Trevor Johnston profiles DEFF guest Robert Towne, Hollywood’s top screenwriter.

Robert iowne

‘Forget it Jake. it‘s Chinatown.‘ A relatively simple string of words. you might think. but coming as they do at the end of Roman Polanski's 1974 modern classic Chinatown, they count fora heck of a lot and stick in the mind with elephantine persistence. in the movie. Jack Nicholson's seedy but well-meaning private eye has traversed a 30s LA, rotten with greed. corruption. familial decay and those who'd slit your nose as soon as look at you; it is a world whose values have turned upside down. literally. in screenwriter Robert Towne's memorable phrase. a moral ‘Chinatown'.

it was during that halcyon mid-70s period in Hollywood that LA-born

' Ashby's The Last Detail. Polanski's

Roger Cortnan school of hard knocks (frotn Creature From The Haunted Sea

rumoured significant input to The Godfather.

each session.


Towne cemented his reputation as the closest thing the Hollywood writer's colony has to a living legend. Three years in a row. from 1973 onwards. he notched up Oscar nominations for Hal

Chinatown (the only time he won) and Ashby‘s Shampoo. a defining moment in the career of his friend Warren Beatty, who produced and starred. Before then. he'd come up through the

to The Tomb ()fngeia). and began to build a name for himself as Tinseltown's leading rewrite man: on

Bonnie And Clyde he‘s listed as ‘Special Consultant‘. but you'll find no confirmation in the credits of his

Since the dawn of the 80s. his role has been in flux. An arresting directorial debut in the women‘s athletics picture Personal Best (1982) was followed by the rather disappointing all-star romantic thriller Tequila Sunrise six years later. He was bumped from directing his screenplay for his much- cherished China/om: sequel The Two lakes. while his recent version of Love Affair for Beatty and Annette Bening flopped so badly in the US it‘ll be released on video on these shores next month. But these days he earns a king's ransom for damage limitation work on movies (like Days (2/‘7‘lttrrttlrII' and The Firm) that years ago would have seemed too impersonal to warrant his signature. What's still not in doubt however. is his status as a Hollywood sage. solving the problems that have defeated lesser hands.

Robert 'Iowne Scene by Scene Training (Personal Best). 20 Aug. Filmhouse 2. 2pm; Scene by Scene ( Chinan it'll ). 2/ Aug. Filmhouse 1. 6.15pm. £8 (£4)

i This first feature by director Joe Brewster is not shy of upsetting people. Its I look at violence within the penal system comes down mightily on aggressive, streetwise, power-fat black officers. In the brutal world of The Keeper, l unprovoked police assault is almost solely a case of black on black. Not surprisingly, given that all the major characters in the film are African- ' Americans, but it’s calculated to upset those who promote a more harmonious 5 view of the black community. Paul Lamont (Giancarlo Esposito) is a i disillusioned correctional officer with a kinder and more troubled heart than his ! colleagues. An act of conscience is the beginning of a slide into paranoia and ' desperation for Paul, and neither his wife nor the Haitan ‘rapist’ he bails out of jail can escape the consequences. Convincineg humane performances keep the unpalatable darkness of the film in check, and moments of reprieve allow for { humour and tenderness. Uncompromising, disturbing and sometimes moving. (Hannah Fries)

The Keeper, 17 Aug, Filmhouse 1, 10. 15pm; 20 Aug, Cameo 3, 8.30pm.

Snudfldount under

After a trio of antipodean opening galas Strictly Ballroom, the Piano, The Adventures 01 Priscilla - some Film Festival punters might be disappointed that there’s not an Australian feature on show this year. A startling array of that country’s short films, however, more than fills the 939-

Around 60 films were submitted by Australian filmmakers this year (more than any other country, with the obvious exception of the UK), and the worst of these was often more polished than the best from elsewhere on the globe. Edinburgh would appear to be well placed as a film festival for catching new and as yet unseen work from Australian film students, and so often it premieres the best short work from a country with a solid respect for the short format.

The strength of the storytelling and the visual imagination of the pieces are truly impressive. Highlights

After the stylishness of Besson and Beneix, perhaps the next name to fall into

. Swlnger ; the French cult category will be that of young director Michel Spinosa. After

l include Cannes Short Prize winner ; honing his craft with three shorts which he co-wrote with long-time

i Swinger, the mommy moving 3"” g collaborator Gilles Bourdos, Spinosa makes his feature debut with a film that

i Days Undo, May’s, apocalyptic , handles the knife-edge of amour fou in a far more intriguing and intelligent

I, Imam“, we The Unforglmg weight , manner than, say, the somewhat misogynistic Betty Blue.

, ("Anatomy and m, In A 8,”, (“me One night, Sophie picks up a couple of soldiers in a Parisian bar and goes to a

3 simply one 0, me be“ shod mms that ! hotel with them; unknown to her, ex-lover Vincent is working there, and soon

, m3 mite, has "a, seen. (“an ! she dismisses the soldiers in favour of rekindling their smouldering passions.

1 Moms“) , It’s a self-destructive path, with Sophie’s neuroses increasing as their affair

: Ausmflan Sham pmgmma, 20 My, 3 comes to the boil. Vincent, on the other hand, remains as detached as possible,

: Filmhouse 2’ 5.30pm; comm Sham, 18 j and likewise, Spinosa washes the frames with atmospherically cool blues. This Aug, can,” 1’ 1pm,. "Hamming ; is a memorable mood piece, not driven by the demands of plot, in which the Sham, 21 Aug, can“ 1' 4pm and 25 ; gloomy, empty hotel building itself becomes a character that adds to the Aug, rumba“, 1’ 1pm. £5 (£4). , smothering claustrophobia of the whole. (Alan Morrison) i 58,86,“ ‘usmllan shorts 8,, sham, ; Emmene-Mol, 21 Aug, Cameo 1, 7pm; flAug, 6F T, 8pm; 25 Aug, Cameo 2,

with features throughout the Festival. 5 5-30W- £5 l5”- J

The List 18-24 Aug 1995 71