A Life In Films : Sophie Stark
Anna North’s The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a tight, sophisticated and well-crafted dark exploration of the mysteriousness and selfishness of artistic genius, the fickleness of fashion, the creation and destruction of the iconic – and above all, a compelling read, worthy of its adulation and hype
At its centre is a young film maker, Emily Buckley, a curious, on the verge perhaps of Asperger’s, young woman, who creates a life for herself as indie auteur film maker Sophie Stark. And, as we know from the title, of the book, Sophie is dead.
The reader never meets Sophie directly, but we see her, as it were, kaleidoscopically through the viewpoints of people whose lives she touched, and who touched her life. In all cases, and both ways, influentially.
She appears to be/to have been a curious woman, someone who watches, intensely, indeed, voyeuristically, through the viewfinder, the subjects she wishes to pursue. She has a knack of almost vampirically sucking the truth of someone’s story out of them, and manipulating that story, and the teller, in the service of her art. She is a user of people, all of whom yearn to get close to her, and yet are half-repelled by her. She is some kind of shadowy Citizen Kane, some kind of Fitzcarraldo figure, whom myths accrue around.
It’s hard for me to talk about love” she said “I think movies are the way I do that” (Sophie Stark, interviewed by Benjamin Martin)
We meet her through the stories told by her brother Robbie, her lover, iconic-or-perhaps-only-ordinary indie actress Allison Mieskowski, her husband, musician Jacob O’Hare, Daniel Vollker, the unwilling subject of her first, fly-on-the-wall film, and George Campos, a film producer hoping to hit the big-time as producer of a film which will see Sophie take the step from indie, to big-budget director.
When people ask me why I married her that September, even though I’d only known her for three months and I knew it wouldn’t last, I tell them that life is a heavy burden and imagine if someone just carried it for you for a while, just picked it up and carried it” (Jacob O’Hare)
Connecting the sequential stories which follow Sophie’s life from childhood and first film through her oeuvre, are the writings of self-confessed movie critic obsessive, and Stark movie fan, film critic R. Benjamin Martin, from his first writings in college newspapers when a student, to his make-and-break major film critic status. Martin will flesh out and deconstruct the films Stark made. You may wish you could see them, but, such is the craft of North’s writing, you will be sure that you have in fact, done so.
Marianne accomplishes the difficult feat of conveying deep emotion by means not generally considered emotional: the framing of a shot, for instance, or the blocking of actors in a scene. The film’s themes arise organically from the visual, rather than being forced upon the viewer through melodramatic dialogue or sentimental acting (R Benjamin Martin)
This is one of those books which is marvellously easy to read, and wonderfully taut, with a satisfying structure from start to finish
It reminded me, in some ways, of Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, in creating a film director and an edgy canon of their work which leaves the reader convinced the films exist, endlessly and frustratedly searching listings for screenings. North packs it all into a book half the length of Pessl’s
I found it compulsive reading, and recommend it highly
I received this as a review copy from Amazon Vine UK