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Screenwriting

caméra-stylo, and, Citizen Kane, The Servant, Accident, The Go-Between

writers directors films figure

In its early days, true to the etymology of the word ‘photography’, the cinema was described as a form of ‘writing with light’. Much later, the French director and critic Alexandre Astruc coined the concept of the caméra-stylo, the camera as a pen. But the relations between writers and film have characteristically been bumpier than these images suggest, and Hollywood mythology is in large part constituted by writers like Nathanael West and F. Scott Fitzgerald who converted their frustration with the industry into full-scale metaphors for a failing America. Other distinguished writers, like William Faulkner, took Hollywood more lightly and were, on the whole, associated with better films and directors. The professional screenwriter, in any case, was a very different figure, fast-thinking, hard-working, and a person who had learned his or her trade in the cinema rather than outside: Ben Hecht and Leigh Brackett are good examples. But ‘writing with light’ fully comes into its own, perhaps, only in the work of the writer-director, the figure who holds (or at least directs) the camera and the pen. Erich von Stroheim and Chaplin were powerful early instances, and most of the directors of the French New Wave—Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol—wrote their own films. Orson Welles also wrote his scripts, although there is continuing discussion about how much of Citizen Kane (1941) is his and how much belongs to Hermann Mankiewicz. Beyond this, of course, lies the whole vexed question of who the ‘author’ of any film is. Playwrights like Tom Stoppard and David Hare have become successful directors, but perhaps the best example of the writer as master of quite different media is Harold Pinter, whose screenplays, chiefly for Joseph Losey (The Servant, Accident, The Go-Between, and others), are models of the craft and quite unlike any of Pinter's work for the theatre.

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