Tag Archives: hollywood

Where’s Terry?

I was so appalled by the Spring Issue of DGA Quarterly that I had to buy it and pore through it to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Is it possible to print a multi-page article on Doctor Strangelove, analyzing several scenes and noting numerous characters by name, without once mentioning Terry Southern, the key co-author of the screenplay which nailed those scenes and colorfully christened those characters?
I understand that this mag is the house organ of the film directors’ union. Still, sentences like “Kubrick wastes no time getting his narrative going” and discussions of how the comedy is measured and paced amid scenes of suspense willfully deflect the importance of the writer, ascribing to Kubrick what any fan of Southern’s novels and other screenplays will quickly realize are this writer’s hallmark, not this director’s.
The whole tyrannical director-as-auteur theory was softened decades ago to allow for the contributions of key collaborators. Even the hyper hands-on director Stanley Kubrick gave credit where due and didn’t hog the limelight more than he needed to. He corralled stars from all fields and used their talents wisely.
The especially galling aspect of this DGA Quarterly piece (penned by Rob Feld) is that it leans heavily on quotes from Lawrence Kasdan, a writer/director who knows firsthand that movies don’t make themselves up as they go along. In other realms, Terry Southern has been sanctified for taking a meandering and unfocused Strangelove script and adding consistency and sharp contemporary satire to it. Here, he’s roundly ignored for that feat, though the monikers he coined (Brigadier General Jack Ripper, Major “King” Kong, President Merkin Muffley) jump around the page as lively as he made them.
I clearly recall the aggrieved letters which Evan Hunter, mystery novelist supreme and equally adept writer of screenplays, would write to the New York Times whenever some critic would analyze Hitchcock’s The Birds and attribute certain achievements in it to the director when they had originated with Hunter the screenwriter. Hunter’s passed away, but his mission remains. Directors are great and necessary, but they don’t do it all. When discussing Doctor Strangelove, give Terry Southern (not to mention Peter George, who wrote the novel which initially inspired the film) his due.