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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