“We’re making it because no one else, incredibly, has made a documentary about Joan Didion. It’s a mystery.”
During my senior year of college, the majority of my otherwise lax schedule (a brief flirtation with a double major had loaded up my credits during junior year) was built around a class called “Road Write,” a high-level class for English majors that was pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a class about the road, and also a class about writing. We read lots of books and poetry by the Beats, lots of books about California (I went to school in Los Angeles, but Road Write’s curriculum covered the entire state without prejudice) about travel, about movement, and about creativity. We also zipped through stacks of Joan Didion, burning through her earlier works like “Play It as It Lays” and “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” We took trips to Malibu and Big Sur and Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, places that appear throughout Didion’s works. We did art projects. We visited a yurt. We drank a lot.
Our reading list instilled a love for certain authors and stories in us that hadn’t been previously tapped into during lower-level, more classics-driven classes. While some of my classmates turned to the Beats and never looked back, I went nuts for Didion, a passion that hasn’t abated in the decade plus since my semester of Road Write ended. On just a personal level, I want to see a Didion-centric doc so badly that it actually aches, but despite my own desires, such a documentary will provide plenty for even Didion neophytes – which is why it’s pretty great that you can just go ahead and pay for such a film right now.
Didion’s nephew, Griffin Dunne (yes, that Griffin Dunne), has taken to Kickstarter to gather the cash for We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live, a planned documentary about Didion’s life and work. Dunne is intent on sharing stories about Didion and about her actual stories, using a “collage” method to bring her written works to life, from her fiction to her fact-based essays.
Didion is a prolific writer, and although movie lovers and cinephiles alike will likely find merit in a film about such a wild and widespread life, Didion’s connection to the movies is a bit bigger than “hey, we’re making a movie about her,” because she wrote movies, too.
Didion’s cinematic resume includes five screenplays, including The Panic In Needle Park, which she wrote alongside her husband John Gregory Dunne, and contributions to the 1976 version of A Star is Born. Didion and Dunne also adapted her own “Play It as It Lays” into the 1972 film of the same name, and later worked on the script for Up Close & Personal (an experience so trying that Dunne wrote an entire book about it, titled “Monster: Living Off the Big Screen,” which rips the Hollywood system and is a must-read for movie fans who love inside baseball about the industry). Didion’s “A Book of Common Prayer” is currently being turned into a film, though Didion did not adapt her work for Campbell Scott’s film.
Didion’s sharp wit and unique writing style (personal and confessional, but also weirdly universal) are her hallmarks, and her story and career are (and should be) inspirational to all kinds of artists – the perfect subject for a documentary.
If you aren’t familiar with Didion’s personal life, well, just steel yourself before you watch Dunne’s very good pitch video for the project, because it includes plenty about some of the tremendous heartbreaks Didion has faced in her later years. Didion, of course, has written extensively about them, and Dunne doesn’t shy away from discussing the cathartic nature of Didion’s stories about her own tragedies, the kind of things that would fell lesser people.
You might cry. I cried a lot, and this is just a five minute video. Imagine the final product.
As of this writing, the Kickstarter has already surpassed its goal of $80,000, and with 29 days left to go, it looks like Dunne’s documentary will far exceed its original goals. More Didion goodness! Donate now! Donate often!