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What follows is a study of Hollywood screenwriter Robert Towne. Theoretical notions of the screenplay have largely been cast in terms of screenwriting practice as an adjunct of studio production schedules. A popular cultural text in its own right, the screenplay is a procedurally central yet provisional document originated by a writer and subject to alteration within the production process. Auteurism has dominated film theory for over fifty years and is the point of departure for this study. While the critical method employed here is not rigidly anti-director, it seeks to enact an intervention into prior debates surrounding the attribution of screen credits – particularly the controversial possessory credit claimed by directors to complex cinematic works. It enumerates the elements central to an understanding of the screenplay as derived from various writings on not just the Hollywood screenplay but also dramatic playwriting. Arguing for the centrality of the screenwriter in the era of American auteur cinema is not without its practical and conceptual contradictions, however Towne’s position as collaborator extraordinaire is precisely the reason to reconsider his role and to attribute to him the title of auteur where appropriate. The major films written and/or directed by Towne are examined using elemental components of the screenplay, namely: action (story or plot), character, dialogue, genre, location and visuals, theme and tone (or point of view) and in chronological order of production and exhibition. The project as a whole is contextualised within a necessarily synoptic theoretical and historical analysis of the American studio system since 1960 in four key phases: 1960-1966; 1967-1975; 1976-1989; and from 1990 onwards. Towne’s career is a prism for the examination of evolving narrative techniques, screenplay structure, different spheres and eras of production, studio politics and the careers of individual producers and stars associated with his work. The thesis concludes that Robert Towne’s position as an author in cinema is as equally deserved by the screenwriter as the director and that Robert Towne is a principal auteur of the films he has written and directed inasmuch as his signature is recognisable amongst the multiple collaborators required to make a film in the Hollywood system. Although the idea of authorship itself is perhaps overly literary and somewhat inappropriate in its application to the study of a collaborative institution it retains its value as a principle of organisation and constitutes a model by which to understand the significance of the screenwriter’s contribution to cinema.
Lennon, E. (2009) The Screenplays of Robert Towne 1960-2000. Doctoral Thesis, Technological University Dublin. doi:10.21427/D7TC73