Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Italian Screenwriting System

Thinking about Suso Cecchi D'Amico, the prolific Italian screenwriter who just died at the age of 96, it occurs to me: while it's often complained that U.S. screenwriters don't get enough credit, writers in other countries' film industries were in some ways even more anonymous.

When I became interested in old movies, the names of some U.S. screenwriters sort of leaped out at me from repeated viewing, but it was much more difficult to learn the styles of Italian or Japanese screenwriters -- and not just because of the names themselves. Italian movies usually credited the screenplay to a committee of writers, making it difficult to single out one particular writer as worthy of attention.

And outside the U.S. (and to a lesser extent England) it was much easier for a director to get a writing credit on a film: there are many directors from France, Italy and so on who were credited as writer-directors for contributions that would never have earned them a writing credit in the U.S. I'm not saying, mind you, that these directors didn't deserve writing credit or that their contributions to the writing were negligible. But some of them were not full-scale writer-directors like a Bergman or a Sturges; they hired writers and worked with them.

So in English-speaking countries, a director like Hitchcock or Lubitsch might put his stamp on every bit of the scripting process without being billed as a co-writer, whereas in other countries they (along with others who contributed) would get a screenplay credit. And when the director is listed as one of the writers, even if he's only one of five or six writers, it's hard to pay much attention to the other names. There were some directors who were not writers at all, and whose movies tended to be clearer (both in credit and style) about who the writers were; Alain Resnais, who rarely takes writing credits, is an example.

Add all this up and I think it's rare that a screenwriter -- with rare exceptions of genuine star screenwriters like Jacques Prévert -- gets much critical attention. Of course this is to some extent the way it should be: the writing of a film is usually done by several people, all supervised by and writing toward the goals set by one person (preferably the director). But I do think it's a gap in my knowledge that I don't fully understand what D'Amico brought to the films she worked on, and I think I need to find out more about that.

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