Hawking Up Hairballs

Monday, November 30, 2009

Starting Out In The Evening

As I've mentioned before in this blog, I love Netflix. My queue of movies and TV shows to be watched stays at sixty to seventy DVD's. So sometimes, when a movie pops up to the top of the queue, I find myself scratching my head, wondering what caused me to chose it. In most cases, they're undoubtedly DVD's recommended by Netflix because they fit the profile that they've generated based upon my previous choices and ratings.(When you return a Netflix DVD, they ask you to rate it on a scale of one to five.) However, I can't recall being disappointed by one of these recommendations.

In any case, Starting Out In The Evening was one of those films. One day, there it was I the top of the queue. It didn't seem that interesting, judging by the synopsis on the Netflix web site, and I didn't watch it for more than a week after the DVD had arrived. When I did, I wasn't disappointed. Not that it was a great film, but it was all right.

Starting Out In The Evening is about Leonard Schiller, a New York City novelist of about seventy. When he was young, his first two novels were well received, and he was a member of the crowd of New York intellectuals that included writers like Saul Bellow. But he only wrote two more, both considered inferior to the first two. At the time of the movie, he's trying to finish a fifth one, but he's depicted as something of a has-been. His books have long been out of print, and few in the literary community have even heard of him. As the movie opens, a young woman in her early twenties is introducing herself to him. She wants to write her master's thesis on his works, and she fancies that she's going to one day publish a critical biography of him that will put him back on the literary map. From there, the story ensues.

Starting Out In The Evening was adapted from a novel of the same name by Brian Morton. The movie was interesting enough to make me want to read the novel, which I did. The film was more faithful to the text than most are but, as I expected, it took some of the edge off. In the book, Schiller is seventy pounds overweight and has to use a cane to get around. He later has a stroke, which makes it necessary for him to use a walker. In the movie, Schiller isn't anywhere near that fat and he gets around just fine. After suffering the stroke, he has to use the cane. The young woman is physically attractive in the movie. She's not in the book. There are other changes, all apparently aimed at making a fundamentally depressing story not so grim.

I say a depressing story and that might put some off, but it's depressing only in the sense that it takes an unflinching look at reality. The truth is that most novelists end up like Leonard Schiller, out of print and forgotten, or never much acclaimed. In terms of what most of us imagined for ourselves when we were young, we lead disappointing lives that end with the inevitable decline before death. It's nothing to get all upbeat about, but one doesn't end up pitying Leonard Schiller. He will leave this mortal coil with dignity and a certain nobility for having pursued his passion to his last breath.

I recommend the book because I've never read a story quite like it. I didn't much care for the writing itself. Morton isn't as precise as he could be and I found some of the writing to be sloppy. However, the story makes it worth the effort. As for the film, it's all right. Frank Langella plays Leonard Schiller and he does an excellent job. As for the rest of the film, there's nothing much remarkable about it.


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