How to Make Films About Writers: With Sex, Suicide, and Conspiracies

'Anonymous' scandalizes Shakespeare in the latest Hollywood attempt to make authors into subjects of high drama

Anonymous's scandalizing of Shakespeare is the latest Hollywood attempt to make authors into subjects of high drama

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Columbia Tri-Star

Writing is boring to watch. But Hollywood still finds a way to make movies about real-world writers. Unlike with biopics about athletes, musicians, and artist, there's no visual appeal to a writer's craft. So you tend to end up with embellishments, falsifications, and gimmicks in films about authors (perhaps even more so than normal for movies). The struggle to pen a classic novel may play a role in these films, but often it's secondary to the role played by juicy romantic plot lines. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Anonymous, which arrives in theaters Friday, embodies this phenomenon perhaps more than any other film: Director Roland Emmerich has embraced a widely discredited conspiracy theory about William Shakespeare's authorship of his own works, and ladled a hefty extra helping of dramatic license on top of that. It's a movie ostensibly about writing and history that invents a nymphomaniac Queen Elizabeth. Does it get anymore ridiculous than that? Not really. But close. Below, a round up of other attempts to dramatize writers' lives. Each, in their own way, tries to make scribbling sexy.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Spencer Kornhaber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers pop culture and music. He was previously an editor at Patch.com and a staff writer at OC Weekly. He has written for Spin, The AV Club, and RollingStone.com.

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