100 Screenwriters and More

On Film / The Daily — Oct 2, 2017

Vulture has polled more than forty working screenwriters—their names and credits are listed—to come up with an annotated list of the “100 Best Screenwriters of All Time.” David Edelstein’s written the entry on the legend who’s landed at the top, Billy Wilder, seen in the image above on the set of Irma La Douce (1963) with Jack Lemmon: “In his best films, every beat, every syllable clicks into place.”

In an accompanying piece, Mark Harris notes that “by and large, writing remains the most disrespected of filmmaking contributions, a bitter joke that has for decades made its way into movies themselves—usually black comedies about Hollywood in which the screenwriter is either a preening artiste who doesn’t understand the studio’s needs or a plaintive doormat, a human punch line. Either of those clichés, however, would be preferable to the way the makers of big-studio franchise movies increasingly treat writers . . . To talk to any writer who has worked in Hollywood for more than five years is to wonder why they don’t all write horror stories; they’ve certainly lived them.” And he offers a few tips on how to “judge the value and quality of a screenplay as you watch a movie.”

More Reading

“Something odder than a masterpiece, Orson Welles’s Othello is at once a credible abridgment of Shakespeare and a jigsaw puzzle that nearly defies comprehension,” writes J. Hoberman in the New York Times. He notes that next week’s release on DVD and Blu-ray “crucially” includes Filming Othello, “an explication of the film as well as a treatise on film editing . . . made for West German television in the 1970s. . . . For Welles, process, however chaotic, was ultimately more important than product. With Filming Othello, he ended his film career as he began it: Like Citizen Kane, the movie is a stunt that places the act of filmmaking at center stage.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum has been asked to write about the current state of American cinema for the Italian site 8½, and he expounds on four points:

  • “The American film industry regards its public with absolute contempt.”
  • “Social commentary is generally more acceptable on cable television than in theatrical features.”
  • “Even on cable television, social commentary is generally deemed acceptable only when it pretends to be something else or is centered on the past.”
  • “The best hope for the future remains with such independent (or at least independently inclined) writer-directors as Azazel Jacobs (Terri, The Lovers), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, Paterson), Richard Linklater (Bernie, Everybody Wants Some!!), Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, Manchester by the Sea), and Kelly Reichardt (Night Moves, Certain Women).”

In 1989, Serge Daney devoted one of his columns for Libération to Dario Argento’s Inferno (1979): “The amused boredom aroused by the TV viewing of this cult film derives from the way Argento alone has fun with it.”

Writing about a 1984 short by Jane Campion, Cristina Álvarez López notes that the “way of mingling the general ethos, culture, and imaginary of a time and place (Australia in the 1960s) with a deeply personal and unique universe, already unmistakably Campionesque, is one of the most remarkable achievements of A Girl’s Own Story.

Also in the Notebook, Jeremy Carr: “Social commentary and logistic brilliance aside, [George A. Romero’s] Night of the Living Dead [1968] is a quintessential horror movie, and it more than satisfies on an immediate, visceral level.”

Watching Chantal Akerman’s Je tu il elle (1975), Roderick Heath finds himself thinking of “that peculiar trove of Belgian surrealism practiced by painters like Rene Magritte and Paul Delvaux and the writer Jean Ray.” At the same time, the film “plays as something of an accidental companion piece to, and temperamental inversion of, another major French-language film shot around the same time, Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973).”

“The launch, last week, of the BFI Filmography database offers a chance to interrogate our cinematic past, learn from it, and change our future,” writes Pamela Hutchinson for Sight & Sound. “As far as the participation of women in the British feature film goes, the data initially appears to be stark, depressing, and flat as a pancake.”

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Wolf Warriors 2 (2017), written and directed by Wu Jing (who also takes the lead role), is the most successful movie in Chinese history. It’s made USD$800 million and counting in China, since its release on 27 July.” Writing for frieze, Shawn Wen: “For years, American movies that bombed domestically got bailed out in China. . . . Cue the entrance of a Chinese solo venture that cuts Western studios out of its payday: Wolf Warriors 2 is drenched in ‘full-throated nationalism,’ according to a review in Variety, or ‘ultra-nationalism,’ a Forbes commentator says. . . . They know it’s not a documentary right?” Wen argues that “Western media commentary does not extend to Chinese audiences the same agency that’s assumed in Western audiences in their pop-cultural consumption. It suggests a one-dimensional understanding of Chinese moviegoers, and perhaps by extension, of Chinese people in general.”

Interviews

For the Telegraph, Gaby Wood’s met Jonas Mekas “in Brooklyn, where he lives surrounded by papers and photographs and videos and cans of film. . . . The occasion for this interview is a new book of anecdotal reminiscences, A Dance with Fred Astaire, in which Mekas recalls his work with Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, Joseph Cornell, Allen Ginsburg, Maya Deren, and anyone who might remotely be associated with experimental New York from the mid-Fifties onwards.”

“Amy Ryan has been one of our finest actors for some years now,” writes Bilge Ebiri, introducing his interview for the Village Voice, “so it’s kind of a crime that she is only now getting her first lead role in a feature film. The good news is that the movie is Abundant Acreage Available, writer-director Angus MacLachlan’s beautifully moving, atmospheric drama.” IndieWire’s Eric Kohn talks with Ryan as well.

Rolling Stone’s David Fear introduces an interview: “Skinheads, hit men, cops, criminals, cops-posing-as-criminals, princes, junkies, executioners, politicians, supervillains, an 18th-century fop, a 19th-century impressionist painter and a 21st-century psychotic chimp—you name it, and there's an extremely good chance that Tim Roth has played it.” And now, he’s in Tin Star, “an Amazon thriller that about an expat cop living in Canada that starts as a quirky fish-out-of-water drama and takes several sharp right turns into violence, madness and mayhem; and Rillington Place, a BBC miniseries about famed British serial killer John Christie that streams on Sundance Now starting October 5.”

For WhereToWatch, Loren King talks with Donna Deitch, whose Desert Hearts (1985), recently restored and re-released by Janus Films and coming out on DVD and Blu-ray next month from Criterion. Deitch: “There have been so many screenings, so much press. It’s a strange but wonderful thing. This reissue and restoration really invigorated me about making the sequel. I’m going forward and backward at the same time.”

For the Guardian, Steve Rose talks with Neill Blomkamp (District 9) about Oats Studios, which the filmmaker’s set up in Vancouver. There, he’s been making twenty-minute films with the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Dakota Fanning and making them freely available online. Blomkamp: “Essentially, I think of it like a machine I can use in order for me to be left to be creative.”

Chloë Sevigny tells Zak Stone at Pitchfork about the music she’s liked listening to over these past four decades.

In Other News

“In a rare press interview, Roman Polanski has addressed the decades-old sexual assault case that continues to dominate any discussion of the 84-year-old, Oscar-winning director or his work,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough. “Polanski is currently in Zurich promoting his latest film, Based on a True Story, which stars Eva Green and Polanski's wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner. . . . ‘As far as what I did: It's over. I pleaded guilty,’ said Polanski. ‘I went to jail. I came back to the United States to do it, people forget about that, or don't even know. I then was locked up here (in Zurich [in 2009]) after this festival. So in the sum, I did about four or five times than what was promised to me.’”

“A new book about Woody Allen’s film career includes allegations that Mia Farrow, his former partner, was abusive toward their children and coached their daughter, Dylan, to accuse Mr. Allen of sexual abuse,” reports Sopan Deb for the New York Times. Eric Lax’s Start to Finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking will be out tomorrow.

The Great Buddha+, a dark comedy shot extensively on an iPhone6+, leads the race for the Golden Horse Awards, having collected nominations in ten categories,” reports Patrick Frater for Variety. “The film follows the voyeuristic antics of a pair of small town Taiwanese nobodies. It was directed by Huang Hsin-yao and produced and lensed by Chung Mung-hong, one of Taiwan’s top cinematographers. Buddha+ previously won a hatful of prizes at the Taiwan Film Awards.”

Goings On

New York. For Film International, Gary M. Kramer previews three of the four Shorts Programs in this year’s New York Film Festival. Narrative “is uniformly strong and entirely international”; Kramer’s clear favorite is Kazik Radwanski’s Scaffold. New York Stories “is an inclusive mix of African American, Latino, queer, and female stories, but the results are a mixed bag.” And “the Genre Stories program features mostly chilling tales.”

Coast to coast. “Horror fans nationwide are in for a real treat this October, as Regal Cinemas rolls out HorrorFest 2017, a month-long program 12 horror classics, from the ‘30s through the ’80s, including the new 4K restoration of Dario Argento’s Suspiria [1977],” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey.

Pordenone. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, or the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, is on through Sunday, and, at Silent London, Pamela Hutchinson is posting dispatches. “Any day that closes with a Pola Negri film is a good day, and Sunday was a very good day. La Negri, my personal favourite silent movie star and the owner of the best peepers in the pictures, bar none, features in three films in the official Giornate program this year (plus a schools matinee of The Wildcat). I knew artistic director Jay Weissberg was a fan, but well, consider me chuffed.”

For more goings on, see the entry posted earlier today.

In the Works

Mad Men alum Jon Hamm has joined the cast of Amazon Studios and BBC Two’s Good Omens as the archangel Gabriel, the primary messenger of God,” reports Deadline’s Denise Petski. “Based on Neil Gaiman’s (American Gods) and Terry Pratchett’s (Colour of Magic) novel and written by Gaiman, Good Omens takes place in 2018 when the Apocalypse is near and Final Judgment is set to descend upon humanity.”

Listening

On the latest episode of Filmwax Radio, Adam Schartoff talks with New York Film Festival director Kent Jones about this year’s edition, “his years growing up in the Berkshires, Robert Mitchum, Woody Allen, Scorsese, and so much more.” (65’19”).

WTF host Marc Maron talks with Elliot Gould “about his earliest memories, his marriage to Barbra Streisand, his collaborations with Robert Altman, and his difficulties working with others, including one specific comment that Elliott believes put the brakes on his career.” (81’10”).

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