Of Oscars and invisible writers

Are you, like David Kipen, a Netflix subscriber with “the cockeyed notion that the screenwriter may have been partly responsible for your enjoyment” of a film? If so, you’re shit out of luck searching for more by the same writer to fill out your queue.

Alas, Netflix has never heard of Jeffrey Caine. “Michael Caine?,” it offers cheerfully. “Jeffrey Wright?,” the fine actor who may by now have been nominated for “Syriana.” Even, with just a hint of desperation, “Citizen Kane?”

You get the idea. Netflix, despite its pretensions to comprehensiveness, indexes its films by actor, genre and — but of course — director, but not by screenwriter. Even if you’re not the author of a new book (as I am) arguing that screenwriters have a more legitimate claim to the authorship of their films than directors do, this omission seems wrongheaded in the extreme — and bad business besides….

But the ultimate insult is yet to come. Among Netflix’s many failed attempts to come up with Jeffrey Caine’s name is one other: “Jeffrey Dahmer?” (And not, laughably, as the subject of the docudrama “Dahmer,” which Netflix stocks, but as an “actor” in the unsavory documentary “Serial Killers: The Real Life Hannibal Lecters.”) Here, finally, is Netflix’s perfect snub to the thousands of nameless scribes who, after all, only write what amounts to the company’s bread and butter. Poor Raymond Chandler! If only — instead of co-writing the scripts for “Double Indemnity” and “Strangers on a Train,” to say nothing of writing the source novels for “The Big Sleep” and “Farewell, My Lovely” — he’d had the good sense to kill and eat somebody.

The Boston Globe‘s Matthew Price profiles Kipen in anticipation of his new book, The Schreiber Theory
A Radical Rewrite of American Film History
, which appears tomorrow.

On February 9, Kipen will debate the politics of movie authorship with director/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer at CalArts.

See also: Michael Schaub’s quick primer on the year’s Academy Award nominees for best adapted screenplay.


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