“This place makes everyone a gambler,” meant Joan Didion of Hollywood, nine years after she and husband John Gregory left Manhattan to make their fortunes as a screenwriting team.
When the newly married magazine writers rolled the dice over their career change in 1964, neither of them had ever read a screenplay, let alone written it. Fortunately, on one ecstatic night in Beverly Hills, they saw a TV actor throw one at his girlfriend. They stole it, drew a diagram of how its story was put together, and figured it out that unlike the sugar louse – and unlike the drunks they admired, like Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who were sick of the Dream Factory – they would never let Los Angeles make them lose their cool .
How hard is Hollywood? Didion has been a steady job as a film critic for Vogue, defending the little beach flicks (“All the plot is episodic; the point is the waves”) and criticizing “The Sound of Music” for being a musical, which she found insulting. (“I guess you could have some chubby Technicolor chrysanthemums, just think again.”) Meanwhile, Dunn’s clinical interest in filmmaking will soon result in his non-fiction book, “The Studio,” which covered, among other things, how she An advertising company for 20th Century Fox whipped up the 1967 “Doctor Dolittle” in the awards race with nine Academy Award nominations despite the mediocre ratings.
However, Didion and Dunn’s get-rich-quick scheme wasn’t as easy as they had hoped. In their 25 years, the couple saw their names credited on the big screen only six times. Didion vowed to protect her heart from Hollywood. You’ve never bet more optimism than you can lose. But screenwriting was supposed to give her the freedom to write serious artwork, not waste her time on endless draft reviews without pay.
Worse yet were the movies hmm he did not do I write. Over frequent lunches of white wine and grilled fish, producers presented the pair with a disco-era replica of “Rebel Without a Cause,” a reworking of Fitzgerald’s tragedy “Tender Is the Night” with a happy ending, and a UFO flick in the 1980s The Two Fabulous Giants Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and this three-word brainstorm: “World War II.”
“what do you want to do with him?” Dunn asked.
The producer replied, “You are the writers.”
The irony is that the more the Hollywood couple mocked in the articles, the higher the script fee. Criticizing the businessmen in suits could have made Didion and Dunn persona non grata at the Polo Arena. Instead, his sarcasm made them seem smart. There were two smart people who knew exactly what they had in common. that they I got Or, as Dunn joked, “I wasn’t entirely clear what exactly Going Hollywood meant, except that it’s a one-of-a-kind sale show, much more exciting than the University of Iowa Writers’ Going University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.”
It’s hard to argue that Didion and Dunn’s films are more distinctly the same than anyone could touch an on-screen actor wrapping their tongue around Didion’s dictation. (Or at least, the traces of her sharp precision that linger after she’s been massaged in the studio.) Still, in honoring Didion’s creative life, it’s worth making time for work that fills our image of her as not just a relentless prose designer. , but also an aspiring artist who knew exactly when to compromise in the service of her larger goals.
Here’s a look at five movies available to stream written by or about Didion.
Before Didion Woden learned to play the Hollywood game, budding screenwriters made a novice mistake by choosing books that that they Found interesting – not John Q. Public. Didion explained, with James Mill’s book containing heroin, “Panic in Needle Park,” “The movie told me right away.” The film, with its modest box office receipts, was a springboard for star Al Pacino’s career, but it didn’t do much for it. (Not available to stream.) At least, the paycheck allowed Didion to complete her dark, quiet novel, “Play As You Lie,” about an actress who unravels herself from a nasty cold in Los Angeles via drug use, sex, and speed. Down the highway in a convertible that acts as a robotic fugue. When the novel was a minor success, Didion and Dunn turned it into their second film, with Tuesday Weld taking the title role and “swimmer” director Frank Berry at the helm. Film critics loved it; Didion (and the masses), even less. “Everything was different,” she said, “even though I wrote the script.”
‘A star is born’
Stream it on HBO Max
Time to make some real dough. So in their third movie, the duo updated their rock ‘n’ roll for “A Star Is Born” featuring Carly Simon and James Taylor. The truth is, Didion and Dunn had never seen previous versions. They just wanted to go with the musicians on the road, as their research involved talking to groups about injecting adrenaline and following Led Zeppelin to Cleveland, where they enjoyed calling a convenient number written on the dressing room wall. . When Barbra Streisand announced her interest in the project, the couple were finally forced to watch the original 1937 version at the record star’s home while their daughter, Quintana Roo, played with Streisand and John Peters’ pet lion cub. Neither writer was passionate enough about the project to commit to it once Streisand took charge. Their draft was later rewritten by 14 screenwriters before the starlet was satisfied that there was an award contender. Streisand received a Golden Globe Award for the film, making her the third consecutive actress to win an award for the role that Didion began on Page. (Weld won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for “Play It as It Lays,” while Katie Wayne won Best Actress at Cannes for Panic.)
For 15 years, Didion and Dunn took turns trying to get money out of the studios. One can do the first draft of the script; The other is editing and reviewing. Now it’s Dunn’s turn to adapt one of his novels, the bestselling Black Crime, True Confessions, inspired by the Black Dahlia murder. Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro play the siblings: Duvall is a detective; De Niro, a Roman Catholic Monsignor whose future in the Church depends on how his brother deals with the case. While reviewers mostly enjoyed the thriller, some found the plot vague and confusing. The mixed response echoed reactions to Hitchcock’s “vertigo” before it was later considered a classic, which might make Didion smile. After all, not only did she buy her wedding dress from Ransohoff’s, the same store where Jimmy Stewart made Kim Novak, she and Dunn got married at Mission San Juan Bautista under the bell tower where Novak jumped to her death.
‘Up close and personal’
Rent it on the main platforms.
There was only one reason why Didion and Dunn signed on to adapt the biography of NBC news anchor Jessica Savich, who died in a car accident in 1983 shortly after airing a segment in which she appeared drunk: They needed Writers Guild health insurance. The trade-off may not have been worth it given the pressures of writing 27 drafts until Disney, the film’s financier, was convinced that all traces of Savic’s drug use, divorce, abortion, and suicide attempts had been erased from what it was now. Michelle Pfeiffer’s totally fictional workplace story revolves around a successful journalist who lives until the end of the credits. “Up Close and Personal” took eight years to complete, and best of all is Dunn’s brutal memoir about the ordeal called “The Beast: Living Off the Big Screen.” Savic never got her résumé but a documentary about her struggle to be taken seriously in a mostly male workplace — a struggle Didion understands that studio executives often refuse to correct through phone calls from their boss Don Dunn on The Line – Will Ferrell was inspired to make his own film about chauvinism in the local news, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”
“Joan Didion: The Center Won’t Hold”
Stream it on Netflix.
Although Didion and Dunn escaped Hollywood to return to New York, filmmaking remained a family business. Her brother-in-law Dominic, a film and television producer, has raised a family of actors, including “Poltergeist” star Dominic Dunn and actor and director Griffin Dunn, who in 2017 convinced his famous aunt to let him film an interview with her for a documentary about her life. Their knowledge allows both to speak frankly. Den thanks Didion for not laughing when his testicles fell out of his swimsuit as a boy; Didion confesses to him that a 5-year-old girl’s encounter on LSD, an encounter that led to one of the darkest scenes in her book Slack Toward Bethlehem, gave her suspense. Didion admits: “You live through moments like this, if you’re doing a piece. Good or bad.” This moment is not comfortable, but honest – a real Didion revealed, finally immortalized in the movie.