Where to even start with William Goldman. I’ll start here. When I first began my site the tagline was “Nobody knows anything.” I think it remained so for about a decade. I can’t think of anyone I admired more in the movie business when I first started than William Goldman. So bright, so funny, so willing to jab a dagger into the heart of bullshit that Hollywood ran itself by. I’m such a fan of Goldman’s that I’ve watched Absolute Power, directed by Clint Eastwood multiple times and All the President’s Men remains in my top five of all time. Goldman was a once in a generation mind and talent.
He was nominated for an Oscar twice and won twice. Once for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and again for All the President’s Men, so well deserved. He also wrote the original Stepford Wives (which is actually pretty good), Marathon Man (FUCKING MARATHON MAN), A Bridge Too Far, The Princess Bride, adapted Misery – and thought that was probably his last great one, he did go on to adapt more Stephen King with Hearts in Atlantis and Dreamcatcher. Misery was probably the last time audiences liked any of the movies he wrote.
For much of the early part of my site, I spent a good deal on Martin Scorsese never having won an Oscar. It was back then that Harvey Weinstein was doing all manner of things to win Scorsese the Oscar. That was what prompted Goldman, then writing a column for Variety on the Oscars in 2003 to write:
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am sick unto death of feeling guilty about Martin Scorsese.
Here are the names of five great directors: Charlie Chaplin, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles. What do they have in common? For all their fame and brilliance, none has won the Oscar for best direction.
Neither has Scorsese.
Should the five have won? Absolutely. But it’s not a mortal sin they didn’t. Should Scorsese? You bet. A couple of times. (“Taxi Driver,” obviously, “Raging Bull,” obviously. But I fell in love with his talent earlier on, with “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”)
I think this was this was the year that Harvey got into trouble for using Robert Wise to help sell Scorsese for a win for Gangs of New York. And I can tell you, there was no stronger champion for Marty than I was that year. Though I recall being angry at Goldman’s piece now I look back at it and smile. He was speaking truth to power and no one, especially in the Oscar business, does that now:
This year, more than ever, it’s like there’s a Byzantine plot to get Scorsese the honor. As if the phonier critics all dropped to their knees and looked up at the Hollywood Gods, going in unison, “Oh pwease, we twied so hard wif ‘Kundun,’ we even twied wif ‘Bwing Out the Dead,’ so pwease pwease wet Marty win this year, he wants it sooooo bad.”
That he does. The Hollywood parties he is attending must make him want to barf, but there is, glad-handing anyone in the vicinity who is an Academy member who might throw him a vote.
Miramax, the greatest movie company of the era (and the most brutal — and maybe they have to go together) is so all-out for Scorsese it’s heart-stopping. They do a brilliant job and I honor that — but I will never forgive them for hyping the Oscar to Roberto Benigni, the scummiest award in the Academy’s history. And I suspect Scorsese will win, too.
But he sure doesn’t deserve it, not this year — “Gangs of New York” is a mess.
Please do not sputter on about some of the visuals — my God, bring Ed Wood back from the dead, give him a hundred mil-plus to play with, he’d give you some visuals, too.
No, the problem with “Gangs of New York” is nothing new in Scorsese’s work — he has never been secure with a story. No one’s much better with actors or look or camera placement. It’s that most crucial director’s tool that haunts him. The reason his movies do not make much, if any, money is not because he is dealing with esoteric subjects that are above the average moviegoer’s head. It’s the clumsy storytelling that frustrates us, sending us out of the theater dissatisfied.
“Gangs” is in trouble from the outset. In the opening scene Leo, at about age 10, is watching his daddy shave. There is a cut. The razor is given to the kid and then the father intones the following: “The blood stays on the blade.”
I have a friend who is so giddy with the sheer pretentiousness of that line that he says it to everyone. You say “Good morning.” He answers, “Yes, and the blood stays on the blade.”
And please do not blame the screenwriter for that. Because when you are dealing with a giant ape director, they get what they want. And Scorsese chose to open the story that way.
I can remember really taking the whole thing very personally. And feeling slightly betrayed by it all. Daring to criticize my own cinematic idol, Scorsese, but also helping to thwart his chances for winning (though as we all know now, Goldman was right, Gangs had no chance).
And then he wrote something in that piece I never noticed before. He wrote:
OK, a word about fights in the 2002 films: It’s the worst year ever. I thought nothing would ever beat “Insomnia” with Pacino in climactic combat vs. that tower of power, Robin Williams,. Eleven feet tall, the two of them together, tops.
Goddamn it, if he wasn’t right again. Insomnia has become, I think, one of the best unrecognized films of Nolan’s career and remains my favorite of his. Yes, Goldman was right again. Though none of us could see it back then. I guess that’s what happens when you’re too young to understand why people who really know things say things you don’t like.
A finer mind in Hollywood there never was. A more fiery rebel did not exist. I will never forget him. Rest in peace, Oh Great One.