Thursday 6 November 2014

Four-minute masterclass

Here's a masterclass in screen-writing, ensemble acting and editing/cinematography, all in four minutes. It's from Elia Kazan's The Last Tycoon (1976). In a spellbinding performance Monroe Stahr, the young head of the studio played by Robert De Niro runs rings around the pompous and  disgruntled British writer Boxley (Donald Pleasance).

From the uncompleted novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. What more do you want?

There's a handful of great films about Hollywood. Apart from The Last Tycoon I'd add Altman's The Player, Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, A Star is Born (the Judy Garland/James Mason version), Singin' in the Rain (which many forget is about how studios managed the coming of sound) and Vincent Minelli's marvellous melodrama The Bold and the Beautiful.

And how about Bogart's last movie? He plays a washed-up and ailing screenwriter in Nicholas Ray's superb In a Lonely Place (1950). Found slumped over a typewriter and surrounded by screwed up drafts, heaped ashtrays and an empty bottle of scotch, a sheet of paper bears his last, and perfect, words:

I was born when she kissed me.
I died when she left me.
I lived a few weeks while she loved me.

Match that!
But there's only one great novel about Tinseltown and it's a great novel full stop: Nathanael West's bleak and piercing Day of the Locust. I get the impression it's not much read these days. One of the main characters is called Homer Simpson.

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