“Movies are dying because they killed off the people who could make them, the writer and the director. They took away their identity.”
February 15, 1958
Yesterday, on the post The Shakespeare of Hollywood, I wondered what screenwriter Ben Hecht (Spellbound, Wuthering Heights) would think about TV and the Internet today. In one of those happy accidents I found an 1958 interview that I think gives the answer.
Hecht was one of those guys you don’t meet much any more. He openly spoke his mind. If you didn’t agree with him he didn’t seem to care. He was what they used to call a colorful character. He died in 1964 before political correctness came into vogue. (Though he was concerned with growing censorship.) And though Hecht had a long distinguished screenwriting career, one of the things he liked to lambast was Hollywood. The main targets of his diatribes were greedy producers and how American films had dumbed down American culture. I found a link at the University of Texas that had a transcript for The Mike Wallace Interview where in 1958 Ben Hecht was a guest.
WALLACE: You’ve said that (TV is) a babysitting industry cooing at the crowds, it threatens to turn us all into furniture.
HECHT: It will when it gets matured. When you get your screen eight by ten feet picture on the wall and color and three dimensions, I’m afraid America will lose the use of its legs.
So here we are just a little over 50 years down the road from Hecht’s comments. While in 2010 we may fall a little short of 8’X10′ screens—color, large screens, and 3-D are now here. The largest I could find on a quick search is a Panasonic 4K 3D 152-inch Plasma. (It appears to be about the same size as a 4’X6′ piece of plywood.)
And back when Hecht made that comment there would have only been three main TV stations. And it was the heyday of live TV drama when The Philco Television Playhouse provided writing opportunities for writers like Paddy Chayefsky and Horton Foote. Of course, today all the many network and cable channels provide employment opportunities for all sorts of creative folks, including writers.
But when you step back and look at the overall kind of programing that is being produced you have to wonder what kind of culture we are helping to produce. Has the writing evolved as much as the technology? (Some say there is more crap on the air, but more good stuff as well.) Or are we creating simply creating “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”? (A colorful character like Ben Hecht, the Shakespeare of Hollywood, might have said that described the final episode of LOST.)
Hey, did you see that video on You Tube where the dog wakes up and starts chasing its tail until it runs into a wall?…