Shout out to New Republic for their recent article, How Joan Didion Became the Ultimate Literary Celebrity. There was only one problem with the article: the word "screenwriting" only appeared once in passing. No overview of Didion's career as a writer is complete without paying proper respects to the five screenplays she co-wrote.
Joan Didion started writing screenplays relatively early in her career as a novelist. In 1971, she was 37 when her screenplay The Panic in Needle Park came out as an award-winning film starring young Al Pacino.
As with her other scripts, Needle Park was co-written by her husband, John Gregory Dunne. Together, Didion and Dunne fit within a rather high-brow class of screenwriters. While many of the screenwriter ilk came from a world of standup comedy or low-budget film production, Didion and Dunne come from a the world of academia and top-tier literature.
Acknowledging Didion's literary background isn't necessarily a complement--not in terms of screenwriting cred. Usually when a prestigious author delves into writing scripts, the outcome is less than amazing (sorry, Steinbeck; sorry Dave Eggers!).
Joan Didion hasn't exactly had the greatest success with her scripts, either. Her success as a screenwriter obviously hasn't compared to her accomplishments as a novelist and essayist. But Didion's scripts have contributed to some quality films. As with her novels, the films she's contributed to are richly human, culturally relevant, and "literary" in nature.
...If only we could read her actual scripts! We seem to have failed to find any of her scripts online. There are a few clues suggesting that some of her scripts have appeared in print at some time or another. But we haven't been able to locate print copies, either. If anyone out there knows where we can find a copy of a Joan Didion screenplay, let us know! Until then, we can still watch the films:
- The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
- Play It as It Lays (1972)
- A Star Is Born (1976)
- True Confessions (1981)
- Up Close and Personal (1996)