The Problem of the Literary BioPic

  • A. Mary Murphy


THE BURGEONING interest in biography, within both popular culture and the academy, combines with the idea of film as a kind of literature to create a new body of texts which warrant study. At issue is the efficacy of film as a medium for telling literary lives, as opposed to other, more public, lives. The literary biopic may be ultimately unsatisfying because the time constraints of film make it inadequate to the demands of thoroughness a literary biography makes. Political lives, or public lives of any kind, lend themselves more easily to a medium which is so public and episodic in its nature but print is an intimate medium. Years of experiences, knowledge, and maturation, which a writer compresses into an art with a built-in slowness to it, perhaps cannot be developed with any fullness through filmable episodes skimmed from the life. As Jack Kerouac said, "Walking on water...