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Robert Towne's Quiet Diplomacy


A Reuters interview

with Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne captures Towne's low-keyed,

rather diplomatic defense of a kind of filmmaking that was relatively

free of executive interference and marketing perceptions of what audiences

wanted. When asked to identify a major change between filmmaking in the

glory days of the 1970s and today, Towne said:

"The principle

difference is the fact that studio executives, once they pulled the

trigger on something, they pretty much left it to the filmmakers.

Nobody sat there and second guessed: 'Should we have a different

ending? Are the characters likable?' . . . There was more trust for the

filmmaker, then. It was your show."

While Towne clearly didn't want to be drawn into any kind of loud condemnation of today's Hollywood, he did offer a contrast in the way industry executives operated then and now.


"They

didn't have as many [studio executive] back then," Towne said. "That's not to say

there aren't executives who can't make invaluable contributions, but

you really have to be close to the material. They didn't consider that

their job then."

A few years ago a USC film school instructor had students in his large

screenwriting class turn in lists of films they believed to be

important, influential or which were just plain favorites. What became

apparent, as he later read aloud some of the results, is that the dawn

of film began, for many of the students, with Star Wars. While Towne's Chinatown did

appear on some student lists, very few films they chose were shot in

black and white, and even fewer included foreign pictures. Clearly the

traditional lists, such as the American Film Institute's 100 Years/100 Movies hall of fame, held little sway here.

It

got me to thinking how, with a little help of new film technologies,

today's hands-on Hollywood executives and marketing strategists could enhance film

classics by making them more palatable to contemporary tastes. Happy

endings (or even multiple alternate endings provided through

interactive programming) would be key. But would these be enough?

Perhaps, through newly shot scenes, new plot twists would have to be

introduced, along, perhaps, with some extra characters. Examples:

The Bicycle Thief:

Ricci and his son Bruno find the father's stolen bike. Or maybe the

ghost of a kind American soldier killed at Anzio buys him a brand-new

one that can fly.

The Godfather II: Michael Corleone takes his son Anthony with

him on his fateful trip to Havana. There, after spending much quality time with the boy,

Michael reconnects to the joys of being a kid and comes to realize the importance of being a strong father who

"is always there" for his family and never resorts to violence. They

return to the U.S. with a forgiven Fredo and the family goes legit.

Chinatown: Jake Gittes has a talking dog who leads him to

discover a cave full of pirates' treasure on Catalina Island during the

detective's visit to Noah Cross.

If readers have any ideas of how to improve aging movie classics, please send in your ideas.