In March of 2013, I posted Films For Writers on Netflix. The choices on Netflix have changed since then, with some movies that were available missing from the lineup, and new ones added. This is the updated list, and even if the movie is no longer available on Netflix, you might find it elsewhere.
Netflix has a wealth of documentaries of interest to literary students and writers. These are films that don’t have wide distribution. I bet some of these movies never even went to DVD but are nonetheless commendable, in my humble estimation.
If you toss $7.99 a month to Netflix for streaming video and you aspire to write, these might appeal to you, too. I’m not going to point you to feature films like Freedom Writers or Finding Forester that made the rounds in the theaters. Those are wonderful, motivational movies in their own right, but they are also well known. I’m going to flag the obscure, buried and virtually unknown – surfaced for your viewing pleasure.
Salinger – A Film by Shane Salerno – NEW
I reviewed this documentary in Movie Review: Salinger–A Film by Shane Salerno. Spoiler Alert: I hated it.
Ayn Rand & The Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged – NEW
I have not watched this one yet and am waiting to be in just the right mood for it. The description sounds like it may take a paranoid tact: The film “…examines the resurging interest in Ayn Rand’s epic and controversial 1957 novel and the validity of its dire prediction for America.”
New York in the Fifties – NEW
While not excusive to the literary giants of the time, the documentary devotes a lot of time to discussing the influence of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Mailer, and others while offering modern day perspectives. Based on the book by Dan Wakefield.
Room 237 – NEW
An exploration of various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick‘s horror film, The Shining (1980), based on the novel by Stephen King. Over-thought and speculative, it’s a lot of fun. I know it’s really about the movie, but there are references to SK and his original novel.
Hugh Hefner – Playboy, Activist and Rebel – NEW
Hugh Hefner has become one of the most famous entrepreneurs and advocates of free speech in our time. Love what he does or hate it, Hef has furthered free speech in America more than any other person in our lifetime. A look at the battles Hugh Hefner fought over the years against the U.S. government, the religious right, and militant feminists.
Tales From the Script – Dozens of acclaimed Hollywood screenwriters discuss their successes and failures, share amusing anecdotes and insider insights. It’s brilliant and a glimpse into a world I never see. I loved it and have watched it several times.
Hardcover Mysteries – In this series, best-selling authors discuss the real-life cases that inspired their best-selling novels. I particularly enjoyed the episode with David Baldacci, but the whole series is well done. Due to the subject matter, it’s also dark, so be aware of the material you are about to view.
The Beat Hotel – Return to 1957, where a rundown hotel attracted American Beat expats such as Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Brion Gysin. The interviews with residents are priceless. I loved the part about Burroughs using the cut-up technique. Priceless.
Bukowski: Born To This – This intimate portrait of writer Charles Bukowski reveals a tortured man who survived years of abuse to produce some of the most influential prose of his generation. I admit that I had not read Bukowski until after I saw this documentary. After reading him, I feel immense empathy.
Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth – NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
Ellison has produced over 75 books and more than 1,700 classics of fiction and non-fiction, banged-out on one of his Olympia manual typewriters. Ellison calls it as he sees it. A consummate New Yorker and a brilliant SF author.
With Great Power… The Stan Lee Story – This documentary explores the life of Stan Lee from his Depression-era upbringing through the Marvel age of comics. A tribute to an icon of the comic industry.
Gonzo – This documentary looks beyond Hunter S. Thompson’s wild antics to focus on the pluck and principles that made him a groundbreaking writer. Awesomeness.
Mark Twain – NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
Exploring the life and work of writer and humorist Mark Twain, this documentary draws from a wealth of material that includes archival photographs. I dig Twain, and Tom Sawyer was one of my favorite books from high school, so this documentary was fine, but a bit textbook and academic.
In Search of Shakespeare – NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
Shakespeare’s adventures during the 16th century and his inspiration for his work are performed in part here by the Royal Shakespeare Company. A little light for a true reader of The Bard, I thought this was a good primer on Shakespeare and his more popular works. It’s a slow-pitch, 4 episode series.
Woody Allen: A Documentary – Iconic director-writer-comedian Woody Allen granted unprecedented access for this profile of his award-winning career and controversial personal life. If you are a fan of his quirky style, this is for you. I like some of his movies.
The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick – Legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick is the fascinating subject of a documentary that plumbs the dark corners of the tortured writer’s life. This dragged on at times, but I am such a fan of PKD’s work that I hung in there.
Helvetica – This unique documentary introduces us to the history of Helvetica, the most popular font in the world. More about art and design than writing, I still thought it was interesting.
Merton: A Film Biography – NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX.
The work of writer-philosopher Thomas Merton has had a lasting impact on society, inspiring debate over still-relevant social and religious concerns. Made in 1984, this film is dated but has merit, following the American Trappist Monk and his influence within the Catholic culture.
CNBC Titans: Hugh Hefner – NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
Hugh Hefner has become one of the most famous entrepreneurs and advocates of free speech in our time. Love what he does or hate it, Hef has furthered free speech in America more than any other person in our lifetime.
James Ellroy’s Feast of Death – Best-selling author James Ellroy takes viewers on a dark journey through the grisly underworld of American murder in this documentary. It’s a disturbing and long look at disturbing things I don’t want to look at for this long because they are disturbing.
Howl – This documentary centers on Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” and the widely publicized obscenity trial that followed its publication in 1957. Those were the days of Bohemian poets.
Biography: Charles Dickens – NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
Charles Dickens was forced to leave school at a young age and work to support his family. His bleak memories are evident in many of his works.
Lemon – NO LONGER AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
Three-time felon, one-time Tony Award winner Lemon Andersen is a poet whose deeply personal art reflects his rough upbringing.
Note: This list is accurate as of this writing, January 14, 2014. Netflix sometimes removes movies for an unknown reason, so if the flick isn’t there, I’m sorry. Try to find it somewhere else, because I really do think they are worth seeing.
If this article was interesting to you, also see: Films for Writers on Crackle