June 21, 2016

Throw that typewriter, Lillian!

I've always hated and loved this scene from the 1977 movie Julia in equal measure.

Jane Fonda, playing the playwright Lillian Hellman, has writer's block, even though she gets to work at Dashiell Hammett's gorgeous beach house. Smoking like an angry chimney, she gets so frustrated with writing that she lets out a growling groan and throws the typewriter out the window.

While the scene captures the spirit of writer's block, or anger at one's own writing limitations, or the exasperation of digging for inspiration, it's also stupidly exaggerated and over-the-top. The scene always seemed to me like a Hollywood conception of writing, a way to make sitting and typing appear visually interesting when in reality there's nothing more boring than watching a writer try to write. While Fonda is amazing overall in the movie, the groan she lets out is ridiculous and awkward, and it's preposterous that she would throw the heavy typewriter out the window. Imagine tossing your laptop! Really, it's so outrageous and dramatic and silly and unlikely, even embarrassing in its false earnestness, a surreal joke of writing's torment played as tragedy, that it reads as camp.

In other words, it's so bad it's good. Smoke and scream, Jane! Throw that typewriter, Lillian! The sand in the typewriter keys will make writing so much easier later.

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