Robert Towne, Chinatown, and the Bewitchments of 'Tone'
Cameron, Evan Wm.
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Screenwriters during the 'studio era' were required to work in sequence upon the screenplays of movies. After the studios collapsed, however, they were obliged increasingly to work alone, many striving to secure above all what Robert Towne was to call the 'tone' of a movie – the 'feel' of its scenes. Towne wrote the screenplay for CHINATOWN, released in 1974, and among the most acclaimed movies of the last half of the twentieth-century. The ending of CHINATOWN, however, lacks power, as he acknowledged. Why? Because the scenes before it, when encountered in sequence, fail to cohere. Within this essay I unpack the weaknesses of the 'story' of CHINATOWN, concluding that screenwriters ought to avoid working alone, especially if bewitched by 'tone'.
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