RIP Paul Newman

A lot of literary blogs have had remembrances for David Foster Wallace. His passing by his own hand was unbearably sad–and I feel awful (as I always do) for the person who must find him (in this case his wife). I exist largely through my imagination; that is something I cannot even begin to fathom.

Yet his writing didn’t really touch me. Paul Newman’s acting did. He got better as he got older. He embraced his wrinkles, his mortality, his fallibility. Life–its wounds, its lessons, its long haul–reduces us, and Paul Newman used that to his advantage. He didn’t press. He made more out of less. He limped. It’s a lesson for all artists.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what fiction writers can learn from the dramatic arts. One of them is the unimportance of backstory. And when I think of how unimportant backstory really is, I think of the opening of Cool Hand Luke. Paul Newman staggers along a street with a pipe cutter, lopping off the tops of parking meters as he goes. Something has brought him to this place: we don’t know why: it doesn’t matter. Paul Newman sells that moment, that truth, in the unforced way in which he lived his life and his craft.

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Published in: on September 27, 2008 at 8:44 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love the unimportance of backstory angle! I never thought of it that way.

    An instructive example from the dramatic arts I often cite is the dialogue on “The Sopranos.” What’s important isn’t what’s said, but what goes unsaid. The characters’ fears and mistrusts all get played out in those gaps between the lines, and it creates amazing tension. Love it.

  2. I concur about the unimportance of back story. Nice post.

  3. Paul Newman is a legend for his work in movies, and he’s a stud for all his work outside of movies


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