“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold”: biography of a “real” writer


Griffin Dunne’s biographic documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” (2017) presents a reasonably straightforward documentary of the American writer, now 83 and living in Sacramento, CA, near where she grew up. It often presents her now speaking for herself.

The title of the film is a bit enigmatic, but her own philosophy seems to stress atomization and quantum-like unpredictability of life.

Didion’s writing philosophy is a bit like mine , with her “new journalism”, where she presents non-fiction narratives as if they were novel plots, using irony wherever if occurs. But she was able to do this with subject matter other than her own life, which I have not.  She has been an old-fashioned professional writer, hired to do pieces (on typewriters in the pre-computer days), as on her first job with Vogue, where her first assignment was about self-respect or self-concept.

The most interesting part of her output, as presented in the film, seems to be a personal account, “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2006), which she would adapt as a stage play.  I haven’t read it (yet) but is sounds a bit like the way I approached my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (1997).

But she wrote a number of novels, getting very much outside of herself. The most interesting of these seems to be “Play It as It Lays” which she adapted to a screenplay. She also authored “Panic in Needle Park”.

The film shows her interest early in life in the welfare of California farm workers, including migrants. In New York, she took an interest in The Central Park Five case (which Ken Burns made into a documentary film in 2012, legacy review), and the film quotes a younger Donald Trump.

A possible fiction comparison would be provided by the Coen Brothers 1991 film “Barton Fink” (Fox), with John Turturro.

Name:  “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold”
Director, writer:  Griffin Dunne
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play, 2017/12/31
Length:  94
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Ebert

(Posted: Monday, January 1, 2018, at 11 AM EST)The

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