Today I present for your viewing consideration the movie Genius (2016, Rated PG-13, Available on DVD), which focuses on the relationship between Scribner's editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law).
As the man who discovered and helped to develop F. Scott Fitzgerald's talent, Maxwell Perkins is probably the most famous editor in America, and most likely the only editor whose name is well known to book lovers (other than da Junebug). Besides editing Fitzgerald's work, Perkins served as editor for Ernest Hemingway (Fitzgerald recommended Hemingway to Perkins), Erskine Caldwell, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Alan Paton, and James Joyce, among others.
But in Genius, it's Thomas Wolfe who bursts onto the literary scene and becomes almost a son to Perkins, who was the father of five daughter with his wife Louise (Laura Linney). The problem is that Wolfe has logorrhea. Perkins struggles to get Wolfe to cut his epic tomes because he is a man who is in love with words and thus has a fear and loathing of cutting a single line. Perkins gets Wolfe to cut some pages. Wolfe writes eighty more. It's a battle for the ages, but it results in the bestsellers Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and The River.
Genius has a stellar cast, with Nicole Kidman as Aline Bernstein, the woman eighteen years older than Wolfe who fell in love with him, left her husband and children for him, and financed the beginnings of his writing career. Laura Linney and Colin Firth are always good, but it's Jude Law as the manic Wolfe who stands out. I wasn't even sure that the actor onscreen was Law until the credits rolled. He was that lost in the role.
I was most pleased to hear Perkins tell Wolfe what I know to be true as an editor––that the book belongs to the author and it is the editor's job to get good books into the hands of the reading public.
Although this film is well made with a sepia overcast that seems appropriate for New York in the 1930s, I do not know if it would be of interest to the average movie goer. I do think it will be loved by writers, editors, and people who have any interest in classic literature.
Genius earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Writerly Approval. At the very least, I think it will make you want to learn more about Thomas Wolfe and about Max Perkins and the relationships he had with the authors whose works he edited. I do not think this movie would be of any interest to children.
I must admit I have never read anything by Thomas Wolfe. I'm going to add Look Homeward, Angel to my Amazon wish list.
I watched Genius on a DVD very kindly sent to me by my friends at Netflix.
Infinities of love,
|Maxwell Perkins and Colin Firth|
|Thomas Wolfe and Jude Law|
Wolfe died from tuberculosis of the brain at the age of thirty-eight. When Perkins learns of Wolfe's impending death, he states:
Maxwell Evarts Perkins: The surgeon said his brain was filled with tumors. A myriad of tumors. That's the word he used, "myriad." I think Tom would like that. The plural of "myriad" is "myriads," by the way.
Even when we are grief stricken, we editors do not forget correct word usage.