to Citizen Welles which includes the  90 min doc—The Complete Charlie Kane.

Scott W. Smith

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Writing Quote #37 (Hemingway)

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Ernest Hemingway
72 of the Best Quotes for Writers

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“The book came to me in sort of a haze in Harry’s Bar in Venice.”
Ernest Hemingway speaking about writing In Harry’s Bar In Venice
(Not to be confused with the clip below from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris)

When I was in high school I don’t think I really understood that Ernest Hemingway was a literary giant. But I knew Jimmy Buffett was fond of Hemingway and that was the only sign of approval I needed as a 17-year-old.

When I had to pick a book in my 11th grade American Literature class to do a report on, I naturally—in my youthful wisdom— outsmarted my teacher by picking the thinnest book on my teacher’s list—Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’ve been pals with Papa ever since.

When I graduated from film school in California I drove around the country for a couple of months and one of the books I took with me was Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. On that trip I went out of my way to drive through Ketchum, Idaho where Hemingway killed himself in 1961. While I lived in Florida I toured his Key West house that’s open to the public and where he wrote To Have and Have Not. (If I recall correctly, they said his custom in Key West was to swim early in the morning and write standing up from 8AM until noon.)

Once on a flight to London for a shoot I read Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa. And over the years as I found myself in Kansas City, Oak Park, Petoskey, Venice (including Harry’s Bar) and Paris I’ve always thought of Hemingway and his time spent in those places. Oh, and at the University of Miami I was in the film program with Hilary Hemingway (Ernest’s neice) .

Though I’ve never seen a bull-fight in Spain, caught a marlin off the waters of Cuba, or been on a safari in Africa—someday I will. I hope. Hemingway’s adventurous life has influenced me as much as his writings. Moving to Iowa in ’03 has just been another part of the adventure. So even this blog has a loose assoication to the Hemingway spirit. A couple of days ago I went down to the Cedar Falls Library and picked up a copy of Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast that I’d never read.  It’s mostly his account of being young, poor, and unpublished while living in Paris in the 1920s.

“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. “
Ernest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast

Looking for a little note of inspiration to stick above your computer? Hard to beat, “All you have to do is write one true sentence.”

P.S. One of the things I delight in when reading Hemingway’s letters is his creative ways of spelling. Hemingway could write, but he couldn’t spell. Nothing a little spell checker wouldn’t fix these days, but we all have our achilles heels don’t we? Hemingway was also no Mark Twain when it came to public speaking. “One of Ernest Hemingway’s deadliest enemies was The Micophone,” said A.E. Hotchner. Just listen to his talk on In Harry’s Bar in Venice or his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech to know what Hotchner meant.

For those that cling to the idea that great writers ideally make the best teachers, I think Hemingway is a pretty good example to the contrary. His writing can take you’re breath away, his speaking—not so much. And I’m sure rather than nurturing an up and coming writer Hemingway would rather have been hunting or drinking. But hanging out with him and his creative gang on the Left Bank in Paris in the 20s would have been quite a learning experience.

Scott W. Smith

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“I think I wrote Legends of the Fall in about ten days.
Jim Harrison on his novella for which the movie* was based

Though Jim Harrison’s novella Legends of the Fall is less than 100 pages long and he said he wrote it in about ten days those numbers can be deceptive. In one interview he said it usually takes him about 10 years of thinking about things by the time he finishes writing his novellas.

Before Harrison became widely known as the writer of Legends of the Fall (which became a 1994 movie and helped cement Brad Pitt as a movie star) he had long been carving away at his craft in Michigan.

He was born in rural Grayling, Michigan in 1937. In Off to the Side: A Memoir, Harrison calls Reed City, Michigan where he lived between the ages of five and twelve his “golden years.”

“My background used to embarrass me. I’d think, I want to be like Lord Byron, or Vincent van Gogh. And then I’d realize, how can a boy from a little farm town do that? I think the years I spent at manual labor as a block layer, a carpenter, a digger of well pits, have given me more physical endurance for later in my life. And in an utterly corny Sherwood Anderson way, it makes you think those long thoughts. If you’re unloading fertilizer trucks for a dollar an hour all day long, and dreaming about New York City, it really means something. I remember a month before my first book of poems came out, I was working on a house foundation and the lumber truck couldn’t get close enough to the excavation, so I had to wheelbarrow 1,200 cement blocks for about seventy yards, load them and unload them. It was a cold, icy, early November day and it took me about nine hours to do it. That day I manually handled thirty-five tons worth of cement blocks, and that was for two and a half dollars an hour. When I got home I was hungry and tired, and what I had to show for it was right around twenty-five dollars. But you got a lot of thinking done. What it does do for you is, if you can hoe corn for fifty cents an hour, day after day, you can learn how to write a novel. You have absorbed the spirit of repetition.”
Jim Harrison
The Art of Fiction No. 104, Interview with Jim Fergus

It is interesting to note that Ernest Hemingway, Thomas McGuane (Ninety-Two in the Shade) and Harrison all spent time hunting and fishing in the same general northern area of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. All also came from religious families who put an emphasis on reading as well as an outdoor life. And while they all wrestled with their faith it impacted their writing. All three also gravitated to living at least part of the time in the northern U.S. region of the Rocky Mountains.

McGaune and Harrison also attended Michigan State at the same time as did fellow writer Richard Ford. In 2008, Esquire magazine listed The 75 Books Every Man Should Read and placed Legends of the Fall at #23 and Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter #60.

Harrison went on to get his M.A. in comparative literature at Michigan State and then struggled to earn a living for well over a decade existing on fellowships, grants and publishing books of poetry while writing in Michigan. In interviews he has said that he never made over $10,000. a year for the first 17 years of his marriage. Then there were some tax problems, some drinking problems, cocaine, depression, followed by suicidal thoughts.

After a hunting injury he was encouraged by McGuane to try his hand at writing a novel. The result was Wolf; A False Memoir (1971). A few years later he published  A Good Day to Day and that would open the door to Hollywood where Harrison was paid well, but produced little as a screenwriter. He wrote his first screenplay in 1975 for filmmaker Frederick Weisman (though it was unproduced) and worked as a contract screenwriter though 1997.  A side benefit was hanging out with people like Orson Welles, John Huston, and Jack Nicholson.

He continued writing novels and eventually some of them found their way to getting produced as movies. Sometimes he was credited with working on the script and sometimes other screenwriters were brought in to write the scripts. Harrison’s credits include  Dalva, Carried Away, Revenge, and Wolf, along with Legends of the Fall. In 2007, Harrison was elected into the American Academy of the Arts.

These days Harrison splits his time between Montana and Arizona. When asked by The Paris Review if he had any advice for younger writers he replied:

“Just start at page one and write like a son of a bitch. Be totally familiar with the entirety of the Western literary tradition, and if you have any extra time, throw in the Eastern. Because how can you write well unless you know what passes for the best in the last three or four hundred years?”

More on Harrison tomorrow and some of his thoughts on the movie Legends of the Fall.

*The screenplay for Legends of the Fall was written by Susan Shilliday and William D. Wittliff.

Related post: Writer Jim Harrison (Part 2)

Screenwriting from Michigan

Scott W. Smith

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