Posts Tagged ‘The Lost Weekend’

The thing that often gets lost when we talk about the outstanding career of writer/director Billy Wilder is the contribution of screenwriter Charles Brackett who wrote 13 films together with Wilder. Brackett won three Oscar awards over the years, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 1959. 

Brackett was 14 years older than Wilder and brought a considerable amount of clout to the writing table. He had graduated from Williams College and Harvard Law School, he wrote short stories, novels, and was a drama critic for the The New Yorker from 1924-29, and Hollywood took notice buying some of his stories in the 1920s until he finally moved to L.A. when he was 34 years old. 

But according to Sam Staggs the results were less than grand.  “Like many writers from the East, he distained the studio assemble line approach to writing. So he went home. Soon, however, Paramount’s blandisments lurned him to Hollywood again, and in 1932 he signed a contract with that studio as a staff writer. Some half dozen scripts followed, not one of them noteworthy, until someone at Paramount had the crazy-brilliant idea of caging Brackett with Wilder.”

The refined, educated Brackett mixed with the street smart Jewish immigrant from Europe made for an interesting mix, lots of fights and they wrote a heck of a lot of great movies including The Lost Weekend, A Foreign Affair, Ninotchka along with Sunset Boulevard. For whatever reason Sunset Boulevard was the last script they wrote together. After the break-up Brackett won another Oscar as one of the writers on 1954 film version of Titanic.

In 1938-39 Brackett was the president of the Screen Writers Guild and from 1949-1955 he was the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He died in 1969 in Beverly Hills and was buried in Saratoga Springs, New York where he was born in 1892.

Brackett’s grandson, Jim Moore, has a website dedicated to his grandfather called The Charles Brackett Project.

Scott W. Smith

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Last night I watched Daniel Day Lewis’ character in There Will Be Blood  self-destruct. Self-destruction is never enjoyable to watch, but it is usually fascinating within the confines of a movie theater or watching on DVD at home. And that leads us to our quote of the day.

“Stories of self-destruction are often the stuff of great movies because the lines of action and the opposition are built into the characters.” 
                                                                        William Froug
                                                                         Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade
                                                                         page 29

Of course, he’s right. Look at these films that come to mind:

Taxi Driver
Citizen Kane
Raging Bull
Training Day
The Lost Weekend
Leaving Las Vegas
28 Days 
Moby Dick
Death of a Salesman
Aviator  (Howard Hughes)

When you look at that list it’s hard to miss that self-destruction is rooted in some sort of obsession. An obsession with drugs, alcohol, greed, sex, power, control and/or money. If all the self-destruction movies were rolled into one we’d just call it Sin City.

It’s no surprise either that many of those movies are based on real life characters because stories of self-destruction are never far from the headlines. Just a few months ago in Florida a well respected real estate developer committed suicide. He owned three homes, had many successful projects completed over the years, and he and his wife had recently donated $2.5 million to a local college’s medical school. 

But many of his current hundreds of million dollar projects where stalled with the downturn in the real estate market and it is now alleged that he stole at least $21.4 million from investors. And from the world of New York City high finance,  just a couple days before Christmas a 65-year-old money manager who had lost $1.4 billion of an investment fund in a scam committed suicide in his Manhattan office by cutting his wrists with box cutters.

The good news is self-destruction doesn’t always mean ruin and suicide. It can be a low point on the road to redemption as is the case of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line where he overcomes a heroin addiction.  

And sometimes redemption comes outside the theater like some kind of cathartic Greek play.  When the real life Jake LaMotta asked his ex-wife if he was really as paranoid and abusive as he was portrayed in Raging Bull she replied, “You were worse.”  After the film came out it helped turn LaMotta’s life around;  “I was real low before the film, I was barely surviving. The book came out, I started to get interviews. The stand-up took off and the movie hit. Then the Oscar, that was it. I was famous again.”


Copyright ©2009 Scott W. Smith

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