Sunday Reads: Inconceivable! RIP William GoldmanPosted: November 18, 2018
Way back, years ago when I was in college, I studied film. I was only three credits short of a minor in fact…a lot of good that all did.
Anyway, one of the many books that I read was on the scripts of William Goldman. I don’t remember the title but I do remember one part…the discussion of Goldman’s audacity. The way in which he wrote a script.
Take a look at the beginning of his script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
You can find the entire screenplay at the link above…
It is my understanding, if I remember that book correctly, no one had the audacity to write a script like that…
(I don’t know, I always thought Goldman scripts read a lot like a Hemingway novel. The attitude of it, not to mention the structure in the way it is written. )
Maybe it is best to let Goldman explain it himself. From his book, William Goldman: Four Screenplays and Essays
So here is Goldman’s own example, and like the one excerpt I chose above…this also is from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Goldman will take it further still…as you will shortly see.
And here is the reasoning for Goldman style of writing screenplays/scripts.
And there you have it…the explanation of that magnificent song about raindrops falling on your head…smack dab in the middle of the movie.
I tell you, there was definitely a renaissance of film making in the late sixties and seventies. Aside from Goldman…the other contemporary screenwriter of his time…that also commanded such deserved bravado…would have to be Sidney Lumet. Both men had a handle on expressing the energy and emotions of the time. The spoke the language of that generation…and when you see their films today…there is something still timely about the dialogue and the tension the movies projects to an audience.
For more on William Goldman, here are a generous helping of articles and obituaries for you to read through.
n his adventures in the screen trade, Chicago-born, Highland Park-raised William Goldman won two screenwriting Academy Awards and the hearts of millions who liked the way his wiseacres talked.
Goldman was the Ben Hecht of the New Hollywood era, a wag with highly commercial Old Hollywood instincts. Goldman’s favorite movie growing up was, in fact, “Gunga Din” (1939), for which Hecht and fellow “Front Page” author Charles MacArthur wrote the rollicking story that had little to do with the Rudyard Kipling poem. Something must’ve clicked for young William, sitting there in the dark, watching Cary Grant and company romping through India (as played by California), hustling, conniving, courting disaster.
Goldman died Friday in New York at the age of 87.
William Goldman, who won Academy Awards for his screenplays for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men” and who, despite being one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, was an outspoken critic of the movie industry, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 87.
The cause was colon cancer and pneumonia, said Susan Burden, his partner.
In his long career, which began in the 1960s and lasted into the 21st century, Mr. Goldman also wrote the screenplays for popular films like “Misery,” “A Bridge Too Far,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Chaplin.” He was a prolific novelist as well, and several of his screenplays were adapted from his own novels, notably “The Princess Bride” and “Marathon Man.”
In a business where writers generally operate in relative obscurity, Mr. Goldman became a celebrity in his own right; in his heyday, his name was as much an asset to a film’s production and success as those of the director and stars. Eight of his films each grossed more than $100 million domestically.
Called “the world’s greatest and most famous living screenwriter” by the critic Joe Queenan in a 2009 profile in The Guardian, Mr. Goldman achieved renown in Hollywood in the late 1960s when he sold his first original screenplay, for “Butch Cassidy,” to 20th Century Fox for $400,000 (the equivalent of more than $2.75 million in 2018 dollars), a record for a screenplay at the time.
When we watch movies, we’re tempted to take what they say in one ear and out the other because we’re there to look more than listen.Screenwriters know this, and, as with anybody compelled to hold up their end of a conversation, they seek ways to attract attention. Their names alone aren’t going to do it, so they find attention and, at times, immortality through a line or two that sticks in an audience’s collective memory bank.Consider, for instance: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!” from “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964). The line is credited to Terry Southern, who won literary notoriety for such satiric novels as “The Magic Christian” and “Candy,” but whose “War Room” joke, I bet, is remembered by many more people.William Goldman, who died Friday in New York at age 87, also started out as a novelist, publishing five novels before he turned 33. But though he went on to publish other books of fiction and nonfiction, Goldman will be remembered more for his Oscar-winning screenplays for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and “All the President’s Men” (1976).Goldman was a virtuoso of pithy dialogue that flowed with sharp, tangy momentum. At its most limber and colorful, the repartee in a Goldman script allowed plenty of room for memorable lines to leap happily into spectators’ ears and stay there.When in “Butch Cassidy,” Sundance (Robert Redford) confesses that he can’t leap into a river from a high cavern because he can’t swim, Butch (Paul Newman) laughs and says, “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya!” (Of course, they jump.)
And whatever else you want to say about “Butch/Sundance” (that year’s highest-grossing film despite mixed reviews), you have to believe that a writer has to have a pretty good sense of pacing and hearing to leave audiences repeating long afterward the fugitive heroes’ bemused query, “Who are those guys?”
Read the rest of the op/ed piece at the link. Here is some of those, Iconic movie lines William Goldman wrote — Quartzy
The Princess Bride (1987)
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today.
As you wish.
Sundance Kid: [Butch and the Kid are on the edge of a cliff preparing to take on the posse pursuing them] Ready?
Butch Cassidy: No, we’ll jump.
Sundance Kid: Like hell, we will.
Butch Cassidy: No, it’ll be okay. If the water’s deep enough and we don’t get squished to death, they’ll never follow us.
Sundance Kid: How do you know?
Butch Cassidy: Would you make a jump like that if you didn’t have to?
Sundance Kid: I have to and I’m not gonna.
Butch Cassidy: Well, we got to. Otherwise, we’re dead. We’re just gonna have to go back down the same way they come. Come on.
Sundance Kid: Just one clear shot, that’s all I want.
Butch Cassidy: Come on.
Sundance Kid: Uh-uh.
Butch Cassidy: [leans into the Kid] We got to!
Sundance Kid: Get away from me.
Butch Cassidy: Why?
Sundance Kid: I wanna fight ‘em!
Butch Cassidy: They’ll kill us.
Sundance Kid: Maybe.
Butch Cassidy: You wanna die?
Sundance Kid: Do you?
Butch Cassidy: Alright. I’ll jump first.
Sundance Kid: Nope.
Butch Cassidy: Then you jump first.
Sundance Kid: No, I said.
Butch Cassidy: What’s the matter with you?
Sundance Kid: I can’t swim!
Butch Cassidy: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya.
This link has some good images…even more here:
William Goldman famously penned the words “Nobody knows anything” in his Hollywood memoir “Adventures in the Screen Trade.” But in the wake of his passing, it is clear that the film industry does know one thing: how much Goldman will be missed.
For all his catty, conspiratorial barbs, Goldman’s writing both on and off screen is full of affection for the crazy dreamers, big personalities and madcap schemes that get films made.
It is a testament to the storytelling genius of William Goldman, who died today at the age of 87, that he managed to forge a prolific five-decade career as the most famous screenwriter of his generation whilst also earning a reputation as an outspoken critic of the screenwriting trade.
“Screenplay writing is not an art form,” Goldman told Publishers Weekly in 1983. “If you only write screenplays, it is ultimately denigrating to the soul. You may get lucky and get rich, but you sure won’t get happy.”
The last time I had dinner with my hero William Goldman was in September, at a restaurant out on Long Island near what had been his summer home for years. He was quite ill by then, in the final stages of the colon cancer that would take his life Friday, but he was still well enough to share a night of wine and food and laughter with me and my wife, Taylor, and Bill’s partner over the last 20 years of his life, Susan Burden.
It was raining that night. Mobility for Bill, because of bad knees, had been a challenge for years. So Susan pulled their car up to the front door, and I helped my friend of 40 years into the East Hampton Grill with the assistance of a very accommodating hostess.
Bill Goldman was always a bear of a man. Sometimes it was like moving Nebraska through a crowded room.
There is so much to read about William Goldman. I will end this post with an article on some suggested readings:
The legacy of William Goldman would have been assured had he only written screenplays. After all, Goldman, who died Friday at 87, wrote the scripts to many critical and commercial favorites, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men,” “The Princess Bride,” “Misery” and “Marathon Man.” Few names in the opening credits were a safer guarantee of wit, intelligence and entertainment.
But Goldman wrote more than screenplays. Aside from his engaging short stories and novels (including the source materials for “Princess Bride” and “Marathon Man”), he wrote several noteworthy volumes of commentary about the entertainment industry, offering an insider’s view that cleared the smoke and smashed the mirrors. And he carried that refreshing candor into his interviews and profiles, carving out a reputation as one of the few heavyweights who dared to demystify the business. Here is some of the best work by and about this brilliant writer, along with snippets of some of his most memorable dialogue.
‘Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting’
This 1983 essay collection is one of the essential books about movies, a wickedly witty, take-no-prisoners peek behind the curtain of showmanship and bravado, revealing a world in which, as he wrote, “nobody knows anything.” He continued: “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess — and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” In her New York Times review, Janet Maslin wrote, “Nevertheless, Mr. Goldman knows a thing or two about how the movie business operates, and he reveals plenty of it here.”
‘Which Lie Did I Tell? (More Adventures in the Screen Trade)’
Audiences love a sequel, so Goldman gave his readers just that with this 2000 collection of musings on the industry, examinations of his success and failures, and analyses of scripts he admired. In one of the most memorable essays (excerpted in The Telegraph), Goldman addresses the bizarre rumor that he, not the Oscar-winning screenwriters and stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, wrote the script to “Good Will Hunting.” Although he advised them on the project, he did not, in fact, ghostwrite their work: “I think the reason the world was so anxious to believe Matt Damon and Ben Affleck didn’t write their script was simple jealousy,” he writes.
From the Pens of Others
‘Newman, Hoffman, Redford and Me’ [The Guardian]
“Goldman is the classic case of the creative genius who respects the rules, but has lived his entire life as if the rules do not apply to him,” Joe Queenan writes in this 2009 profile. “He encourages young writers to go to Hollywood, but has lived most of his adult life in New York. He knows that stars dominate the industry, but has not been the least bit reluctant to disparage them. He has often been disappointed by the craven stupidity of studio executives, but retains an odd compassion for them.” Goldman’s trademark candor is on full display here, with jabs at critics (“failures and whores”) film sets (“It’s not a great pleasure for me to be there”), and the myopia of executives. (“I heard a story that “Slumdog Millionaire” was going to go directly to DVD. I would have loved to have been in the room when that decision was made.”)
‘William Goldman Sticks by His Theory of Hollywood’ [Chicago Tribune]
In this promotional interview for “Which Lie Did I Tell?,” Goldman explains that he wrote the book, in part, to deflate the popular theories that screenwriting was not an art, but a science: “I was at Oberlin College. This girl stood up — very taut and tense — and said, ‘Mr. Goldman, do you always begin your second theme by page 17?’ I didn’t know what a second theme was.” And he notes a noteworthy shift, during his lifetime, of how his profession is regarded: “When I was growing up, you wanted to write the great American novel or the great Broadway play. Nobody took movies seriously. Writers like William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler went to Hollywood to make enough money to write their novels. But now movies are the center of our culture. Everyone wants to get into the movie business.”
More suggestions at the link…
So that is all for today’s post, it is an open thread…please post links to newsy items in the comments below.