Friday, June 24, 2016

"Genius," a Film about Editing (and Much More)

The minute I heard about the new film “Genius,” I was determined to see it, and soon after, I did. This movie depicts the relationship of the novelist Thomas Wolfe (played by Jude Law) and his Scribner’s editor, Maxwell Perkins (played by Colin Firth). To those of us readers who think of the creation of a literary work as an almost holy process, any insights into this process are a great gift. As is fairly well known, Wolfe was a wildly creative and seemingly undisciplined writer with an outsized personality who brought in enormous manuscripts, was very attached to his own words, and kept adding to them up to the last minute. His manuscript for “Look Homeward, Angel” had been rejected by over forty publishers when Perkins accepted it for Scribner’s. Then the two men embarked on a long, difficult process of editing it, cutting it down to a reasonable length. Much of the film shows the two in Perkins’ office, or walking, or on the train, or in various other locales, constantly talking and arguing about each phrase, each sentence, each description. Perkins was mostly endlessly patient with this brilliant but uncontainable author, and they became friends; some suggested they had an almost father-son relationship. The big question, of course, and Perkins himself brought this up at one point, is what the job of an editor is, and whether his (at that point, in the 1930s, it was always a “he”) editing made the work much better, or molded it in a way that diluted the original strength, vision, and style of the author. We also see Perkins’ family (his wife is played by Laura Linney), and Wolfe’s lover and inspiration Aline Bernstein (played by Nicole Kidman). Aline left her family for a passionate and deep relationship with Wolfe; ultimately, though, Wolfe’s allegiance was always first and foremost to his writing, and he left people behind along the way. Perkins also edited F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and there are a few scenes with those writers as well, showing the competitiveness and jockeying for reputation (and for Perkins’ favor) that took place among the three writers. The movie has received somewhat mixed reviews, as has the acting. Jude Law is accused of overacting, and Colin Firth of being too restrained. There are also complaints about British and Australian actors playing American literary figures. And some say it is just too hard to make s story about editing dramatic and interesting; it has been called "slow." To all of which I say (forgive my informality), “Whatever!” I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, the acting, the literary history, and the glimpses into the writing and editing and publishing processes, and I think you will too.
Site Meter