Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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1984: Best Adapted Screenplay

Even as a child, I fantasized about winning this category, so imagine getting to discuss a lineup like this, all killer, no filler, and the winner is none other than a man whose plays I inhaled throughout high school:

Find copies of these screenplays. They are great samples of setting, characterization, action, dialogue. They are all readily available, as they've all gone on to be held up and taught as how to write a screenplay. Gosh, I love them all.

The nominees:

Peter Shaffer
from his play
second and final nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Screenplay, LAFCA Awards winner for Best Screenplay; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay

Well, goodness, if we're talking about strength of script and of adaptation... It's a great script full of conversations about faith and genius and dedication and craft and working at something and being naturally gifted and jealousy and the ridiculousness of both court politics and showbiz and, well, you name it, this flick has it. And when you take even a glimpse at the play, in form it is completely different, more unconventional with its Greek Chorus of Venezians and having the audience take the role of Father Confessor; no, the film is more straightforward, and still finds new ways to astonish and surprise, to humiliate Salieri and boost Mozart. It's...a beautiful piece of work. It's what all writers should strive for.

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Robert Towne (writing as P.H. Vazak) and Michael Austin
from Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
fourth and final nomination for past winner Towne, Austin's only nomination; WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay

I have never read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs' work, and my understanding is that Robert Towne so felt his screenplay was bastardized, he submitted his dog's name in place of his own for credit. I'm not sure what makes this such an embarrassment, from a script standpoint. The story of a man raised by apes who lived instinctively, forced to try to assimilate into "polite" society with all its manipulations and petty objections, only to lose guardians from both - one because his mind goes, the other because "civilized" man has a need to destroy in order to profit. The final film? Not great, in the end. The script? Oh, you can hear the potential in every misread line.

The Killing Fields
Bruce Robinson
from "The Death and Life of Dith Pran" by Sydney Schanberg
only nomination; BAFTA Awards winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, WGA Awards winner for Best Adapted Screenplay; Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay

If the awards campaign focused on the white journalist as the lead and Cambodian journalist-refugee Dith Pran as supporting despite becoming the focus of the film, the screenplay...oh, this screenplay knows better. Yes, it begins with the white journalist, portrays Dith Pran as almost a sidekick - what do you want, it's based on Schanberg's own article - but it subverts the typical Hollywood narrative not only by gradually ceding the narrative to Dith but by openly questioning Schanberg's own motivations. It's an intelligent script.

A Passage to India
David Lean
from the novel by E.M. Forster and its stage adaptation by Santha Rama Rau
third and final writing nomination; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay

Ambiguous, heavy on silence, lots of communication issues between what's said and unsaid and taken for granted, yet, even in the confusion - even with Adela Quested's vague testimony - the script makes clear what each character's perception of the truth should be. It raises thorny issues and knows there is no easy answer for any of them - my goodness, I should probably read E.M. Forster, every movie adapted from his work is so uncompromising and quietly heartwrenching!

A Soldier's Story
Charles Fuller
from his play A Soldier's Play
only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay

Fuller adapts his own work, so he knows the story well, but he also knows the difference between stage and cinema. I understand the play is more "let me tell you this story" dependent, with our hero detective Captain Davenport addressing the audience; cinema rendering this unnecessary, Davenport conducts his investigation with a noble stiffness befitting an officer. He listens, he does not tell us what or how to think - after all, all is established cinematically, with Big Mary and her saloon fleshed out, witht he hot days made vivid, with the time period there for you to see.


Oh, honey, I agree with Oscar, the winner is obviously:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actress: Judy Davis (A Passage to India), Sally Field (Places in the Heart), Jessica Lange (Country), Vanessa Redgrave (The Bostonians), and Sissy Spacek (The River). 

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