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BOOK REVIEW: William Goldman's Which Lie Did I Tell?: Or, More Adventures in the Screen Trade

A classic book for anyone interested in film.
by Charles Tatum

Screenwriter William Goldman has a lot of good stories to tell about working in Hollywood. He is often very funny, and it is interesting to read about the genesis of his work in such films as "Misery" and "The Ghost and the Darkness." He even covers his one horrifyingly awful bomb "The Year of the Comet," a film so bad I forgot it ever existed until I read this book.

Goldman wants to use this book to help other screenwriters through his experience and examples from his own scripts. His honesty about what works and what does not is very refreshing, compared to other screenwriting books that salivate over every piece of celluloid released. If you want even better Hollywood opinions by Goldman, read his "The Big Picture."

I cannot, however, fall over myself recommending this book. After talking about the films he did in the last few years (some of them good, most of them not), Goldman offers up a few examples of screenplays that work. Cue "Chinatown"! I have seen this dull little film dissected and gone over with a fine tooth comb for many years now. I used to want to be a screenwriter, so I punished myself by reading all of those books by so-called experts. Everyone mentions "Chinatown"...EVERYONE. Goldman also throws in the fake orgasm scene from "When Harry Met Sally...," another piece of overrated fluff. He includes the odious Farrelly Brothers, with their cinematically triumphant zipper scene from "There's Something About Mary."

In a good idea I have never seen before, Goldman includes part of an original screenplay he has written, and provides comments from other screenwriters about what they thought of it. "The Big A" (a terrible title) is awful, but Scott Frank, Callie Khouri, and John Patrick Shanley found some merit to it. The Farrelly Brothers weighed in on it, and provided the least amount of reasonable help to the exercise.

I enjoy Goldman's non-fiction writing more than some of his films (ugh to "The Princess Bride" and "The Ghost and the Darkness," yay to "Misery" and "Memoirs of an Invisible Man"). It is nice to see someone take Hollywood to task without having to resort to telling us who they slept with or saw use cocaine.

Another minus: maybe to appear hip and cool, the book is littered too liberally with the F word, and it ain't "falafel." I guess I expected better from a two time Oscar winner who must have a thesaurus hidden somewhere.

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originally posted: 12/27/02 12:05:15
last updated: 08/14/04 00:10:55
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