Writing paraphenials in literature and films

February 28, 2008

Lately, I’ve noticed passages about pen and paper as I read works of literature. For example, in ‘The Shadows of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The main character is dreaming about owning a Victor Hugo Monte Blanc Meisterstruck as a symbolic rite of passage into his writing life. Or the way Monique Troung, in ‘Book of Salt’, describes the worn piece of paper which contains words from one brother to another. She describes the details of the crease and handling of fingers as the narrator read and re-reads a letter from a brother that he hasn’t spoken to in years. I’ll have to look up the quotes and put it on here. There’s something to it. The detail that the writer Graham Green brings to the environment: the famous yellow flower leaves which fall into and between the typewriter keys of the writer, the narrator of ‘The Quiet American’. For me, this yellow flower on the dry other wise bare branch bring back the memories of Tet, the Chinese Lunar year in Vietnam, when the cold tiled floor is shiny with a touch of yellow petals strewn every where near the basin of the branches and the red envelope reflects the golden shine. I’ve seen the film several times but don’t recall this detail and description. It is on the printed page, at a slower pace that I can appreciate the detail and hold it for as long as I can. (Quite American film has been added into penspotting.)

In film, I watched, fascinated, as Daniel Day Lewis shakes his fountain pen in a moment of frustration and humour, in the footages from ‘Age of Innocence’. I wonder why the director Martin Scoresese, included such details? Then there’s the powerful combination of word and images and voice. In ‘The Lover’, the narrator’s voice-over speaks and a close up shot of a fountain pen scrawls over the page. I’ve always thought it was Marguerite Duras’s voice in the film but it isn’t. It is by an actor. For a moment I think Duras is speaking to me, telling me her story.

There are, I’m sure many moments like that out there, moments which shows the act of writing, the paraphenials people use for their craft. I remember references to a commonplace book in an episode of Sherlock Holms. I do not recall the specific tile. He kept pictures of the women in his commonplace book. Because at the time, I knew of it, the detail pulled me even closer to the film.




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