Labors of misplaced love

Today’s Word of Wisdom from Walker:

As I look back over my lifetime, I find that I have only two regrets.

The things I’ve done, and the things I haven’t done.

I’m pretty much OK with the rest.

Michael Medved reviewed George Clooney’s new movie, The American, today. He said it’s a beautiful film in which nothing much actually happens.

This reminded me of one of the most surprisingly bad movies I ever saw. My brother and I were in St. Paul one evening a while back with time on our hands, and decided to see a movie. We went to the nearest cinemaplex, and saw it was playing Robert Duvall’s newest film, Assassination Tango. We’re both big admirers of Robert Duvall, so we immediately bought tickets.

It was horrible.

Turned out it was a labor of love for Duvall. He’d recently married a much, much younger woman, an Argentinian. She is a tango dancer, and had taught him to do the dance. In the throes of love, he decided to make a movie about the tango, and act in it with her. So he wrote a very minimal story about a professional assassin who learns to tango while doing a job in South America. It was a story with no interesting characters and no narrative arc. The guy goes, gets stuck for a while, learns to dance, finishes his job, and goes home. The End.

There is real danger, I believe, in labors of love.

Most people don’t know that Mark Twain wrote a book about Joan of Arc. It’s called Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. It’s a straight biographical novel, without any humor. The author himself considered it his greatest work. He’d been fascinated by Joan of Arc since he was a boy. In fact, it was his discovery of her story that turned him into a reader. So this novel was a labor of love, and he was extremely proud of it.

Almost nobody reads Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Most of those who have say, “Don’t bother.”

This is the danger of labors of love. They become our favorite children, the offspring we spoil. When a writer is working on the book he’s really, really wanted to write all his life, he needs to take double care to get outside criticism. Just as every mother thinks her baby beautiful, every author thinks his favorite book is beautiful. It may or may not be, to the rest of the world that doesn’t get it.

On the other hand, sometimes a labor of love turns out to be The Lord of the Rings.

You just have to be careful.

3 thoughts on “Labors of misplaced love”

  1. I remember something about William Faulkner starting a book and putting it away because he thought he wasn’t ready to write it. I think it was his book Mosquitoes, but I’m not sure.

  2. Thanks for the warning, Lars! I’m adding your last comments, by the way, to my ever-expanding Definitive Collection of Good Quotes (working and spur-of-the-moment title). I’ll probably never finish the Definitive Collection—it is a minor Labor of Love, after all.

    Or at least a useful spreadsheet.

  3. I’m a big Duvall fan too–but I figured he had so much emotionally wrapped up in this movie for his young and attractive wife, this couldn’t be good. Thanks for the warning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.