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2019 | Book

Screening the Author

The Literary Biopic

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About this book

This book is the first comprehensive analysis of the contemporary representation of the author on screen. It does this through two main approaches: by looking at how biographies of well-known authors in Western culture have been adapted onto the film and television screen; and by examining the wider preoccupation with the idea of what the ‘author persona’ means in broader economic, cultural, industrial, and ideological terms. Drawing from current debates about the uses of the heritage industry and conventions of the Hollywood biopic and celebrity culture, this book re-frames the analysis of the author on screen in contemporary culture and theorises it under its own unique genre: the ‘literary biopic’. With case studies including adaptations of the biographies and cultural personas of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Allen Ginsberg—to name a few–this book examines how and why the author continues to be a prominent screen and cultural preoccupation.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter
Chapter 1. Introduction: Biopics, Biography, Heritage, and the Literary Biopic
Abstract
Shachar introduces the key debates in the analysis of biopics and heritage cinema in relation to the theorisation of the literary biopic as its own genre with a unique aesthetic template. Moving from an analysis of the early Hollywood ‘golden days’ of the studio-system era, which churned out biopics as part of a celebrity-driven enterprise, Shachar traces how the contemporary literary biopic both sits alongside and diverges from such early Hollywood cinema, and overlaps with concerns of more recent heritage films. She concludes by analysing how the contemporary literary biopic can be conceived of in generic terms, and lays out the methodological approach of how it represents authorial identity through an amalgamation of postmodern, intersectional, and Romantic ideological politics of representation.
Hila Shachar
Chapter 2. Heritage and the Literary Biopic ‘Template’: Shakespeare, Austen, Wilde, and the Author as Product
Abstract
Focusing on key representative films, including Becoming Jane (2007), Shakespeare in Love (1998), and Wilde (1997), Shachar theorises the dominant template of representation of the author on screen in the literary biopic. This analysis provides some much-needed critique of the dominant screen ‘template’ of the author in both aesthetic and wider cultural and economic terms. Using the case studies of these three films, Shachar argues how the literary biopic borrows from earlier iterations of heritage-inspired representations of the past to create a visual ‘language’ for the literary biopic that is based on capitalistic and cultural ‘worship’ of the Western author as a figure of cultural and national importance. She concludes by arguing that the screen ‘language’ of the literary biopic morphs with the online consumption of the author through social media and blogs as well as through fan by-products in websites such as Etsy and YouTube.
Hila Shachar
Chapter 3. The Muse Speaks Back: Silence, Invisibility, and Reframing Authorial Identity
Abstract
Shachar explores a key preoccupation of many literary biopics in their representation of the author on screen: the figure of the muse and love story tied to creative ‘genius’ and identity. Focusing on adaptations including The Invisible Woman (2013), The Edge of Love (2008), Bright Star (2009), and To Walk Invisible (2016), Shachar proposes that the focus on the muse figure in numerous literary biopics allows for a cultural re-evaluation of authorial identity, national histories, and Western ideas about what constitutes creativity in relation to wider ideological debates in contemporary culture about historical representation, gender, and nationality. This analysis focuses on key themes that arise in such adaptations, including the postmodern concern with who gets to tell history, and why, through the focus on the invisibility of marginalised women, and rethinking the politics of ‘silence’ in relation to historical and gendered oppression and suppression.
Hila Shachar
Chapter 4. Feminine Authorial Mournings: The Female Writer on Screen and the Trauma of the Present
Abstract
Shachar introduces a new way of conceptualising the gender politics that underlie many literary biopics by arguing that the figure of the female writer has come to represent a larger Western discourse of trauma. Examining films including The Hours (2002), Sylvia (2003), Iris (2001), and An Angel at My Table (1990), as well as the BBC mini-series, Life in Squares (2015), she traces how the female writer has become aligned in contemporary culture with a quasi-religious representation, linked with themes of mourning, resurrection, and renewal. Drawing from earlier studies of the role of English literature during the interwar years as a cohesive national ideology during a time of crisis, Shachar argues that the body and persona of the female writer have now assumed the role of ‘saviour’ of Western culture, representing the uncertain logic of the times.
Hila Shachar
Chapter 5. Appropriating the Beats, Radicalising the Literary Biopic: Intersectional Politics and Ginsberg and Kerouac on Screen
Abstract
Shachar provides some ground-breaking analysis of films that have yet to receive critical analysis. These films include adaptations of the biographies and lives of the radical Beat authors, including Kill Your Darlings (2013), Howl (2010), On the Road (2012), and Big Sur (2013). Through an analysis of these films, she offers some original exploration of the literary biopic genre in relation to complex ideological concerns of intersectionality, religious thought in relation to Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity as they merge with American national identity, and contemporary race and gender politics. Shachar concludes by arguing that these films meld the radical counterculture beliefs and ideas of the Beat authors of the 1950s and 1960s with a modern intersectional politics that both utilises and challenges the classic cinematic and cultural tropes of the literary biopic.
Hila Shachar
Chapter 6. Conclusion: The Author as Mediator and Barometer
Abstract
Using the framework of the multiauthor adaptation, Midnight in Paris (2011), Shachar summarises the key debates that have shaped and continue to shape the representation of the author on screen, arguing that the figure of the author has become both the mediator and barometer for contemporary times. These debates include the nostalgic and capitalistic consumption of the past as part of the heritage industry; the uncertain and liminal politics of the present expressed through a cinematic focus on the author’s identity; and the potential future of authorial screen representation through the nuanced politics of intersectional identities and communities. Shachar concludes by exploring the aesthetic future directions of the literary biopic, considering how it intersects with contemporary issues of film genre and auteur cinema in relation to the female director through discussion of Sofia Coppola’s films and the recent adaptation, Mary Shelley (2017).
Hila Shachar
Backmatter
Metadata
Title
Screening the Author
Author
Hila Shachar
Copyright Year
2019
Electronic ISBN
978-3-030-18850-4
Print ISBN
978-3-030-18849-8
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-18850-4