Mr. Ex and I went out to see "The Man Who Loved Women" back in 1977 when it was first released. We were especially amused by the scene where The Man drives his lover around in the fresh air with the windows rolled down in an attempt to erase the post-coital flush from her cheeks. When I saw this movie all those years ago, well....it was quite simply a movie about a man who loved women.
I just watched the film again last night and was completely stunned to find it's really a movie about writing--more specifically, writing memoir.
Book-ended by scenes of The Man's funeral, the movie establishes his addiction to women in a few brief scenes, and then after an unexpected rejection by a woman he's expressed interest in, he is thrown into an evening of self-reflection. He combs through photos of old lovers, thinks back, and asks himself why he is so addicted to serial love. Inspired by his question, he grabs his typewriter from the top of his bookcase and begins to tap out his story. After he's completed several chapters, he takes the book to a professional typist who finds his story so disturbing that she refuses to type the next installment. The Man is devastated by her rejection.
To write is to express yourself, the man muses later, sitting alone at home in the dark. It is also to expose yourself to judgement. My very first reader had blacklisted me. From a somewhat later vantage point, he continues, At first I stopped writing. I lost interest in everything. Then I began to read nineteenth century autobiographies. How do you write about yourself? How did others do it? What were the rules? I realized there were no rules--that each book was different and expressed the author's personality. Each page, each sentence of an author belonged to him alone. His writing is as personal to him as his fingerprints.
There's even a scene about self-publishing when The Man's physician shows him the book he's written about fishing, and admits that he himself bore the cost of publishing it. Luckier than his doctor, The Man finds a publisher for his story. Before the book is released, The Man runs into a former lover that has not been revealed in the scenes from his book. After their meeting, he phones his publisher in a panic, telling her that he needs to re-write the book because he's just realized that he wrote the book because of a woman whom doesn't even mention. You want to write one book, you end up with another, the publisher tells him. She explains that this is what happens sometimes, and that the man now has a reason to write a second book.
At the end of the movie as the parade of women arrives for the Man's funeral, there's voiceover narration from the publisher as she observes first-hand the women she's read about. The Man is dead, but There is something that will endure, she says. A remembrance. A rectangular object. 320 bound pages. We call that a book.
Memoir. A story that answers a big question. A story that reveals something not just to the reader, but to the writer. Something that will endure. A book.
old hilltop villages, crumbling castles, chateaux with towers, pretty much any French food I've ever eaten, a Kir before dinner, red wine, meals that take forever, French kissing, French fries (known in France as les frites, French doors, window boxes full of geraniums, Truffaut, Colette, French lavender, topiary, those crazily over-designed French gardens, fabulous lingerie, Manet, Toulouse Lautrec, Odillon Redon...