Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Note of Appreciation to William Goldman While He's Still Alive

A movie made in 1969 and a recent round of emails and Facebook comments are responsible for this posting. It's rather traditional to wait until someone dies before saying all those good things you meant to say before, but then you find out you're too late.

That's why I'm writing about William Goldman now. Not his bio or a tribute, but just what he has meant to me with his ideas and stories and characters, both on the printed page and on the screen (movie, not TV or iPad). 

I watched "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" recently, screenplay by Goldman, and posted a short comment on FB about a particular scene (the card game near the beginning). One of my favorite all-time scenes, a model of perfection.

Card Player #2:  Well, looks like you just about cleaned everybody out, fella. You haven't lost a hand since you got to deal. What's the secret of your success?
 Sundance Kid:  Prayer.

Jeb Schary, who has movies in his veins, commented about Goldman's writing, may just be his favorite writer.
Bill Wine commented with 3 words: "Is it safe?" An unforgettable phrase, frequently repeated in Goldman's movie and novel, "Marathon Man."
Chris Snyder came up with, "Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?"

Over the past few days, I've thought about how many books by Goldman I've enjoyed and how many of his movies have kept me glued to the screen, all with characters and stories that remain alive in my mind long after the book is closed and the film has ended. 

Here, in no particular order, are my favorites. 
It starts off with the first book I read by him, in 1973. (egads, that was 40 years ago!). "The Princess Bride" is still one of my all-time favorite novels. It's ingeniously structured and a delight to read... and re-read. Others are "Marathon Man," (I gave a copy to my dentist to read the part about drilling the tooth). Other novels are "Tinsel," Magic," and "The Color of Light." 

My non-fiction favorites (Hollywood and Theater observations, with sharp-edged humor and criticism) are "Adventures in the Screen Trade," ""Which Lie Did I Tell?", and "The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway." The last one was written in 1969 and examines why some shows are hits and some flop. Of course Broadway has gone through upheavals since then. Still, it reflects Goldman's love of theater.

As a screenwriter, Goldman is responsible for some of my lasting favorites: "The Princess Bride," the aforementioned "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Marathon Man," "Misery," "All the President's Men," "A Bridge Too Far," "No Way to Treat a Lady," and "Harper." I urge you see them all, twice. The first time to enjoy the movie. The second time to listen to the words, the silences, the storyline, the relationships between characters

If you'd like to see and hear Goldman talk about screenwriting, about his books and movies, and what he thinks about Hollywood, I urge you to check out this 90 minute video from The Writers Guild. It's all fascinating, especially the last half hour, when he talks about things more personal for him. It took place in 2010. Actually, it's all relaxed and personal and totally void of ego. 
William Goldman talks about writing

To close out this note of appreciation, here is what Goldman said about his own writing in 2000. 

"Someone pointed out to me that the most sympathetic characters in my books always died miserably. I didn't consciously know I was doing that. I didn't. I mean, I didn't wake up each morning and think, today I think I'll make a really terrific guy so I can kill him. It just worked out that way. I haven't written a novel in over a decade... and someone very wise suggested that I might have stopped writing novels because my rage was gone. It's possible. All this doesn't mean a helluva lot, except probably there is a reason I was the guy who gave Babe over to Szell in the "Is it safe?" scene and that I was the guy who put Westley into The Machine. I think I have a way with pain. When I come to that kind of sequence I have a certain confidence that I can make it play. Because I come from such a dark corner."
Goldman has also said of his work: "I [don’t] like my writing. I wrote a movie called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and I wrote a novel called The Princess Bride and those are the only two things I’ve ever written, not that I’m proud of, but that I can look at without humiliation."

I'm still hoping for one more novel or screenplay from him. In the meantime, Thanks, Mr. Goldman. You've enriched my life with your words.