The perils of democratic epistemology.
William Goldman, called the world’s greatest screenwriter by critic Joe Queenan, won Academy Awards for writing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men. Eight films made from Goldman screenplays grossed more than $100 million in domestic box office sales, and he was also an uncredited but well compensated “script doctor” on numerous distressed properties. For all that, Goldman considered movie writing a sideline. He thought novels and plays his true métier, though the ones he wrote met with modest success.
It’s no surprise, then, that Goldman wrote “the best line in the history of Hollywood,” as Variety said in 2018 after his death at the age of 87. What’s great is that the line was about movies rather than in one. It appears in Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), his non-fiction book about how the film industry (barely) works. Goldman asked readers to sympathize with the high-paid but beleaguered executive, whose job is to decide whether his studio will or won’t invest the millions needed to turn a particular idea into, as they say, a major motion picture.
And the line was: “Nobody knows anything.” That is, “nobody, nobody—not now, not ever—knows the least goddam
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