Friday, February 20, 2009

Script First

Jack Webb may have been one of the world's most wooden actors, but as director of Pete Kelly's Blues, he had some pretty cool moves. One memorable shot early on is from inside a pizza oven, beginning as a pie is pulled out, flames coyly dancing at the left of the Cinemascope frame--as if from the point-of-view of the alchemy that turns dough into bread, or weaklings into toughs.

But my favorite moment in this atmospheric film has nothing to do with camera moves or plot twists or acting moments. It's part of the credits. They begin with Warner Bros. (of course) and Webb--but as actor, not director. Nothing is said about "a Jack Webb film" or anything else of that ilk. Instead, right after "Jack Webb as Pete Kelly" come words to warm this writer's heart: "in a screenplay by Richard L. Breen." Not "in a film by Jack Webb" or "in a Mark VII Production." It's an acknowledgment, rare these days, that the script comes first, that without it there would be no film: no producing, directing, gripping, gaffing, editing, and photographing; no roles for Jane Leigh, Peggy Lee, Lee Marvin, and their fellows.

They don't make 'em like that anymore, but I'd sure like to see somebody try. Maybe one of these days, a generous and innovative director will relinquish the usual vainglorious opening credit and put the script first again.

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