Journal of Writing & Environment

Web Rove: Mythic American Stories

By Elizabeth A. Giorgi

A friend and I recently got in a debate about the David Lynch film Mulholland Drive. If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you. In fact, I don’t think I can spoil it for you: its elliptical plot is the stuff of legend, complicated internet flow charts and heated arguments.

The film is set in Los Angeles, and follows (or might follow, or pretends to follow) an aspiring actress and a handful of other Hollywood types—film directors, casting agents, and hit men—through a candy-colored film noir, before a much-discussed late-act twist (the genesis of the debate between my friend and I).

“True” meaning aside, what I love about that movie is how it celebrates one of the grimiest and dreamiest aspects of America life: the gap between the stories we tell ourselves, in the soft focus and saturated color of a movie screen, and the sad, gritty or just ordinary underbelly that haunts us. American cinema is America, rendered mythic.

I’m not the only writer who has found herself captivated with the contradictions of Hollywood. Today’s web rove presents a few different takes on Tinsel Town, fictional and non-fictional.

The Rules of the Game” by Anne Helen Petersen (from the Virginia Quarterly Review)

Petersen’s comprehensive overview of the Hollywood fame machine stays just this side of gossip as it recounts how stars have been born throughout Hollywood history, from its early silent days to the world of TMZ.

Willing” by Lorrie Moore (from the New York Times)

“Something dark and coagulated moved through her, up from the feet. Something light and breathing fled through her head, the house of her plastic-wrapped and burned down to tar.”

In the opening short story from Moore’s classic collection Birds of America, aging actress Sidra burns out on the Hollywood scene and returns to her native Midwest, where she lives in a Days Inn and begins an affair with an auto mechanic.

Ted Wilson Reviews the World #229: Enver Gjokaj” by Ted Wilson (from the Rumpus)

Wilson flash reviews everything in the world for the Rumpus on a weekly basis, from Girl Scout Cookies to X-ray vision to the performance of his paperboy. In installment #229, he takes on actor Enver Gjokaj, whose chameleon-like ability to mimic almost anyone made him MVP on Joss Whedon’s short-lived Fox show Dollhouse, and leads Wilson to conclude that he might not be a real person at all, but instead a computer generated effect. I tend to agree, because whatever happened to that guy? He was amazing.

John Wayne: a love song” by Joan Didion (from the Independent)

“And so after a while the boy from Glendale became a star. He did not become an actor, as he has always been careful to point out to interviewers (‘How many times do I gotta tell you, I don’t act at all, I re-act’), but a star, and the star called John Wayne would spend most of the rest of his life with one or another of those directors, out on some forsaken location, in search of the dream.”

That’s Joan Didion on film icon John Wayne, from a 1965 essay originally published in Slouching Toward Bethlehem.