Raymond Chandler: There’s No Art of the Screenplay in Hollywood

In 1932, as America slipped deeper into the Great Depression, Raymond Chandler lost his job as an oil company executive. Drinking and absenteeism didn’t help. So it was time to improvise. Soon enough, the 45 year old reinvented himself, becoming America’s foremost writer of hard-boiled detective fiction. During the 30s, he wrote 20 stories for pulp magazines and published his first novel, The Big Sleep (1939). Then, it was off to Hollywood, where Chandler co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944) with Billy Wilder and collaborated on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951).

Hollywood may have buttered Chandler’s bread, but he never felt much affection for the film industry, and didn’t hesitate to say so. Writing for The Atlantic in November, 1945, he lamented how the Hollywood system bled anything you’d call “art” from the screenwriting process:

Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making – and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay. But in Hollywood the screenplay in written by a salaried writer under the supervision of a producer – that is to say, by an employee without power or decision over the uses of his own craft, without ownership of it, and, however extravagantly paid, almost without honor for it.

Thanks to The Atlantic, you can read his full lament, all 4,000+ words, here. And, on a related note, we’d strongly encourage you to revisit Chandler’s conversation with Ian Fleming, the creator of the great spymaster character James Bond. This classic piece of audio was recorded in 1958, and is now listed in our collection of 275 Cultural Icons: Great Artists, Writers & Thinkers in Their Own Words.

via @maudnewton

 


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