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Conversation with Nick Flynn


Even though Nick Flynn’s The Reenactments basically chronicles his on-set presence during the filming of Being Flynn the memoir includes diversions into a number of subjects: a university museum that houses a priceless collection of glass flowers, the term homunculus, dark energy and the work of Samuel Beckett, phantom limbs and the pain they cause, theories of memory, and even current research that allows doctors to map and record the brain while its owner is watching movie trailers.

fMRI or Fuctional Magnetic Resonance Imaging may one day lead to people watching their dreams on Youtube, Flynn spells out in Chapter Three. Flynn and neuroscientist David Eagleman will present a program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston this Sunday, January 13 at 2 pm. exploring all of the above. (Eagleman heads the neuroscience research laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine.)

Speaking to Free Press Houston in a phone interview Flynn (who during the conversation is crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into Gotham) explained: “There are limits of what can be known of the brain. Perception of memory is also a kind of perception of time.” In the Reenactments Flynn watches as the director Paul Weitz shoots scenes of Being Flynn, scenes of his mother (played by Julianne Moore) committing suicide when he was a boy (played by Liam Broggy). Flynn ruminates on the details that he retains from that personal experience so long ago, but he also pays attention to details that are present in the current recreation of said event.

Flynn conjures up the image of a high-speed-shutter photograph of a bullet going through an apple. Yet when he looks up the image on the internet the details of what he remembered are slightly different. “People can watch a cell phone video of something and yet have two different interpretations of what they just saw,” continues Flynn.

Being Flynn was based on Flynn’s book Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and of course that’s par for the course to change the title. “It’s the non-Hollywood price one pays,” laughs Flynn. In the book Flynn works at a Boston area homeless shelter, and in the movie Paul Dano plays him as a twentysomething. Robert De Niro plays Nick’s father Jonathan Flynn. In real life Nick was working at the shelter for people without a fixed address when his father came in. Once again the process of memory come up as Flynn observes De Niro getting into the character of his father. “Focus Films [Being Flynn’s distributor] kept giving the director notes, they wanted Jonathan to change when he got off the street.” But the reality is more poignant; Flynn’s dad never did really change. Jonathan claims he’s as great a writer as Mark Twain yet his one novel has never been published whereas Nick not only has acclaimed books in print but also teaches poetry and non-fiction at the University of Houston. And Flynn’s memoir zeros in on the reality of the situation juxtaposed with the reality of making movies. Which is to say that art can imitate life with added psychological gestures, technical support like lights and props and location lensing.

In fact, the use of homunculus in The Reenactments can very well be seen as a metaphor for Flynn being on-set and watching himself portrayed as a lad and as an adult. “It’s like having a mini-me; the embodiment of your spirit in another being,” muses Flynn, now crossing into Manhattan.

The Reenactments goes down fast, most of the mini-chapters are less than a page long. The depiction of moviemaking also gives the reader a solid perspective of pre-production preparation and on-set etiquette. Along the way Flynn keeps the concept of memory front and center.

- Michael Bergeron

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