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Coren At Large
by Michael Coren

BY THE TIME this column appears, the movie Shadowlands, about the life of thenovelist and philosopher C. S. Lewis and his relationship with the poet joyDavidman, will likely have completed its Canadian run. Anthony Hopkins and DebraWinger will probably he about to appear in other films, playing serial-killercannibals, lovesick war criminals, feminist lawyers, and butIers who either didor did not do it. Lewis himself would have been sickened bythe thought of his work and his views being portrayed on the screen by anactor. He Simply Would not have understood the reason for it. If you want toknow about me, know me, read my books, he often said. Lewis was more correctthan he knew. indeed, in the entire two hours of Shadowlands wedo not see Clive StapIes Lewis writing anything at all -- he does,however, smoke a pipe quite a lot; and all authors do that, don`t they? There is a vehement contradiction, aninherent oxymoron, involved in films about authors. Writers` lives are invariably,and in fact almost must be, relatively dull: literary creation involvestedious, isolated weeks, Months, and years in a study, behind a desk, in frontof a word processor, putting words on paper. The more one talks about it theless one does it. Oscar Wilde might have keen involved inwitty conversations at the Cafe Royal and a nasty court case, Dylan Thomasmight have drunk himself across two continents, Malcolm Lowry might have killeda man, and Robertson Davies might even have a budgie called Derek. But none ofthis is particularly important. What matters is not the costume and thepackaging, but the body and the contents. Authors are authors because theywrite. For a movie to authentically recreate the life of a writer it would haveto devote at least half of its time to the image of fingers holding a pen or ofhands typing at a keyboard. Some films that have portrayed writershave been entertaining in themselves -- one thinks, for example, ofJeremy Irons as Kafka (Kafka) and Ian McKellen as D.H. Lawrence (Priest of Love). They were successful,however, precisely because they wallowed in the flummery rather than thereality of a writer`s life. The often stultifying boredom of writing iseschewed by movie-makers, as it should be by any director or actor whoknows what is good for his or her career. At their worst, movies that featureauthors as their main protagonists arc marvelIously had.You know the sort of thing: Scene: Paris, 1864, July. The summermansion of Napoleon 111. There is a sound of knocking on the huge doors. Exitthe royal door-opener to ascertain who it is. He returns, carrying aheavy French accent. Servant: "Your Highness, there is aman at the front of the palace with a book under his arm. He says that his nameis Flaubert." Benign Dictator: "Aha. Show him in,I wish to patronize an author of promise and with any luck this might just bethe man." The penchant for the authorial biopic also says a great deal about contemporarysensibilities, about a world where only an estimated 10 percent of the people who purchasedStephen Hawking`s A Short History of Timeactuallyread the thing. We like our literature in sound-bite chunks, predigested,effortless, and, of course, available on video cassette within the year. Theproblem with books, particularly with good books, is that they require morethan a couch, a hag of popcorn, and a television converter. We use one part ofour brain when we watch a screen, a different part of it when we read a book --a much larger part of it, at that. Yet effort is out of fashion in a societywhere instant and facile gratification is at the core of a multinational,billion-dollar industry. One cannot help recalling the immortalconversation that took place in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire between the athleteHarold Abrahams and his lover. "I won`t run if I can`t win," from thesprinter. "If you don`t run you can`t win," from his guru-likepartner. Imagine the National Film Board`s bilingual production of They Called Him Mordecai. "I won`t write if Ican`t win the Booker," from our hero. His agent responds: "If youdon`t write, You won`t even win the G.G., Mr. Richler." Godhelp us, God help its all.

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