Well, with multiple viewings in the meantime, I suppose I can consider that another broken promise due to my movie addiction. I guess that even if the movie is absolutely disturbing, you still have to admit that it’s just excellent in so many different ways (Could we get another close-up of that infected arm, please? Thanks). This time, I borrowed the DVD from my friend from work, Roberto “Robby” Monterrosa. I watched the special features, which include a short interview where Ellen Burstyn, the brilliant actress who played Sarah Goldfarb, interviews Hubert Selby Jr., the author of the novel upon which “Requiem for a Dream” is based. The interview is insightful for a few reasons.
The first reason I enjoyed the interview was because I could see with my own eyes that Ellen Burstyn is actually a normal person; I guess her performance as a widow addicted to weight-loss uppers was a strong testament to both her superb acting abilities and a great on-set makeup and wardrobe department. The second interesting thing was Hubert Selby Jr. himself.
Selby is a pretty strange guy—you almost have to be a bit off-kilter to write something like Requiem for a Dream–and he looks even stranger when you see him (see picture above). As my wife Angela said, “If I were that guy, I’d be sure to never open my mouth when I smiled.” But all horrid teeth aside, Selby seems to be a very fascinating guy with quite a few perceptive things to say about writing in general.
When recounting how he decided to become an author, Selby says: “I knew the alphabet, so I figured I could write. See, sometimes distortions and insanity and arrogance; all these things can work to your advantage.” He explains this a bit, saying, “I’m probably the most untalented person that’s ever lived. I don’t have natural abilities; none whatsoever.”
Replying to this statement, Burstyn asks, “How can you be a writer and not have natural ability to write?”
Selby replies: “By sitting down and writing every day of your life, until you’ve learned how to write.”
For me, this was an enlighteningly simple thought. Despite having written around a hundred essays and term papers in my college and grad school career, as well as having created multiple websites dedicated to things I’ve written, I still would hesitate to call myself a writer. I guess that because I’ve never been paid for doing this, or because I’ve never been “published,” then I almost feel like I’ll be mocked if I say that I’m a writer. Maybe I feel that Shakespeare and Joyce will come out of their graves, shove me around a bit, and call me a big pussy. So, I always qualify any such statement by saying that writing is something I enjoy doing in my free time, along with walking around, rearranging my books, or drinking while trying to bake bread.
But when I heard Selby say the quote above, a sort of light went on in my head, and I thought, “Hey, I guess I’m a writer, too!” I further identified with this intuitive fellow with the goofy exterior when he said: “I had this obsession to do something with my life; I didn’t want to waste it. And so I came home every night and I wrote and wrote…”
This quote inspired me. It told me to keep going, to continue writing, and in the end, maybe I’ll get good at this whole “writing” thing. And who cares if no one reads any of this? In the end, there’s always going to be a chance that someone will read and/or enjoy it, and hopefully something good will come of this whole pursuit.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another Selby quote from the interview, although it’s a bit tangential. He talked a lot about the hard times that he’s gone through in his life, and how they’ve influenced his writing. He mentions, though, that those experiences also helped him become a more effective and inspiring writer. As Selby says near the end of the interview:
“Unless I can relate to the suffering of people, I cannot offer a solution to the suffering.”