Quite by chance, while wasting time one afternoon watching tv when I should have been writing, I happened upon an old black and white movie that dealt very pithily with the thorny question of how writers see themselves. So I thought I’d share it with you.
The movie wasn’t really about the existential angst of writers at all. (Just as well – what a grim affair that would have been!) No, it was a Western, the story of the last days of a desperate gun-slinger. But the narrative perspective was not solely that of the gun-slinger. Much of the film was seen from the point of view of a character who was following him around, carrying an ancient typewriter in a travelling case, with the intention of making himself famous by writing the gun-slinger’s biography. Does anyone else remember this film?
The point in the film that deals with the question of the validity of an author’s status comes when the would-be biographer walks into a bar and orders a drink. The grizzled old bartender asks him what he does and he replies with great enthusiasm that he’s a writer.
‘Oh yeah,’ the bartender replies, looking completely unimpressed. ‘Had any books published?’
‘Not yet,’ the would-be biographer,’ tells him, ‘but I’m going to have.’ And he launches into an account of his great project.
But the bartender stops him in his tracks. ‘Listen son,’ he says, putting a glass of whisky down on the bar, ‘when someone else tells you you’re a writer, then you’re a writer, but not before.’ Then he spits into a bucket and turns away.
I think the screenwriter had a lot of fun putting that scene in