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

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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 & Spencer Kornhaber

Eleanor Barkhorn and Spencer Kornhaber are senior associate editors at The Atlantic.

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