My contribution to the “Why’s This So Good?” series — a collaboration between Longreads, Alexis Madrigal, and Nieman Storyboard’s Andrea Pitzer designed to explore “what makes classic narrative nonfiction stories worth reading” — is about Raymond Chandler’s 1945 “Writers in Hollywood,” a scathing attack on the motion picture industry.
Chandler “brought to bear on his subject all the fury and surprising insights of the novelist who wrote ‘The Big Sleep,’ the gimlet-eyed practicality of the storyteller whose first publications were for pulp magazines, and the staggering self-absorption of the depressive alcoholic.” And the critique isn’t just a dusty object of curiosity from the vaults; it’s relevant now.
In the heyday of the Hollywood novelist-screenwriter, a slew of literary talents – Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker and Aldous Huxley, to name just a few – did time writing film scripts because they were easy money. Now, in the new narrative TV landscape, it’s cable companies that are signing novelists and memoirists in droves. Jonathan Ames, Jennifer Egan, Sam Lipsyte, Sloane Crosley, Salman Rushdie, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman are just a few recent hires. Given that fiction writers like Richard Price and George Pelacanos helped shape “The Wire,” arguably the most interesting story of our time, the focus on novelists makes a certain amount of sense. But how much creative control will they have? And will cable TV, too, eventually become too rigid to allow innovation?
Previously: Ten novels and short stories that would make good movies (at IFC) and notes following The Wire season 5 premiere.