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The Screenwriter And Authorship Essay

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THE SCREENWRITER & AUTHORSHIP

        By Elaine Lennon

Introduction

In a 1997 issue of Film History, John Belton called for a revised history of screenwriting, a mere twenty-six years after Richard Corliss’s ground-breaking quest had begun. [1]   The theme of that particular issue of the journal   was ‘Screenwriters and Screenwriting’ and its editorial is a plea to reinstate the screenwriter in his proper place in film history, and popular writing about cinema, just as revisionist film historiographers have analysed filmmaking in terms of group stylistic practices. [2]

Prescriptive writings on film, and much film criticism, are founded on the notion of the director as author. The questions arising from this traditionally Romantic originary concept invariably centre on the role of director and his deployment of mise-en-scène and narrative stratagems. This construction has frequently ignored the true nature of the production process yet it has had far-reaching effects on the industry itself in the form of the auteur theory (and it remains the only film ‘theory’ to do so.) The classical Hollywood model, far from being a result of some director-led aesthetic, was in fact oriented towards a production line dictated by patterns of consumption, measured by studios, financed by Wall Street and guided by producers.
Definitions of the cinematic and the assigning of both meaning and names to the narrative models which provide our cultural self-image have ceaselessly proved their attraction in the area of film studies.   However,   the naming of names is no easier now than it has ever been. Screen authorship remains keenly debated in both popular and academic criticism.   The artistic neglect of the screenwriter and the identity of the screenplay has its roots in the origins of American cinema, as Tom Stempel reminds us in his landmark book, FRAMEWORK:   A History of Screenwriting in the American Film:

      Much film history about screenwriting is inaccurate...

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