The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History

A former Chron editor's first book is provocative and entertaining

By David Kipen

Melville Manifestos (Feb.), ($12)

It's a tad perverse that film critics routinely front-load their reviews with the director's name, because most American moviegoers can barely cite two. (They would be Scorsese and Spielberg.) But that's the lingering legacy of the auteur theory, which holds that the director is the "author" of a movie. Promulgated in 1950s France by then-critics Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and other wannabe filmmakers — and here in the '60s by critic Andrew Sarris — auteurism is an admittedly imperfect attempt to decipher cinematic history and single out the major artists. In this exuberant rant, former Chronicle book editor David Kipen enthusiastically takes a sledgehammer to the auteur theory. His aim is not merely to destroy the cult of the director, but also to elevate the crucial contributions of a perennially denigrated (albeit well-paid) group of Hollywood pros: screenwriters. As befits a tribute to wordsmiths, Kipen freely mixes literary metaphors with movie references, showcasing a rare knowledge of both. Provocative and entertaining, his "radical rewrite" is, like its bête noire, meritorious yet far from definitive. Kipen acknowledges as much by inviting the reader to argue with him, and by challenging film scholars to revisit screenwriters' oeuvres the way an earlier generation did with directors. To that end, he augments his witty essay with thumbnail bios and filmographies of 30 remarkable screenwriters, past and present.

 
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