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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Towne’

“What I like is that the secret to the mystery that [Jack Nicholson’s character J.J. Gettes is] eventually going to uncover is right in front of his eyes almost at the very beginning. And like Oedipus you have the mystery in front of you. (He was the killer and he didn’t know it.) In a sense all detective movies are surrogate retellings of the Oedipus tale. That from the very beginning you know the hands that you look at all the time are a reminder of the killer, but he doesn’t realize it until the end.”
Screenwriter Robert Towne on the Chinatown commentary with David Fincher
26:30 mark

The above comment is a little cryptic if you aren’t familiar with both Chinatown and Greek mythology. But since Robert Towne won an Oscar (Best screenplay, Original Screenplay) for writing Chinatown I thought it was worth posting since the quote “all detective movies are surrogate retellings of the Oedipus tale” was something I’d never heard anyone say, and a reminder—as Arthur Miller was fond of saying—that there is gold to draw from in the theater of ancient Greece.

Related post: Writing ‘Chinatown’

Scott W. Smith

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“I went to Jack (Nicholson) and said ‘What if I wrote a detective story set in L.A. of the ‘30s?’ He said “Great.” The one feeling I had was a desire to try and recreate the city. But that was just the beginning. Then owing to a building project near where I lived, I got a chance to see the corruption of city hall first-hand, which is where that element of the plot got into Chinatown. I then had to go to Oregon where Jack was filming Drive, He Said. I hadn’t really read Raymond Chandler at that point, so I started reading Chandler. While I was there at University of Oregon, I checked out a book from the library called “Southern California Country: Island on the Land.” In it was a chapter called “Water, water, water,” which was a revelation to me. And I thought ‘Why not do a picture about a crime that’s right out in front of everybody. Instead of a jewel-encrusted falcon, make it something as prevalent as water faucets, and make a conspiracy out of that. And after reading about what they were doing, dumping water and starving the farmers out of their land, I realized the visual and dramatic possibilities were enormous. So that was really the beginning of it.”
Screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown)
The Hollywood Interview by Alex Simon and Terry Keefe

P.S. Southern California: An Island on the Land, written by Carey McWilliams, was first published in 1946, and according to the back cover is, “Widely recognized as the best non-fiction book written about Southern California for the period 1920s through the 1940s.” Also, in the interview with Simon and Keefe, Towne also said an early influence was an copy of Old West Magazine that in 1969 recreated L.A. of the 30s.

Scott W. Smith

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“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me.”
Holden Caulfield
Catcher in the Rye
Written by J.D. Salinger

How did J.D. Salinger become one of the most wanted writers in Hollywood? By not wanting Hollywood.  Perhaps it would be better said that it was not the reclusive Salinger who was wanted but his work, Catcher in the Rye. When Salinger died a few days ago I imagine producers were excited about the possibility of finally bringing the book to the screen.

Selling the film rights to Catcher in the Rye would be very lucrative for the Salinger estate.

The story goes that Salinger was so upset with the adaption of Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut (made into the 1949 film My Foolish Heart) that he was done with Hollywood. (Though I did notice on IMDB that he is credited a couple times in the last 30 years.)

I don’t know if Salinger ever stepped foot in Iowa but his spirit was drawn here. In the Field of Dreams, the character that James Earl Jones plays (Terrance Mann) was based on Salinger. In the W.P Kinsella book (Shoeless Joe) that the movie is based on the character actually is  J.D. Salinger himself, but he did not allow his name to be used in the film so changes were made. Good thing, too. It would be hard to imagine that film without James Earl Jones, a fine actor but one who doesn’t quite look like Salinger.

Not much is known about Salinger and that’s the way that he wanted it. But that will all change since his death.  Screenwriter Shane Salerno (Shaft, Armageddon) has spent five years working on a self-funded documentary on Salinger. One in which he interviewed over 150 people who “had contact with him otherwise, or were greatly influenced by him.”  (Robert Towne, Tom Wolfe, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Seymour Hoffman) The documentary is based on Salinger: A Biography, written by Paul Alexander.

Salerno told Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood;

“I loved (Salinger’s) work, and how he had the world at his doorstep, and said no thanks. He somehow understood in 1951 the corrosive effect that fame and money could have on his writing. He was singular, and in this Internet age where people pursue their 15 minutes of fame, nobody did what Salinger did: living in the woods in New Hampshire, writing to please only himself.”

Maybe in the future it will be hip to pursue 15 minutes of reclusiveness. I think it was Blaise Pascal who said a few centuries ago that the chief problem of man was that he could not stand to be in room by himself. (I might update that to “by himself—without a TV, a computer and the Internet.”)

Scott W. Smith

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