Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
Author Gene Fowler once said that. That raises a question. Well several…
- What is bad writing?
- Can it be bad?
- Who cares?
- Why ask?
Whether or not you’re creative or artistic, if you’ve attended an English class or especially one on creative writing, you’ve been asked, or have asked yourself these questions?
A smart, seriously funny documentary is taking a round about road to our screens, no matter which kind you watch. “Bad Writing” is a fun, witty and mostly great documentary from Vernon Lott. The film, from Morris Hill Pictures, deals with writing good – or well, that is.
If you’ve written before, at least before twitter came, you’ve wondered whether “it” was bad writing or good? And if you’re serious and diligent with your writing, that anxiety is deeper. For many people this is a routinely serious, even Sisyphean personal trial. The prospect of writing anything, especially something creative and that people will like, stirs agony among writers.
The early- and mid-20th Century had the Great American novel as the ultimate literary artistic goal those generations’. Vernon Lott, the film-maker, knows this. He strove for several years to be a poet, half-way sure that the stereotypic and romantic agonies of an artist’s path were needed. Then he woke up, shook himself and decided to ask renown writers about the craziness of that craziness.
According to imdb, “Bad Writing” was released on December 10th. It’s treading a narrow, cautious college-like screening tour. It’s a small, unconventional, fun and potent film that deserves attention. But it’s a documentary; few people seek out documentaries for an evening’s pleasure. In late October 2010, “Toronto Globe and Mail” columnist Liam Lacey concluded that the web, under the guises of Mubi and SnagFilms, is the new art house cinema.
“Bad Writing’s” a gem because it’s funny, has wit and answers many questions, both writerly and not, which nag people. You might call it a literary or artistic courterpart to Woody Allen’s 1972 film “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex,* But Were Afraid to Ask,” (if that movie had taken that question seriously, that is. …But not too too serious.) One of the dozen or so take aways comes when one of the writers tells Mr. Lott that “it’s” bad writing “if it doesn’t make sense outside the writer’s head.” That’s a howl. Hers is also an earnest answer. The film is just this reverent and serious.
Movies about writing are hard, or hardly dramatic because it’s a solitary activity. That’s probably part of why those movies made about it are about either people’s aptitude for or access to social support network, like “Freedom Writers.” Otherwise where’s the conflict? “Bad Writing” shows us.
But it’s flaws show in the last act. Sadly, this 60-minute film, on the romance, the rigors and the realities of writing, and one’s own ability, for it, is stuck in a 90-minute form that someone forced up on it. That last act peters into considering digital technology and Web 2.0 bode for writers meant for the tactile; it clashes with the romance and fun of the first hour. The clash doesn’t damage it, but wastes much of that hour’s momentum.
He interviews renown authors and professors to ask “what’s bad?,” “who cares?” and “why ask?” Of those dozen or so, Nick Flynn, George Saunders, Steve Almond and Daniel Orosco are among the funnest.
The mediated and educated worlds take writing seriously enough that “Bad Writing” strives not to; instead it releases some of the most rank of that bad, hot and self-congratulatory air. That technical irreverence sets the filmmaker up, and us, for a cute aside. While Mr. Lott meets with the founder of a San Francisco writers’ community, “Mortified,” (where people read often private, even intimate pieces that were never meant to be heard – and certainly not in public) He stumbles at least twice as he edits himself in the middle of asking it’s founder a question.
This documentary stands out in another funky way. The lighting stands are in the shots at least half of the time, cameraman’s hands and it even boasts screwed-up shots of only David Sedaris’ hands. It’s interesting to find a film that plays with or mocks the fourth wall, which is rarely discussed outside of film lectures. This film isn’t slick in the usual way. But it is; it’s potently executed (except for that darned last act). The substance of “Bad Writing” is more important to it than, how it’s dressed. You can laugh out loud while learning. How long’s it been since you did that?
If we were to grade this: 4.5 out of 5.