The reviews of Hereafter, Clint Eastwood’s new film about the possibility of life after death, have been rather mixed, with some critics claiming it to be Clint’s new masterpiece and others expressing disappointment at its lackluster conclusion. Having seen it this past weekend, I’m siding with the naysayers. The film is slow, dull, and lacks drama despite the subject and the slam-bang opening. How do you top the tsunami that almost kills one of the film’s major characters? Try the London Book Fair.
Yes, the London Book Fair, one of the largest book trade shows in the world, is the genteel setting where Hereafter‘s three main protagonists finally connect in what is supposed to be the dramatic and moving climax. By this point, I had stopped watching the movie as an ordinary bored moviegoer and had started critiquing it as a publishing professional. (Nice shots of the Simon & Schuster booth! Those exhibit aisles are too quiet and empty! Where are all the agents and publishers? Wow, I wish Derek Jacobi could read Charles Dickens at next year’s BookExpo America! Is Sir Derek plugging a real audiobook ? I wonder how much he got paid for that two-minute scene.) As a proud veteran of many library and book trade shows, I know that not even a star like Matt Damon can just casually wander into the LBF without some sort of credentials, or at least paying admission. And apparently LBF security was looking the other way as a young English boy (played by Frankie McClaren) forlornly roams the exhibit hall without adult supervision.
What I also disliked about the movie is how deceptively easy it made the publishing process‚ from manuscript to published book‚ appear to be. Having survived the tsunami, the traumatized French journalist (played by Cécile de France) takes a break from her TV job to write a biography of François Mitterand, the late French president. She meets her publisher in sleek offices overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Yeah, right! When she decides instead to write about her near-death experience, her publisher rejects her proposal as too New Age but kindly gives her the names of several English and British publishers who might be interested. The next shot shows the journalist mailing her manuscript (after a quick research trip to Switzerland) followed by a scene in which she is awakened by a phone call from a small press in New Mexico. Surprise! They want to publish her book.
Oh, and would she would be willing to do a reading at the London Book Fair? No problem! We then follow our author as she checks into a luxurious suite at London’s elegant five-star Mayfair Hotel. Is that tiny New Mexico publisher footing the bill? Given that London is a notoriously expensive city, they are in for some sticker shock.
Why aren’t there better movies about book publishing? Perhaps it’s laziness on the part of screenwriters who used tired images and storylines (the pipe-smoking, bow-tied editor, the struggling writer whose first novel is an instant best seller) and directors who go for easy and pretty images. It can’t be for a lack of drama. If screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher can create a compelling movie about the founding of Facebook (The Social Network), it seems that the radical technological changes now throwing the book industry into turmoil would inspire an equally talented movie team. Until then, I’ll have to satisfy myself with my favorite movie about publishing, Mike Nichol’s Wolf, which features Jack Nicholson and James Spader as competitive book editors‚ and dueling werewolves.