Robert Towne's Quiet Diplomacy
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:
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.
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.
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.