Writer’s Desk: Don’t Listen to What They Say

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Ben Hecht (Culver Pictures)

Ben Hecht, one of history’s great newspapermen and playwrights (The Front Page) before he became that drollest and most cynical of Hollywood scripters (Scarface), never read like somebody who cared a whit about what somebody thought of his writing.

To wit, Hecht’s advice to writers:

Criticism can never instruct or benefit you. Its chief effect is that of a telegram with dubious news. Praise leaves no glow behind, for it is a writer’s habit to remember nothing good of himself. I have usually forgotten those who have admired my work, and seldom anyone who disliked it. Obviously, this is because praise is never enough and censure always too much.

So, in short, ignore it all and get back to work. Unless the praise/critique comes from your editor, in which case sometimes you may have to listen.

Screening Room: ‘De Palma’

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Brian De Palma isn’t the kind of director who usually gets his own appreciative documentary. For one, he’s still alive and making films. For another, those films are usually twisted psychodramas just barely this side of exploitation thrillers.

Directed by filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, De Palma opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

Baumbach and Paltrow’s approach is simple: Put a camera on De Palma as he walks us through his oeuvre, inserting strategic clips from his work or cinematic references as needed. There’s a brief dash through his autobiographical particulars before getting to the heart of the matter. Afterward the structure is chronological, bracketed by his little-seen college work from the 1960s (Wotan’s Wake) to the smaller independently financed films made since his self-imposed exile in Paris (Redacted, Femme Fatale). In between is one of cinema’s most unique and unlikely careers, swerving from psychological thrillers to horror, camp, gangster and war epics, and back again to psychological thrillers. It’s more than enough for De Palma to discuss…

Here’s the trailer: