After watching Persona and Sunset Boulevard—required viewing for any film-studies undergrad—my grad-school class on “Film and Approaches to Writing the Novel” with John Rechy was assigned to see Providence, avant-garde director Alain Resnais’ first English-language film. In the movie, a cancer-stricken writer (John Gielgud) stays up all night chugging white wine while struggling with the plot of his latest novel. The characters, based on his own family members, are portrayed as nasty, deceitful, debauched people whom he places in various settings—a courtroom, a morgue, a forest crawling with werewolves. The next morning, however, his family arrives, and it becomes clear that his worldview does not mirror reality. The writing exercises associated with the film had to do with perception:
- Against a placid background (described), develop a short scene of turbulence between two people, using action and/or dialogue. In another paragraph, reproduce the exact same turbulent action but place it against a turbulent background.
- Write a short scene of action occurring at night. Write the same scene as it would be seen during daylight. Consider visibility/nonvisibility of details.
- In the omniscient view, describe a scene of action. In a separate paragraph describe the same scene as witnessed by a first-person narrator who misinterprets the action entirely, the latter contradicting what we “saw” in the former.
- Using a first-person narrator, describe another person whom the narrator admires, likes, and/or loves. In a second paragraph, also using a first-person narrator, describe the same person previously described, but convey that this narrator feels contempt, dislike, and/or hatred for that person. In both, the reader must know that the same person was viewed but through opposite emotional shadings.