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DVD Review: The Drama of Creation – Writers on Writing

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“Everybody has to find his own song. Now, I can look at you, Mr. Loomis, and see you a man who done forgot his song. Forgot how to sing it. A fellow forget that and he forget who he is. Forget how he’s supposed to mark down life…See, Mr. Loomis, when a man forgets his song, he goes off in search of it…till he find out he’s got it with him all the time.” playwright August Wilson — Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

The new DVD The Drama of Creation: Writers on Writing is a series of interviews conducted with some of the leading playwrights of our time. Though the actual form involved is plays, the interviews strike to the heart of all writing. For those who love the play of language and its power to alter our perceptions of the world this DVD is a must view.

The interviews take place at the William Inge Center for the Arts in Kansas and are framed and narrated by the Artistic Director Peter Ellenstein. All the playwrights were guests of the center at the time of the interviews. The film is divided into sections that deal with different topics of the writing art and craft. Indeed the film is about both the art and the craft — the inspiration and vision and also some of the nuts and bolts necessary to create the vision. Each section weaves through the different playwrights, and though each interview is of an individual, the thoughts of one playwright segue to the thoughts of another.

The beginning section addressed the question, “Why do you write?” As a writer myself I was struck by a story told by Romulus Linney who, for a long time in life, doubted his ability to have anything to say and as a consequence didn’t write. On a visit to a Buddhist temple in Kyoto he stood engaged by the vision of a Zen rock and gravel garden. Suddenly in an epiphany he thought, “If stones and sand can be as extraordinary as this, if these basic elements can be organized by an unknown artist to have such meaning, then by god I can create something from my limited experience.” This story gets to the heart of the film as it becomes a means to show how each artist comes to arrange the rocks and sand of their personal lives into the vision we call plays.

After a winding course through the different playwrights, the journey finally comes to several encounters with Arthur Miller, who appears as a sort of hoarse-voiced godfather of the whole proceeding. During the course of one segment he discusses the evolution of Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. The scene carries such immense creative weight that it’s difficult not to feel awe. As viewers we find ourselves sitting in a study with Arthur Miller talking about the craft of writing. It is fortunate that the filmmakers were able to capture such moments. We also encounter Wendy Wasserman (The Heidi Chronicles), Jerome Lawrence (Inherit the Wind), Horton Foote (Trip to Bountiful), William Gibson (The Miracle Worker) and Terence McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman), to give only a partial listing. There is a certain timeliness and foresight in recording these interviews as at least three of the playwrights (Miller, Wasserman, and August Wilson) have died within the last year.

One of the threads linking the playwright’s thoughts was the idea that their words were music and it is evident that each person has found and is singing their own song. Watching this film will not, by any stretch of the imagination, teach a writer the tricks to be successful. In the end, those notes of the song have to be discovered by each writer. The value of the film lies in inspiration. For a receptive person the film may stand as Romulus Linney’s Zen rock garden itself or it may point to the rock garden that each artist must find and arrange for his or her own self. In an invitation to the viewer, the potential artist, Edward Albee offers the observation that, “Don’t think of excellence as a threat. Excellence is not a threat because there is not enough excellence. I would prefer that there were ten times as many excellent playwrights. The world would be a better place.”

The film is produced by Films for the Humanities & Sciences as an educational tool for classes in writing. The DVD is priced at $29.95 for home use (item number 34866) and and a price of $150 covers public performance rights. They offer a free thirty day trial at their Films on Demand service that delivers film content over the internet. Type the word “review” in the playlist code box and select “Go.” Click the “Play” button in the lower left-hand corner underneath the black screen. This free, full-length feature is for private use only, not for broadcast, and will expire at midnight on March 17, 2006. I can’t recommend this film highly enough for aspiring writers to jumpstart themselves. If you’re adventurous enough you might try out the free trial. For teachers of writing I would suggest that you add it to your wish list of instructional tools.

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About John Spivey

  • I sometimes debate within myself the merits of watching/listening to other people talking about writing. Sometimes it can be inspiring, and on other occasions it can be down right threatening. How can I even begin to do that, you might think. I damn well hate Zen so how I’m I ever going to find my perfect arrangement of thoughts and words?

    It doesn’t evern have to be Zen, it can be any fancy allusion that a intelligent writer might use to describe his process. Too often it can lead away from the actual doing. Art is doing. If you don’t do, you can’t be an artist.

    The best advice someone ever gave me was, you want to be a writer? Write, and keep writeing and never stop. Write what ever comes into your head about whatever you want. But keep writing and don’t think about it.

    That doesn’t mean don’t be critical about what you’ve done, and not try to continually improve, but it means don’t think about what you’re doing. Writing is already more open to being screwed around by the brain than any other art form because it relies more on intellect than something like painting, dance, visual arts etc.

    You start sitting around talking about it, or analysing it, you run the risk of not doing anything. I’ve been working really hard at putting that into practice for myself, and the results have been actually quite stagering.

    Since the end of last March, so lets say a year’s time, I’ve written around 400 posts for blogs, some poems, about 80 posts for a forum or two that have been more than a few paragraphs, and a 100,000 plus word draft of a novel.

    You know what? I feel like I’ve been slacking off and not doing enough. But I’ve improved, just by writing and writing and writing. There’s no secret formula, there’s no magic trick, and I sure haven’t sat around waiting for the muse to get off her butt and help.

    Writing is a skill with its own arcane mysteries and rules that have to be learned and understood. The best way to do that is keep writing. If you’re expecting perfection the first time out, you’re in the wrong field.

    Sure it’s fun to sit around watching other writers talk about their experiences, but they can’t write your book for you, so they’re really not that much good in the end. Honour their work, and respect their craftmanship, and than think about all the work that went into actually writing Death Of A Salesman

    That’s the true lesson you’ll get from a movie like that.


  • As an addendum to this article I recieved the following information from John Hartnett of Films.com regarding this DVD.

    I was very appreciative of your thoughtful review of The Drama of Creation. I’m glad you enjoyed it and saw its value to other writers — particularly those starting out and most likely in need of inspiration. I also wanted to let you know that the $149 price is for public performance rights — but that the home video cost is only $29.95 (item number is 34866 if anyone is interested in purchasing) . In addition, your readers could watch the film in its entirety for free on FMG ON Demand (an online streaming service).

    To watch the entire movie online, go to Films on Demand and type the word “review” in the playlist code box and select “Go.” Click the “Play” button in the lower left-hand corner underneath the black screen. This free, full-length feature is for private use only, not for broadcast, and will expire at midnight on March 17, 2006.