Chronicle Recommends: Films About Writers

Storytellers become the story

Every month, the Chronicle’s film critics select a theme and offer movie recommendations. This month, to coincide with our Summer Reading issue, we've picked some of our favorite films about writers.

Swimming Pool (2003)

Writer’s block sends mystery novelist Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) to her publisher’s French villa to work on her new novel. Enter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), the publisher’s daughter, who arrives out of nowhere to create some sexual friction. François Ozon’s Hitchcockian film is a clever and sensuous psychological thriller that will have you questioning the facts long after the movie is over. – Josh Kupecki

An Angel at My Table (1990)

One of Jane Campion’s early films was this made-for-New Zealand TV drama about the harrowing early life of that country’s celebrated writer Janet Frame. A socially awkward child and young woman, Frame eventually suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. While institutionalized, she underwent more than 200 electroshock treatments before one of her doctors noticed that her first book had just won a prestigious literary award. Thereafter, writing became Frame’s lifeline, revealing her mental instability to be an acute case of shyness. – Marjorie Baumgarten

The Front (1976)

Martin Ritt’s riff on the HUAC and the Hollywood blacklist of 1953 also doubles as Woody Allen’s first dramatic role as an actor as nebbish deli clerk and sometime bookmaker Howard Prince. Approached by blacklisted pal Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) to “front” for him – Prince will put his name on Miller’s script, thereby circumnavigating the blacklist – Howard is soon fronting for others while enjoying his newfound faux fame. Front-loaded with a dark and flop-sweaty sense of humor and a wealth of real-life ironies (director Ritt, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and actors Herschel Bernardi and Zero Mostel – in a bravura performance – were all victims of HUAC’s pinko witch hunt), this was the first major Hollywood film to address the inequities of the blacklist. – Marc Savlov

Bright Young Things (2003)

When a young novelist’s manuscript is confiscated at customs for indecency, he earns some quick cash as a gossip columnist chronicling the endless debauched party of England’s swell set in the 1920s. Adapting Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, first-time writer/director Stephen Fry and a terrific cast in their early career (including Emily Mortimer, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, and James McAvoy) slide between moods, from fun-loving and antic to anxious, and finally elegiac once World War II shuts the party down for good. – Kimberley Jones

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Film, The Angel at My Table, The Front, Bright Young Things, Swimming Pool, Chronicle Recommends

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