Friday, April 19, 2013

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). No wonder Martin Scorsese thought highly enough of the film to add it to his collection.

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. No announcement of "a Jack Webb film" or anything else of that ilk. Instead, right after "Jack Webb as Pete Kelly," come words to warm a 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 a rare acknowledgment that the script comes first, that without it there would be no film: no producing, directing gripping, gaffing, editing, and photographing; no roles for Janet 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, an innovative director will relinquish the usual vainglorious opening credit, and put the script first again.

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