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in Filmmaking
on Mar 24, 2008

Scott Timberg’s L.A. Times profile of Bret Easton Ellis — in a piquantly titled column called “Reassessments” — is worth a read.

It’s got this strong section on contemporary storytelling’s fixation on defined, understandable characters, which includes quotes by A.O. Scott and Jonatham Lethem:

Of all the things the literary world holds against Ellis, his lack of interest in characters with recognizable psychological depth may be the most unforgivable. His players are impassive to the point of opaque. They resemble each other so completely they almost cease to exist. In “Psycho” and “Glamorama” people are often mistaken for each other: It’s as if they’re beyond identity itself.

Ellis, Meghan O’Rourke wrote in a Slate defense of the writer, is “challenging the notion that there’s such a thing as an authentic self equipped with a compelling inner life that somehow matters.”

Said Scott: “From Gatsby to Rabbit to Saul Bellow’s characters, the one thing that’s prized in American fiction is the creation of virtual characters who are ‘more real’ than actual people. But you see the impulse to distrust psychology” in a counter-tradition that includes William Burroughs and Joan Didion, Ellis’ main influences.

“We’re in a culture that congratulates itself on being very surfacey and ironic,” said Lethem. “But it’s really the opposite — we’re really Victorian: Everything has to have a back story; every movie that’s remade has the villain’s previously inexplicable motive explained, usually through child molestation.”

And then there’s this killer closer:

He’s realized he’s not very good at script doctoring, and he’s mostly writing scripts for films that have not been made; the writers strike interrupted four of his projects. Hollywood had seemed like it would be an easy world to navigate. “I found out that it isn’t — much to my surprise because I’d grown up around it. But I didn’t know it was going to be as difficult or stressful as it turned out to be.”

While he hardly seemed depressed — he’s recovered from a long, hard-drinking, itinerant meltdown that followed the death of his boyfriend in 2004 — he offered, half-jokingly, that he’s in a “lost period.” He had the look of a man still unsure whether his life’s work adds up to anything, but who’d like to put off worrying about it for a little longer.

“I always thought this was going to be Jay McInerney’s second act and not mine,” Ellis, finishing his cappuccino and preparing to stand up, said of his old friend and rival, who in 2006 married Anne Hearst.

“I though he was going to become the alcoholic screenwriter and I was gonna marry the heiress.”

Ellis is currently working on a sequel to Less than Zero — same characters, 20 years later.

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