Samantha Mason, Fiction Panelist and Fundraising Co-Manager
In high school, I took Creative Writing 1, 2, 3, and 4. My teens years became a whirlwind of fiction, as I had what seemed like endless time to become immersed in the worlds I was creating on paper. College, in general, takes some getting used to, but being from Chicago and relocating to New England for school was a different kind of adjustment. As I embarked on my latest chapter, I decided to open my mind to the possibilities the east could offer me. Grateful as I am, I felt like I lost a part of myself in the first two years of college: I wasn’t writing as much as I used to.
This past summer, I contracted a case of the whooping cough for the second time in my life and had to be quarantined for a few weeks. My uncle, consequently, created a flashdrive of movies he thought I might like to aid me in my quest to escape time. All of the movies were from the Golden Age of Hollywood and as someone with an immense passion for history, I’ve always been intrigued by anything that screams old-fashioned. So, I decided to give them a watch. Following my old movie marathon, I sat back and questioned why I hadn’t watched those type of films earlier, as they possessed what I loved most about good cinema: brilliant plotlines and writing.
It didn’t take long that night for me to itch out an interesting idea for an old movie, so I got out of bed and started to jot it down. Suddenly, it hit me that the writer in me was being resurrected. After finishing a seven-page outline of the kind of screenplay I wanted to develop, I began to unravel certain components of my story that derived from the each of the five pictures I watched only hours before. I, thus, owe it to them for rebirthing me as a writer. Ever since, I have been obsessed with the Golden Age of Hollywood and all it entailed. After examining this grand era in cinematic history, I can confidently say that there is a reason why Hollywood in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s was known as golden. For any writers experiencing a drought in creative inspiration, here are five movies that are guaranteed to jolt you back to life.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
When Mildred Pierce’s (Joan Crawford) husband leaves her for another woman, the thought of falling to
pieces doesn’t so much as cross the mind of the strong-willed woman. Through several years of hard work and persistent dedication, Mildred experiences the life of a working single woman who always puts her children first. Mildred Pierce is a picture that is undeniably ahead of its time, portraying the feats a powerhouse woman is capable of. With perseverance as an overarching theme, this film was able to evoke the stamina I was lacking as a withdrawn writer. In my first two years of college, the thought of embarking upon a grandiose story was sometimes quite daunting. This, I believe, was a large part of why I wasn’t writing as often. After watching how the writers of Mildred Pierce were able to keep the audience intrigued by adding continuous plot twists in conjunction with reaching a resolution at the end of the film, I was inspired to do the same with the story I was going to write. Mildred Pierce encouraged me to be innovative with my overarching theme instead of letting it restrict me.
2. All About Eve (1950)
After finally meeting the actress, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), who she admires more than anyone, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) enters the ritzy and glamorous world of theater as Margo’s aid. Stunning both Margo and her group of friends, the adorning Eve soon reveals behaviors of a conniving young woman plotting to steal the spotlight. This picture was seemingly the first of its kind in regards to implementing a villain who the audience initially presumes to be innocent. The gradual discovery of Eve’s true intentions made the film unexpectedly gripping. As a writer, I found the shock factor exceptionally compelling and thus sought after the same element for my own story: an unforeseen villain. All About Eve is an extraordinary film that I believe can spark writers (like it did for me) into wanting to include a tradition as old as time: a villain to stir the plot.
3. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Following the completion of WWII, the lives of three veteran soldiers (Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell) are changed as they try to re-acclimate to their former homes in small-town Iowa. Today, there are many films that include a wide array of notable actors in a story where all of their lives are in some way are connected. Those movies, in truth, are usually created for the sake of the all-star cast rather than the quality of the story. The Best Years of Our Lives majorly outshines all of those modern movies as it accomplishes balancing the variety of strong characters with a captivating story. After watching this picture, I was immediately struck with the want to have multiple distinct characters in my own story. The various dynamics seen in the film, thus, enhanced the overall theme, making for a very personal experience for the audience. For writers who want to learn how to connect with their readers, this film is very inspirational.
4. Vertigo (1958)
In my opinion, this is the King of Suspense’s all time greatest film. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, former police detective John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) discretely watches over his friend’s wife (Kim Novak) in order to discern the origin of her recent strange behaviors. This little favor turns into a stream of unpredictable events that ultimately lead to the discovery of a colossal mystery. Truthfully, I watched this movie twice in a row in order to understand what I had just seen. The second time around, I enjoyed it even more as I was able to spot clues I hadn’t noticed at first. The element of mystery, I then realized, was something most readers enjoy. Vertigo successfully prompted me to implement an element of suspense in my own story in hopes to evoke the same infatuated confusion that led me to want to watch again. As a writer, it is my goal to make readers want to revisit my work multiple times after the first viewing. For writers who want to rediscover how to do this, the enthralling writing of this picture will certainly do the trick.
5. Gone With The Wind (1939)
While the greatly acclaimed film Gone With The Wind was in fact a novel first, the writing in the picture inspired me more than Margaret Mitchell’s original version. For those who don’t know, Gone With The Wind is a plantation epic that follows the lives of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), and other residents of Clayton County, Georgia, as their southern, eden-esque lives gets whisked away with the confederate defeat in the American Civil War. As someone who specializes in historical fiction, this picture spoke to me on a more personal level. This was the final film I watched during my movie marathon and it definitely was the immediate catalyst that urged me to want to write again. Gone With The Wind is the ultimate historic drama, pulling the audience right into the nineteenth century south. While I was watching, I felt the exact same way I wanted my readers to feel: like I was living in a time I would never get to physically experience. This special sentiment, I believe, is something audiences yearn to feel when reading or watching a piece of fiction. Now reflecting on the writing in Gone With The Wind, I believe it can greatly benefit writers in teaching them how to create a world for readers to get lost in. After all, that is why literature is so attractive.
As I sat at my desk at around 2:30 a.m. compiling every old movie element I wanted to include in my first piece as a revived writer, words began to flow from my fingers onto paper. As mentioned before, the piece I began to embark on was one I hope to turn into a lengthy film one day. Needless to say, I am still working on it. Now that I am about three quarters finished, I couldn’t be more proud of the perseverance I acquired from watching some of the greatest plots and screenplays unfold in front of me just several months ago. My story, loosely titled Felicity Bacall after my main character, successfully encompasses a woman who is ahead of her time, a tactical villain, 21 vivacious characters, suspenseful sequences, and, of course, is set in Colonial and Revolutionary America. Each day I add to my piece, I am further driven to complete my masterpiece.