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"It's over, don't you get that?"* – William Goldman R.I.P.
Last week week lost one of modern cinema's greatest writers when William Goldman passed away at 87. Camus pays tribute to the author of some of the sharpest screenplays to hit Hollywood in the second half of the twentieth century.

I spent a rather splendid chunk of 1984 in the US, and my memories of the period are interspersed with reading and absorbing one of the best books on the film industry I have ever read. It was candid (in some cases foot-shootingly so), hugely entertaining and extremely instructive. Adventures in the Screentrade (a title riff on Dylan Thomas' Adventures in the Skin Trade) was a memoir and a behind the scenes look at the film industry by an insider, the remarkable and so very humanistic William Goldman whose death at the grand age of 87 was reported last week. That is a big crack in the Hollywood universe.

William Goldman © 
Writers Guild Foundation
Writers Guild Foundation

Screenwriters, it's fair to say, are rarely thrust forward into the glare of both pre-release marketing or post-success praise. This is odd for one fundamental reason. It's their work that puts movies on the screen in the first place. Yes, authors write novels that are adapted but those adaptations must work as feature films and not just filmed novels. We all know stars, movie aficionados know directors and a few cinematographers but only the truly upper echelon of movie geekdom can name more than five screenwriters. It's almost like seeing a great hall of people eating and none of them is aware of how much work it took and by whom that work was done to get the food on to their plates in the first place. I still scratch my head that (like teachers and nurses) screenwriters are not held in significantly higher regard. OK, for the top five per cent of superstar screenwriters (of which Goldman was certainly one), the pay is absurdly surreal but let's remember the grunts, the foot soldiers, those labouring daily who may hit a high pay-day once or twice in their life but usually toil fired by a passion for storytelling paying the rent with a second job. They're still on the ground digging up stories and passing them on. And William Goldman was their champion too. He was well known for nurturing talent.

The man was primarily a great provider of fine cinema. If he were only famous for being the writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then that would be enough to immortalise anyone. But his official credits and the untold movies out there that he rewrote with no recognition (but with, one imagines, good coin), reinforce his stellar reputation. Sure, there were a few misfires (I still do not understand the logic or even the existence of Dreamcatcher) but for Butch, All The President's Men, Magic, Marathon Man and The Princess Bride, I will be forever grateful. In most obits, his wisdom from the afore mentioned book is readily quoted; on Hollywood and making films, "No one knows anything," specifically referring to the producers and execs because each film is a prototype and until something works, no one knows if it will. Having said that, I believe the 2019 Avengers film is going to be absurdly successful. No one's going to bet against that. The second Goldmanism is "Screenplays are structure." Both nuggets of wisdom survive him and will go on enriching the film community.

Of course if screenplays are structure and dialogue takes a lower place in a screenplay's order of importance, it seems odd to celebrate Goldman by quoting lines but I can't quote structure however important it is... So here are three of my favourite Goldman moments, and not necessarily the more well known. Bill, you will be missed.

In Papillon, Steve McQueen is on the run and has just sipped from the same coffee mug a leprosy victim offered him, a gesture of trust...

Toussaint: How did you know I have dry leprosy, that it isn't contagious?
Papillon: I didn't.

Jason Robards as Ben Bradley in All the President's Men

In All The President's Men, I adored Jason Robard's turn as The Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. His wit and understatement was always bang on. The following also happens to describe what's happening in real time out in the open right now, which is why it's still über-relevant...

Ben Bradlee: We're under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I'm going to get mad. Goodnight.

And finally, there's the climax to one of Goldman's most famous lines, an oddly emotional climax given that the line is usually played for laughs throughout. This is, of course, the great Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride... He has finally cornered the six-fingered man.


(Inigo slashes his cheek, giving him a scar just like the one he gave Inigo)

Inigo Montoya: Offer me money.
Count Rugen: Yes!
Inigo Montoya: Power, too, promise me that. 

The Princess Bride

(He slashes his other cheek)

Count Rugen: All that I have and more. Please...
Inigo Montoya: Offer me anything I ask for. 
Count Rugen: Anything you want... 

(Rugen lunges but Inigo traps his arm and aims his sword...)

Inigo Montoya: I want my father back, you son of a bitch!

Game over for Rugen.


* Sheriff Ray Bledsoe to Butch and Sundance

William Goldman selected filmography

Masquerade (1965)
The Moving Target (1966)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The Hot Rock (1972)
Papillon (1973)
The Stepford Wives (1975)
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
All the President's Men (1976)
Marathon Man (1976)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Magic (1978)
Heat (1986)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Misery (1990)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Year of the Comet (1992)
Chaplin (1992)
Maverick (1994)
The Chamber (1996)
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
Fierce Creatures (1997)
Absolute Power (1997)
The General's Daughter (1999)
Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
Dreamcatcher (2003)

article posted
21 November 2018

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