Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Best American Screenplays,edited by Sam Thomas with a foreward by Frank Capra (Crown: $24.95; 544 pp.)

December 07, 1986|Syd Field | Field is the author of "Screenplay" and "The Screenwriter's Workbook." and

The 1980s are the decade of the screenwriter. Everybody, it seems, is writing a screenplay. We all have a story to tell, a film to write. As a matter of fact, the two most popular courses on college campuses today are business and film; the "great American novel" has been replaced by the "great American screenplay."

"The time has arrived," says Frank Capra in his foreword to "Best American Screenplays," "for great screenplays to be read, admired and considered as literature."

It's true. We've waited a long time to get our hands on a collection of noteworthy screenplays. Edited by Sam Thomas, "Best American Screenplays" is a collection of 12 Academy Award-winning screenplays, including "All Quiet on the Western Front," by George Abbot, Maxwell Anderson and Dell Andrews; "Casablanca," by Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch; "Rebel Without a Cause," by Stewart Stern; "Bonnie and Clyde," by David Newman and Robert Benton; "The Graduate," by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, based on the book by Charles Webb; "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," by William Goldman, and several more.

Basically, it is a good selection. One can quibble with the choices, of course; I mean, why illustrate the American family with "Sounder," by Lonne Elder III, instead of "Ordinary People," by Alvin Sargent, from the novel by Judith Guest? Or, why completely ignore the private detective genre, like "Chinatown," by Robert Towne, or exclude "The Godfather," by Francis Ford Coppola, from the novel by Mario Puzo?

But the particular selection of screenplays is not the real issue here. In his somewhat ponderous introduction, Sam Thomas declares that "It is time to recognize and acknowledge that the motion-picture screenplay . . . can and should be considered literature in the same sense as a great novel or a great drama."

True, but we must remember, a screenplay is a reading experience that becomes a visual one. And therein lies the real problem with this collection. These screenplays are presented in a "literary" form, the pages modeled after the "Best American Play" anthology series. It focuses on the reading aspect, not the visual aspect of the screenplay. A screenplay is a story told with pictures in dialogue and description and placed within the context of dramatic structure.

Crown Publishers has taken the liberty of changing the specific form of the screenplay and printing those collected here as if they were plays. There is no visual fusion of word and image to generate a reader response, and as a result, the screenplays are almost unreadable. And therein lies the contradiction of this book. The public clearly wants to read and study screenplays. Last year more than 18,000 screenplays were registered at the Writers Guild of America, West, (who knows how many more at Writers Guild, East?) despite the fact that fewer than 100 films were made. We do need collections, then, but the screenplays in them must be made more accessible than they are here. The way it stands now, "Best American Screenplays" is like a bad relationship; something is better than nothing.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|