The award-winning short film LEFT BANK BOOKSELLER explores the risk Sylvia Beach took to publish the first 10 editions of Joyce's revolutionary novel Ulysses in France, with the help of literary partner Adrienne Monnier when the novel was ruled obscene.
LEFT BANK BOOKSELLER feature film logline:
Paris, 1920s. When Sylvia Beach, a bold American bookseller living in Paris, risks her reputation and livelihood by publishing James Joyce's widely banned Ulysses, the revolutionary novel goes on to become one of the most respected works of the 20th century.
LEFT BANK BOOKSELLER explores the tumultuous publication of Ulysses, perhaps the most highly regarded novel of the 20th century. The story is also the personal journey of Sylvia Beach who published the novel with the encouragement and help of her partner and soul-mate, Adrienne Monnier.
The themes at play in these events of nearly a century ago remain relevant today: censorship, homosexuality, women’s equality in the business world. And such was Beach’s devotion to forwarding the cause of modern literature, she didn’t even bear much of a grudge when Joyce eventually broke their agreement in favor of greener pastures. Remarkable.
Scriptwriter and Co-director, Lisa Reznik, talks about the impetus for the film
Left Bank Bookseller captures the avant-garde spirit of Paris in the 1920s.
Ignoring claims that James Joyce’s Ulysses was obscene, Sylvia Beach, a courageous young woman from America offers to publish Ulysses in France. The publication by Beach's bookshop of Joyce’s revolutionary novel in 1922 caused a literary sensation and won for itself an international name and fame as the publisher of Ulysses.
Left Bank Bookseller tells the story of Sylvia Beach, an audacious woman known for running the first English-language bookstore in Paris. Beach, who spent her life promoting of avant-garde literature, is one of the most fascinating female figures of the last century. She was generous, good-humored, and fearlessly independent. Her devotion to modern writers silently shaped the literary landscape of Paris and changed the face of modern literature. Her mission was to create both a book store and a haven where book lovers could gather to read.
Sylvia’s mission came into focus when she met fellow book lover Adrienne Monnier, who owned and operated her bookshop La Maison des Amis des Livres in Paris. Adrienne’s occupation was unusual for a woman at the turn of the 20th century. She invented the concept of the lending library in France mostly to benefit women, few of whom had the budget to buy their own books. Adrienne advanced the field of bookselling beyond mere commerce, incorporating an intellectual and artistic dimension. This inspired Sylvia to open her own English language bookshop in 1919 — thanks to a loan from her mother and help from Adrienne.
The inspiration to write this script hit while reading a non-fiction book about Sylvia Beach who opened Shakespeare and Company the first English language bookshop in Paris, in 1919. The idea of a strong and independent female character far ahead of her time drew me to tell the story of a remarkable trailblazer.
The success of my short film Left Bank Bookseller, inspired me to write a feature-length version to tell the full story. The abundance of positive feedback I’ve received on the script for Left Bank Bookseller suggests that many people share my passion for the story. I believe a feature-length film about Beach and Joyce would find an enthusiastic international audience.
The Left Bank Bookseller short film version (2012) has been an official selection of a number of film festivals in the U.S. and abroad for four years and won the Audience Choice Award at the 2012 New York Downtown Shorts Film Festival. The feature script has been a finalist in a number of screenwriting contests including the 2016 Finow Film and Script Festival in Germany, Gotham Film Festival in New York, the Beloit International Film Festival (Wisconsin) and the Beverly Hills International Film Festival.
Left Bank Bookseller is a powerful cinematic story. The historical drama depicts the atmosphere of Paris in the 1920s through art direction, lighting and costume design. We’ll re-create the ambiance of Beach’s legendary bookshop, where in additional to walls and walls of books, there was something personal, intimate, suggesting a literary salon rather than a place of commerce, to enable audiences to appreciate the welcoming atmosphere and Sylvia Beach's friendliness. The action unfolds during the peaceful inter-war period when Paris became the destination for a vibrant community of writers producing new work for eager readers. In November 1919, Sylvia Beach triumphed in the realization of her old dream, and Shakespeare & Co. opened its doors in the Rue Dupuytren. It was not long before the Quarter discovered it, and its fame gradually spread to the furthest outposts of literary Paris.
In addition to running her own bookshop and helping writers achieve success, Sylvia’s lifestyle was unusual for the time. She shared her life with a woman of equal intellectual rigor, Adrienne Monnier, the French bookseller who advised Sylvia to publish Ulysses in France. It’s important to accurately re-create of the manners and mores in the 1920s. Our re-creation of Sylvia’s bookshop will express the warmth and love of literature she was known for.
Sylvia Beach’s account of her experiences in the book “Shakespeare and Company” is the primary resource for the Left Bank Bookseller script. Another resource is her partner Adrienne Monnier’s memoir, The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast offers a peek into Sylvia’s generous nature. Another important historical resource was Richard Ellman’s biography of James Joyce.
Period costumes and set design are be a very important aspect of this drama. To create the fascinating bohemian milieus of the 1920s, our set designers will research the era. Props, hair and make-up design will allow us to re-create the atmosphere. I expect our project to attract a very talented cast.
We will shoot the film in Dublin and Paris for authenticity and will work with the award-winning, multi-national crew I’ve worked with on Left Bank Bookseller and my award-winning period drama, Tete-a-Tete.
Left Bank Bookseller ends on a high note, celebrating freedom of expression with the publication of Ulysses.