Saturday, August 24

Storytelling takes a new form


Novelist, screenwriter and director Paul Auster finds himself at the intersection of film and book media not entirely by choice. In fact, his entire career was not his choice.

“In some sense, writers don’t choose what they do so much as get chosen to do it,” said Auster, whose latest film, “The Inner Life of Martin Frost” will be screening at the James Bridges Theater tonight.

“Because if you sit back and think about it rationally, it’s very strange. You … make up things that don’t exist. I think only a person who feels absolutely driven to do it will do it. Because you can’t expect to earn any money from it, you can’t expect any glory, you just do it because you feel that you have to do it,” Auster added.

Most writers never quite reach the stage of actually giving their characters flesh and blood on the big screen, but Auster believes that the medium of film is essential for some of his stories.

“I’m not a full time filmmaker. I’ve done it a few times, because I thought of stories that can be visualized instead of simply written. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to make them. I think of film … as an extension of my work as a writer, a storyteller. It’s just another medium,” he said.

Mona Simpson, a creative writing professor at UCLA, first met Auster while working with him at Princeton University, where they became friends. When Simpson heard that Auster was working on a film, she invited him to come to UCLA and share his work through the Friends of English program.

The program is geared toward creating a community between graduates, students, faculty, and professional authors and actors, and hosts several special guests every year.

Simpson, who also does readings at the Hammer Museum, thought it might be a good opportunity for Auster to share “The Inner Life of Martin Frost” with the UCLA community. “He has a lot of readers already at UCLA and I think that his venture into very literary films might be particularly appropriate to UCLA students,” Simpson said.

Auster quickly agreed, jumping at the chance to show his film to students. “I wanted to show this film in Los Angeles, and it turns out that Mona Simpson, an old friend of mine, offered to do it at UCLA,” Auster said.

Though Auster’s ascent in the literary world has allowed him to dip into the fast-paced, pricey world of filmmaking, Auster struggled financially when he first started out. Auster dabbled in odd jobs ranging from a seaman on an oil tanker to a teaching position at Princeton University, where he taught creative writing.

Once he was able to support himself only on his writing, he decided to focus solely on producing his works.

Since then, the Brooklyn-based author has written over 10 books and five screenplays, edited collections of stories and poetry, as well as translated several works from French, and has worked to compile public submissions for National Public Radio’s National Story Project.

Most recently, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received Spain’s Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras in 2006.

In a playful twist of self-reflexivity, or what Auster calls a plot shaped like a “Chinese box,” Auster’s stories are often about writing and writers. “What (“˜The Inner Life of Martin Frost’) is about is a story about a man who writes a story about a man who writes a story,” Auster said. “I feel extremely close to (my characters.) So close that they feel real to me and it’s an odd thing to walk around with these people that you invented sometimes 25 years ago, and they’re still living inside of you. It’s a really uncanny sensation,” Auster said.

Despite his successful production of several films, Auster says that he still considers himself primarily a writer, rather than a writer-turned-filmmaker. “I’ve had occasional forays into the film world,” Auster said.

Much like his title character in “The Inner Life of Martin Frost,” Auster’s ideas of writing pervade throughout his entire life. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Auster’s wife, Siri Hustvedt, is also an author, and that his daughter, Sophie Auster, whose fame as a singer is burgeoning in France and America, plays the role of a muse ““ literally, an embodiment of artistic inspiration ““ in her father’s latest movie. As for the stories, he might say they just come to him.

“There’s a voice-over in the film where we see Martin arrive at the country house (with) no intention of writing at all but then he begins wandering around and an idea for a story just comes to him. And then the narration says, “˜that’s how it always seems to work with stories. One minute there’s nothing, and the next minute it’s there, already sitting inside you,’” Auster said.

“I’ve never been able to witness the birth of an idea. It’s a very strange thing but there’s nothing and then there’s something.”

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