The Screenwriter as Auteur: the Case for the Early Works of Robert Towne Essay

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The Screenwriter as Auteur: The Case for the Early Works of Robert Towne By Elaine Lennon 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 because the sources are those who have reasons for downplaying the role of the screenwriter: actors, producers, directors, and their publicity machines, both in the industry and in film studies. [1] The various critical methodologies which have evolved around film are principally to do with a film’s provenance. And, as Matthew Sweet reminds us, “the history of film criticism has created its own orthodoxies.” [2] Like a piece of art, a film’s value is directly attributable to the signature in the corner of the frame. However, if it is possible to accept in principle that film is a collaborative venture where does that leave the screenwriter in terms of the attributing of a single cinematic signature? The case for Robert Towne as cinematic auteur lies in those tropes which mark his particular style of authorship – a consistency of dramatic elements as well as a special talent for writing the kind of dialogue that actors love to speak. A survey of his work demonstrates the kind of themes and qualities that compare with those characteristics normally attributed to auteur directors and here qualify as a

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