Happy Birthday Bret Easton Ellis, Post-Empire Muse! Let’s Remember ‘The Canyons’ With Great Longreads


Fifty years ago on this day in 1964, Bret Easton Ellis was born in Los Angeles, California. Twenty-one years later, he was unleashed on the world as a wunderkind unparalleled, a voice of a generation with his 1985 debut, Less Than Zero; five years later, 1991’s American Psycho incited literary riots over its violent and misogynistic perspective, while also also being a really great and unforgettable book on top of it. Nevertheless the world has been better and more controversial for having Bret Easton Ellis in it. His novels are gone deeper and deeper into intertextual metafiction about lost generations, and meanwhile, some of his works have been adapted to film, the best being Mary Harron’s unforgettable take on American Psycho, with Christian Bale working out and coke-babbling about Huey Lewis and the News.

As of late, Ellis has been a twitter habitué — one of its reliable sources of entertainment — from his home in Los Angeles, where he is writing screenplays and telling us all about his thoughts on what he could do with the 50 Shades of Grey screenplay and his frank thoughts on how Kathryn Bigelow really won the Best Director Oscar because she’s hot. But so far, Ellis’s first produced screenplay was last year’s notorious The Canyons, a Kickstarter-funded film starring Lindsay Lohan and James Deen, and directed by Paul Schrader (whose directorial career has paled in the light of the screenplays he’s written, including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull).

Whatever one thinks of The Canyons as a work of art, and its artistic merit was mostly savaged by the critics, the film did one thing magnificently: it led to some great stories. In last year’s “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie,” from The New York Times Magazine, writer Stephen Rodrick uses his access to the film’s set to write a tragedy where low-budget filmmaking, big-budget egos, a really nice porn star just trying to do the best he can, and the twilight fade of a diva all clash:

Schrader smiled for the first time all night. He started talking about “The Misfits,” a 1961 film written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston. The film featured the final performances of both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. The shoot was torturous, 50 days morphing into 90, with Monroe spending a week in the hospital during filming. “We’re making ‘The Misfits’ on a microbudget,” Schrader joked. He scratched his head and arched his eyebrows. “But here’s the thing: ‘The Misfits’ is actually a great film.”

In The Believer‘s “Post-Empire Strikes Back,” from the March/April 2014 Film Issue, writer Lili Anolik takes the focus back to Ellis’s journey through the film in zippy, zingy prose that’s infused with, appropriately, the kind of movie love that drives Ellis’s twitter feed: “Art wasn’t just about to imitate art. Art was about to cannibalize art, then wear art’s skin like a flashy new suit.”

Instead of focusing on the drama behind the film, something that Ellis cannily anticipated, Anolik, a writer to watch (her debut novel due in 2015, and two excellent features on Eve Babitz and Endless Summer in Vanity Fair‘s Hollywood issue) interviews Ellis and Schrader in an effort to figure out where The Canyons stands in the canon. She’s sharp on why this trash film matters, and that’s because when it comes to a movie about people in the movies, The Canyons may have just been a movie about the end of movies, the ultimate Post-Empire trick, where “The making of the movie is the art. The movie itself is, finally, incidental, beside the point, which is why the criticism of it is, too.”