Best Screenplay 1916
Movies begin with a story of some kind. Although the silent cinema as an art form transcends the written word to include visual artistry, acting and pantomime, editing and forms of structure that no static medium can reproduce, it begins with an idea, and that idea is most often and most effectively a written script. Although films were often improvised in the earliest days, and still sometimes at studios like the “fun factory” of Keystone, by 1916 most critically and commercially successful films (especially features) had detailed scripts written in advance. This category recognizes the importance of that writing as a source of great filmmaking.
This year, the screenplays up for consideration range include many original screenplays, only a few with adaptations from other sources. The original story for “East Is East” was highly influential on later British movie plots, setting up a young orphan who suddenly inherits a fortune who has to discover her true class loyalties. Another original story, “Hell’s Hinges” pushes the limits of the traditional Western to a new extreme of darkness and apocalypticism. “The Curse of Quon Gwon,” another original story, gives a truly unique view of Asian-American life that unfortunately would not become influential on American cinema, in part because it failed to achieve distribution during the lifetime of its creator, Marian E. Wong. The Russian movie “A Life for a Life” is based on a French novel and shows the ongoing fascination of the movie-going classes of that time with romance and tragedy. Finally, the screenplay for Cecil B. DeMille’s historical epic, “Joan the Woman” takes liberties with the biography of Joan of Arc to create a highly entertaining version of that tale.
The nominees for best screenplay of 1916 are:
- East Is East
- Hell’s Hinges
- The Curse of Quon Gwon
- A Life for A Life
- Joan the Woman
And the winner is…“The Curse of Quon Gwon!”
This sensitive and moving story never got the chance for recognition during its own time, but a hundred years later we can see it as a truly unique example of independent filmmaking. Although it has its heroes and villains, the screenplay avoids caricaturing its characters and gives each a clear, believable motivation. It fits to some degree into the “lost girl” narratives that were common at the time, but takes the situation in a new direction by bringing in the clash between traditional values and modernity in the context of the immigrant experience. Truly an excellent screenplay, carried out well by its freshman director.