Films as part of a literary education

I’ll keep it brief this week, in deference to the final flurry before the break. My ambition for the week between Christmas and New Year’s is to watch movies in my pyjamas. Given that my youngest child is terrified of almost everything, and my eldest wants to watch all of Hitchcock, this will be a delicate balancing act (my middle child only likes team sport so that’s a whole other problem). And really, pyjamas are probably not attainable, unless I become the kind of person who grocery shops in a bathrobe, which is unseemly and unlikely. But this vision of myself led me to thinking about all the art forms that are helpful to writing, not just the twin truisms of life experience and other books. Everything, in fact, is fodder for writing, and helps it. Music, all forms of visual art, theatre, performance art. But specifically, if you also have plans to sit on your couch, movies, when they’re good, expand your sense of what is possible. This is part of your education as a writer, not a distraction from it (in moderation: you still need to do the work, and the typing).

So watch Tar for moral ambiguity, for how to structure a painful long scene in which neither “side” is quite right, and for insights into flamboyant art monsters and their downfall (if the scene with the student at Juilliard doesn’t make you bite your nails, nothing will).

Watch Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours Trilogy from the 90s to think about how a series of domestic tragicomedies can also be mediations on what the French concept of “liberty, equality, fraternity” actually means.

Watch Moonlight and The Florida Project for insight into how to treat on poverty and deprivation without ever resorting to the generic or melodramatic.

Watch Deepa Mehta’s Water for how to construct a brilliant (and brutal) false ending.

Watch Parasite (if you can stand it) for a terrifying excavation of class war.

Watch early Joanna Hogg to understand that art can also be about fairly conventional upper middle-class people in ordinary situations and still be riveting and devastating. Then watch her more recent The Souvenir for a lesson in how to structure an autobiographical work.

Watch whatever feeds you. Have a good break.

Kate Cayley. Credit: Livia Ambrose
Kate Cayley. Credit: Livia Ambrose