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What does publishing mean to Hollywood?

April 2, 2009 |  8:08 am


Why is Hollywood so entranced by books, the Guardian asks? Not just using them as the basis for films, but as a way to define character?

There was Meg Ryan, the sassy bookstore owner who did battle with -- and fell for -- chain owner Tom Hanks in "You've Got Mail" -- the remake of 1940's "The Shop Around the Corner" shifted the commercial realm from tchotchkes to books. There was Hugh Grant, the clumsy-yet-adorable bookshop owner in "Notting Hill." Having a character run a bookstore seems to be a way to represent that they're smart, not particularly ambitious and socially awkward.

Then comes the supply side of the world of publishing. The Guardian notes that in the upcoming film "The Proposal," Sandra Bullock plays a book editor -- and she cuts a much finer figure than the real-life versions. Bridget Jones worked in publishing PR. Meryl Streep -- as Miranda Priestly -- ran a cutthroat, elite fashion magazine.

What the Guardian doesn't get to are the biopics. Charles Bukowski comes alive onscreen in "Barfly," in a masterful performance by Mickey Rourke. Truman Capote was the subject of a feature film in 2005 ("Capote") and another in 2006 ("Infamous"). Johnny Depp has played gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. "Naked Lunch" portrays William Burroughs as writer more than the contents of his masterpiece. And Ken Russell's "Gothic" (1987) focused on a weekend of strange goings-on between Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary, (played by Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands and Natasha Richardson, respectively).

So then the movie shorthand goes like this: Booksellers are calm and vaguely antisocial, publishing industry types are high-key and extravagant dressers, and authors are crazy drunken drug-dabbling escapists.

But this list is by no means complete. What are the counter-examples?

(And let's leave journalists out of this one; between "All the Presidents Men" and "The China Syndrome," we're far too likely to think of ourselves as heroic.)

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Brian Hamill