/ Cory Doctorow / 1 am Tue, Nov 19 2019
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  • Girl on Film: a graphic novel memoir of a life in the arts and the biological basis for memory-formation

    Girl on Film: a graphic novel memoir of a life in the arts and the biological basis for memory-formation

    Cecil Castellucci (previously) is a polymath artist: YA novelist, comics writer, librettist, rock star; her latest book, Girl on Film, is an extraordinary memoir of her life in the arts, attending New York's School for the Performing Arts (AKA "The Fame School") and being raised by her parents, who are accomplished scientists.

    Castellucci's father, Vincent F Castellucci, is a neuroscientist who is one of the world's leading experts on the formation of memories. Cecil's memoirs alternate between her recollections of her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, and present-day kitchen-table conversations with her father about the malleable nature of memory, and the involuntary confabulation that we all engage in whenever we recall our pasts.

    These scientific discourses dovetail into philosophical inquiries about the nature of experience -- why do some experiences excite our interest and thus turn into our formative and favored memories? -- and this leads back to Cecil Castellucci's own (extraordinary) experiences as a precocious young artist in a Bohemian New York art scene.

    Castellucci's girlhood in the 1980s put her squarely in the midst of some of our most famous and beloved artists and icons, from her girlhood chums Chastity (now Chas) Bono and Jennifer Anniston, to the indie film performer she recognized on the subway after his first role, who went on to a storied career as Steve Buscemi, and more.

    But these connections aren't mere accident: Castellucci describes a childhood dominated by an overwhelming drive to make -- and live -- art, especially filmmaking. Her tale is at once a romance about the power of art to inspire and uplift, and a brutally frank examination of how unrealistic expectations and economic reality can smash a young artist's dreams.

    Castellucci isn't shy about showing us what it's like to be kicked out of your own band, or to be ditched by your best friend as she gets into a limo to hang out with A-list brat-packers at an exclusive party. But she's also skilled at showing the upsides of a life in the arts, from the magical feeling of creation in the moment to the delights of hanging out with other creators, falling in love, being mentored, or just playing RPGs with them.

    These moments, interleaved with her father's technical explanations of how memories are formed and changed, make for a story that's simultaneously sweet and provoking: more than a mere autobiography, Girl on Film demands that we ask ourselves how we narrate our own life and its meaning.

    Girl on Film [Cecil Castellucci/Archaia]

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