William Goldman is one of the most successful and most highly regarded screenwriters in Hollywood history. This book, a followup to 1982’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, follows Goldman’s later career and his increasing pessimism over the future of good movies. Published in 2000, the book takes an episodic look at Goldman’s career since the first tell-all, followed by an exploration of what makes great screenplays work through examples from some of the best of all-time, and finally an original screenplay written by the author just for this book, in which Goldman invites the reader to read with a critical eye and explore the possibilities of the form.
Goldman is a very readable author, which carries Which Lie Did I Tell? through a few more rough patches than there were in the first book. For one thing, this book is burdened with explaining Goldman’s fallow period, which lasted almost nine years. Despite winning his second Oscar in 1977, Goldman went from 1978 to 1987 without seeing any of his scripts filmed. Of course, the film that broke that streak is on many movie fans’ top ten lists, The Princess Bride. Like many people I was very interested in reading about this film, and Goldman does go into much detail about the production. The stories about Andre the Giant alone would be worth the price of the book.
Goldman seems to be on a righteous crusade on behalf of the screenwriter at times in Which Lie Did I Tell? He laments quite frequently how little movie critics and the public understand the movie business, and deplores the worldwide obsession with crediting everything about a film to its director. He has compelling evidence to back him up. Everyone knows Alfred Hitchcock, but how many people know the name of Ernest Lehman, let alone that it was he, almost totally alone, who came up with the crop-duster scene in North by Northwest?
Goldman’s original screenplay is kind of a trifle, in that you could never imagine it really being filmed, but it is an interesting exercise to read the notes of Goldman’s chosen “script doctors”, some of whom hold nothing back. Even when he’s just tossing off a third-rate idea, Goldman can’t help but be entertaining.
Though there’s less of an inside look at Hollywood this time around, Goldman’s followup is still a worthwhile read for movie buffs and aspiring screenwriters alike.