5 Great Biopics About Writers

Slyvia Plath stuck her head in the oven, Lord Byron had a pet bear at Cambridge, and Marquis de Sade makes 50 Shades of Grey look like a children's book. The lives of writers are certainly film-worthy. Released this week and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Kill Your Darlings follows the lives of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs during the time of Lucien Carr's murder in 1944. Featuring all of the outrageous characters, illicitness, and counterculture of the Beat Generation, the movie looks promising and reminded us that writers' lives make for very interesting films.

Slyvia Plath stuck her head in the oven, Lord Byron had a pet bear at Cambridge, and Marquis de Sade makes 50 Shades of Grey look like a children's book. The lives of writers are certainly film-worthy. Released this week and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Kill Your Darlings follows the lives of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs during the time of Lucien Carr's murder in 1944. Featuring all of the outrageous characters, illicitness, and counterculture of the Beat Generation, the movie looks promising and reminded us that writers' lives make for very interesting films.

'Barfly'

Based on the life of writer Charles Bukowski, Barfly focuses on the author’s alter ego named Henry Chinaski. It covers the typical story of an aimless man working dead end jobs and drinking heavily on the weekends. But the film nails it. The character sketches are phenomenal, letting us get inside the mind and life of the depressingly funny Chinaski through a backdrop of grimy bars and complex people. Its charm is perhaps summed up best by Roger Ebert who stated that the movie is filled with “the kinds of people we try not to see, and yet might enjoy more than some of our more visible friends.”

'Capote'

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote is perfect. The film follows Capote’s fascination with the murder of the Clutter family, which served as the topic of his book In Cold Blood. Hoffman shows Capote's vulnerabilities — making his selfish desires to finish his book and that he is taking advantage of fragile people — seem all too human. It also manages to show how the media uses the subject of ruined humanity and daily tragedies into spectacular entertainmentCapote gives us a plate full of moral ambiguities that we can neither justify nor turn our backs on.    

'Howl'

The other Allen Ginsburg film. Howl follows the life and work of the beat poet, focusing on his poem “Howl” and its controversial lines that caused an obscenity trial. James Franco provides a nuanced and thoughtful Allen Ginsberg, and the nonlinear narrative energizes the film’s superb literary criticism. The film feels true, choosing to focus more on the legacy and transcendence of the poem than on attempting to deconstruct Ginsberg’s life.     

'American Splendor'

Harvey Pecker seemed to be many things: champion of the graphic novel, irritable misanthrope who got kicked off David Letterman's show, cancer patient. But what this movie captures so well is who Pecker was as an artist: melancholy, funny, and sometimes unlikable, but a visionary nonetheless.

'The Hours'

Based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, The Hours follows three generations of women whose lives are all somehow linked to Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. Nicole Kidman plays a viscerally disturbing and haunting Virginia Woolf as she battles her inner demons with depression. Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore also star in the film as regretful and tormented characters. But the movie is not about the lives of three separate women. By taking risks with flashbacks and dipping its toe in surrealism, the film shows how these three women embody different renderings of Mrs. Dalloway, reveling the various multitudes that they and their literary patron had.