Stop Me If I Ever Do This: Ann Althouse Disses William Goldman Without Knowing What The Hell She’s Talking About

Sometimes I worry about Ann Althouse. She’s often one of the most perceptive and objective bloggers on law and politics, but when she leaves her zone, we get things like her recent dismissive assessment of screenwriter/novelist William Goldman upon the news of his death.

Althouse admits that she hasn’t seen many of Goldman’s films, and I presume that she hasn’t read his novels, either. Nonetheless, she writes, “Goldman seems to have been a competent, successful, mainstream writer, and good for him, but I have no sense of him as original, profound, or speaking to me.”

Let me enlighten her. (And by the way, how could he “speak to her” if she didn’t read his novels or watch his best films?) Goldman was one of the very best, cleverest and reliably excellent screenwriter of his time, and probably any time.  Althouse cherry-picks an interview in which he said in part,

“[P]ay attention to the audience. The great thing about audiences is, I believe they react exactly the same around the world at the same places in movies. They laugh, and they scream, and they’re bored. And when they’re bored it’s the writer’s fault.”

Incredibly, Althouse uses this endorsement of lively writing, which Goldman was a master at, to minimize and condemn him. “And that’s the attitude about movies that has taken over in the last 40 years and why I’m not interested in movies anymore. This grand effort to preemptively stomp out all boredom bores me,” she writes, whatever THAT means. Goldman isn’t talking about explosions, sex scenes or CGI dinosaurs. He’s talking about stories that go somewhere, avoiding cliches, and making an audience want to watch and listen. My approach to play direction embodies exactly the same philosophy. I learned a lot about drama and comedy from Goldman’s films.

Everyone has an opinion and they are welcome to it, but bloggers should stay away from uninformed opinions, and on movies, Ann Althouse is uninformed. She doesn’t even try to hide it, beginning her commentary on screenwriter William Goldman while admitting that she’s never seen 1976’s “Marathon Man” (he also wrote the novel, which is terrific)
and 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”  If you haven’t seen “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” you never cared much about movies, you don’t understand Westerns, you have huge gaps in your understanding of American culture, you definitely lack proper respect for the contributions of William Goldman to it, and I wonder about your intellectual curiosity, frankly.

There may have been screenwriters who contributed more immortal scenes, lines and catch phrases to our lexicon, but not many. For example…







and especially…

…among others.

There can be many critical assessments of Goldman and his place in Hollywood history, but the minimum requirement for making such an assessment is watching his movies.

10 thoughts on “Stop Me If I Ever Do This: Ann Althouse Disses William Goldman Without Knowing What The Hell She’s Talking About

  1. If he had done nothing but “The Princess Bride” (unsurprisingly, the most exact book to movie translation I’VE ever seen), that would have been enough, all by itself.

    • Well, that’s probably because he wrote the book too. And what’s funny — I had never thought about it before now — is he wrote it like a screenwriter, tossing out all the clunky “novel” bits as part of the meta-story structure. It was genius.

      I agree with Jack, Goldman’s influence on film had been of the best possible sort: intelligent, creative, and accessible. It’s not something to be dismissed.

      • You’re right: he did write novels cinematically. But he also used the form to create suspense in ways a film cannot, as in “Magic,” when it was impossible to tell whether the “voice” of the ventriloquist dummy was coming from a cursed doll or its crazy owner. In “Marathon Man,” we couldn’t tell that the agent Scylla and the hero’s older brother were the same person because we couldn’t see him in the novel. In the movie, that surprise couldn’t be maintained.

  2. As a lover of literature, I dismiss out of hand anyone who has any opinion of a writer if he or she hasn’t even read their work. This is ignorance at its best, or, as we see more and more often these days.., forming one’s own opinions based solely on others.’

    Even absent his writing, your film clips say everything. How did Althouse miss all this? Oh, Ann: If you don’t like movies in general, please don’t discuss or evaluate them, especially ones you haven;t even seen. And Ann, if you don’t read a sufficient portion of an author’s work, do not, do not, write some half-assed, half-brained obit. Even if it was a positive piece, you really haven’t earned the right to comment.

    Depressing. Isn’t she supposed to be both smart and clever?

  3. I’m not really a fan. For some reason, “Butch Cassidy” left me cold. Maybe it was the ’70s haircuts and the poor costuming. Paul Newman’s hat was just wrong. Never saw Marathon Man. Not really into sadism.

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