Raymond Chandler on ‘Writers in Hollywood’

Scott Smith’s Screenwriting From Iowa blog scores again:

raymondchandlerinhollywood

by Scott W. Smith

“HOLLYWOOD is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon.”
Raymond Chandler’s essay Writers in Hollywood published in the Atlantic in 1945

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that novelist/screenwriter Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity) was not in a happy place when he wrote the essay Writers in Hollywood which was published in the Atlantic back in 1945.

“The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion. Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made.”
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

“The first picture I worked on was nominated for an Academy award (if that means anything), but I was not even invited to the press review held right in the studio. An extremely successful picture made by another studio from a story I wrote used verbatim lines out of the story in its promotional campaign, but my name was never mentioned once in any radio, magazine, billboard, or newspaper advertising that I saw or heard – and I saw and heard a great deal. This neglect is of no consequence to me personally; to any writer of books a Hollywood by-line is trivial.
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

“Few screenwriters possess homes in Bel-Air, illuminated swimming pools, wives in full-length mink coats, three servants, and that air of tired genius gone a little sour. Money buys pathetically little in Hollywood beyond the pleasure of living in an unreal world, associating with a narrow group of people who think, talk, and drink nothing but pictures, most of them bad, and the doubtful pleasure of watching famous actors and actresses guzzle in some of the rudest restaurants in the world. I do not mean that Hollywood society is any duller or more dissipated than moneyed society anywhere: God knows it couldn’t be. But it is a pretty thin reward for a lifetime devoted to the essential craft of what might be a great art.”
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

But that essay was written over 65 years ago, and he was talking about a Hollywood studio system of the 30s & 40s. One we ironically look back on as the golden era of Hollywood—the era before TV muddied the waters. Time and time again you hear 1939 named as the best year ever in the history of motion pictures: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz. (And 1941 wasn’t too bad either: Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Meet John Doe, Suspicion, Sergeant York, How Green Was My Valley, Sullivan’s Travels.)

Every era produces its share of bad people and bad movies, but given a little time all of that is forgotten and we remember mostly the great movies—and the great filmmakers who made those movies. My guess is back in 1945 Chandler was too close to the egos—the sauguage making—to step back and see that some great movies were made.

When I first saw Double Indemnity 40 years after it was made I knew nothing of Raymond Chandler (screenwriter), Billy Wilder (screenwriter/director), or James M. Cain (who wrote the novel).  I was unaware of the tension Chandler and Wilder had in writing the script—I just knew it was a great film.  (I did know Fred MacMurray from the TV show My Three Sons, so it did take some effort seeing him as the bad guy.)

It would be interesting to see what Raymond Chandler would write today about Hollywood, independent filmmaking, global cinema, and even television. But he did end his 1945 essay with a little hope:

“In spite of all I have said, the writers of Hollywood are winning their battle for prestige. More and more of them are becoming showmen in their own right, producers and directors of their own screenplays. Let us be glad for their additional importance and power, and not examine the artistic result too critically. The boys make good (and some of them might even make good pictures). Let us rejoice together, for the tendency to become showmen is well in the acceptable tradition of the literary art as practiced among the cameras.
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

Chandler would have liked Joe Eszterhas a lot.  And I imagine if Chandler were alive to watch the 2008 Academy Awards he would have smiled when screenwriter/”showman” Diablo Cody won her Oscar for Juno and simply said, “You go girl.” And I think he’d be proud—and amazed— of the modern filmmakers that produced Winter’s Bone, The Artist, and Life of Pi.

To paraphrase what David Mamet said of theater, “Cinema is always dying, and always being reborn.”