Author Archives: masmart95

Sometimes, Writers Live ‘In a Lonely Place’

By Anthony Miglieri

There are a whole lot of films, and great films at that, about screenwriting. A few of the best are Barton Fink (1991), written and directed by the Coen Brothers, and Adaptation. (2002), directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. However, few films I have ever seen are able to paint such a vivid and violent portrait of a screenwriting artist as the under-appreciated noir piece In a Lonely Place (1950), which was directed by Nicolas Ray, screenwritten by Andrew Solt, and adapted by Edmund H. North from a Dorothy B. Hughes story.  

When this film opens, Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) is bitter and frustrated. He hasn’t had a hit in years and his latest assignment is to adapt a popular novel that Dix is sure is trash. Unwilling to read the bestseller himself, he has a celebrity-obsessed young woman relay the plot to him at his home. Soon after she leaves, she turns up dead and Dix strikes up a relationship with a sultry new neighbor who has doubts about his professed innocence in the case.

This film depicts the writer as an artist who strives to create something great in spite of his circumstances: the weak original novel, his agent who is afraid his superior script is not faithful enough to the book, and the murder accusation. Dix is volatile: he often gets publicly drunk and lashes out verbally and physically at friend and stranger alike. However, writing seems to give him an almost sexual sort of pleasure. For instance, when his police officer friend asks him how he supposes the murder would have happened, Dix describes in graphic detail how the strangling might have gone down, a sadistic grin splayed across his face. He revels in his own ability to imagine and create something so vivid and gruesome. He also gets inspiration from newfound love interest Laurel Gray, fueling the idea that physical/emotional pleasure and satisfactory writing go hand-in-hand for him. He relishes the ability to create with words, and being unproductive is the ultimate impotence for him.

Dix’s relationships to the women of the film also comment on the male-centric nature of the Hollywood screenwriting industry. For instance, Dix only interacts with the young woman at the beginning of the film, Mildred, played by Martha Stewart, in order to use her since he is too lazy to read the novel, and then she ends up dead. Whether or not Dix is being entirely truthful when he coolly receives the news of her murder from the police, his projected disregard for the woman is disturbing and reveals a sense of superiority over the woman.

Later, Dix finds contentment and inspiration to work when he becomes romantically involved with Laurel, played by Gloria Graham. Although Laurel does appear to genuinely care for Dix for a time, her fate is similar to that of young Laurel: Dix eventually decides she may no longer be useful to him. Only this time, he becomes violently protective and accuses her of betraying him. In the stunning final frames of this movie, which I not reveal, the fate of their relationship makes a statement about the gender politics at play: the man, traditionally in the position of power, is on a different plane.

In a Lonely Place also depicts the writer as a man who, though he relishes doing good work, projects an air of detached cool to most others.

One of my favorite bits in the film is when a friend chirps:

“I always wonder how writers work.”

His response: “Usually in a sitting position.”

In an earlier scene, a child asks him for his autograph outside a Hollywood bar. Only when the child admits he doesn’t know who Dix is does he happily oblige him. I can certainly relate to this strange dichotomy: having pride in one’s work, but also an unwillingness to brag about how good it might be. This might not be exclusive to writing, but the often-elusive nature of the writer does lend itself to this mindset.

Although I once again refuse to spoil the end of the film, I will say that it involves Dix’s hardheaded approach to his art. And in the end, his art proves to have been far more prescient than even he had imagined.

Although In a Lonely Place is chock full of searing dialogue, the most well-known quote is this:

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

This quote is multi-pronged: it is directed at Dix’s love interest, Laurel, but it also represents his obsession with his writing, the violence he has displayed toward her before, and the fleeting nature of inspiration in general. Somehow, this brilliant film manages to sum up in three sentences the passion, the romance, and the fatalism of the act of screenwriting, of writing as a whole, and of art.

Anthony Miglieri is a English Creative Writing major with minors in screenwriting and graphic arts. He is also the head web editor for on-campus entertainment news outlet The Reel Deal and an intern for Jacket Copy Creative. He also really likes old movies. You can connect with him here.

M.A. student Rachel Lauve on studying Creative Writing

Rachel Lauve is a new graduate student working toward an M.A. in creative writing from Ball State University. She earned an undergraduate degree in English Education from Ball State in May 2017

1) What degree are you pursuing (i.e., PhD in Literature, MA in creative writing, etc.)? What is it about this degree/program that interested you?

I’m currently pursuing my MA in creative writing. This particular program interested me because I felt like my time in Ball State’s creative writing department had only just begun in my undergrad, and I wanted to keep studying with this particular faculty; additionally, the fact that this program doesn’t require a genre concentration was appealing, as when I was applying, I was still figuring out which genre I really preferred. There’s always something to be learned from other genres that can be applied to your primary genre, too (e.g., I’m already itching to apply what I’ve learned about meter in poetry to my creative nonfiction essays).

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October Good News: Molly Ferguson is elected President and More!

We’ve got a lot of good news this month!

Faculty News

Andrea Wolfe will be presenting a session entitled “Facing International Students: Building Empathy through Storytelling” with Lizz Alezetes and Deborah McMillan, both of the Intensive English Institute at Ball State, at the 2017 INTESOL Conference on November 11th

Molly Ferguson was elected president of the Midwest Regional American Conference for Irish Studies. On October 6th, she presented a paper, “‘To say no and no and no again’: Fasting as Resistance in Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder” at the Midwest ACIS at the University of Missouri.

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September Good News: Kayla Peterson turns her classroom into Hogwarts (and more!)

In The News

Kayla Peterson (BA in English Ed, 2016) is an English teacher at Penn High School in Mishawaka, IN. She was recently featured on WNDU News for transforming her classroom into Hogwarts.

 

Check out the other awesome things #bsuenglish students and faculty have been up to! 

Faculty News

Kathryn S. Gardiner is a “Second Rounder” in the Austin Film Festival’s annual script competition for 2017. Second Round scripts represent the top 20% of all submissions. In addition, Kathryn submitted two feature-length screenplays to the contest—“The Art of Yielding” and “The Regiment”—and both scripts advanced to the second round. Second Rounders receive access to a variety of exclusive panels and roundtables with industry professionals at the Austin, Texas conference in October. “The Art of Yielding” is also a quarter-finalist in the 2017 Slamdance Screenplay Competition.

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Meet Prof. Brianna Mauk

Brianna Mauk earned her BA in Technical Writing from Eastern Kentucky University. She earned her MA in Rhetoric and Composition at Ohio University in Athens, OH, and she earned her PhD in Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. Brianna specializes in new media, especially social networking, and researches the intersections between technology, mobility and writing. Brianna will be teaching first-year writing and Document Design. 

How would you describe your perspective on teaching?

I tailor each of my courses and assignments to tasks and concepts that students can transfer to the rest of their college careers at Ball State.

Scholars leave my class prepared for critical thinking, analysis, different types of writing, visual design and rhetoric, as well as finding reliable sources in a variety of modes.

I truly agree with the title of my ENG 103 text that “Everything is an Argument.”

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Meet Prof. Morgan Leckie

Morgan C. Leckie comes to us from Miami of Ohio’s graduate program in Composition and Writing, by way of California. Her research is on digital feminist rhetorical practices and reproductive justice advocacy. She will be teaching first-year writing and professional writing, including Jacket Copy Creative, our department’s immersive learning class that functions as our in-house PR firm.

How would you describe your perspective on teaching? On learning?

I get really bell hooks about this topic. “Teaching is an act of love.” I can’t help but agree with her on that. I believe learning is change. Education is revolution. For me, my own education quite literally changed my socio-economic identity. But it also made me more compassionate, more easily willing to interrogate my own privilege and perspectives. When I think back along the winding trajectory of my own learning, I am struck by the teachers whose belief in me and whose own willingness to transgress, to love, essentially, shaped the women and teacher I am now. So when I teach and learn with my students, I am always feeling love for them, for my own journey, and for the process of changing us all into better citizens of the world. Deep, I know! 🙂

Who are your biggest role models in life?

Probably Leslie Knope.  And Sojourner Truth.  And my ma and pops.  All people who learned and taught the lesson: It’s what you do with and how you do without.  

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