The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco – Book Review
A theory I have about why films suck ass today is because there are rarely bombs anymore. I don’t know when it happened, but Hollywood has learned to generally avoid bombs. It was probably around the time movies went global and ticket prices skyrocketed and film prints were no longer used. Its now amazing to me that almost on a monthly basis, another sequel or movie everyone hates has made into the top 10 highest grossing films of all time.
For most of my life, the number one highest grossing film of all time was “E.T.” or “Star Wars.” Eventually, it was “Titanic.” And then of course “Avatar.” I’m not sure what’s number one today, I don’t really care anymore. While none of these films are my favorite films, I admit that people loved these films, “Star Wars,” “ET” and “Titanic.” There was a glow, a radiating sheen from their face as they would talk about why they saw this movie… again… and again… and again.
Today, the films that make a Fort Knox of fucking money don’t include that “glow.” The movies that make a ton of dough are forgettable and the way people talk about it usually in a drawl that extrapolates said film was “aight”…. and they might see it again. But back in 1990, an expensive film (and this is a time when 40 million was very, very expensive) had to be really good to be a box office hit. Otherwise, it would be disaster.
Julie Salaman somehow managed to follow one of these Hollywood disasters and write a book called “The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco”. The movie was “Bonfire of the Vanities” starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith and “Sex and the City’s” Kim Cattrall, who’s career was hanging by her fingernails. In fact, Tom Hanks was not doing too well himself (I remember a chapter when he talked about his balding concerns) and neither was Bruce Willis (who wanted to be taken seriously as an actor) — and even its director, Brian DePalma (who desperately wanted to prove he was a commercial director). This movie nearly destroyed everybody’s career and Salaman managed to document every micro-fiber of this leviathan of a production.
“Devil’s Candy” is a 400 page car accident that’s impossible to put down. No, it’s bigger than that, a diesel truck massacre that stretches for hundreds of miles. You not only get to see how a Hollywood production operates, you get to know Hanks, Willis, DePalma, F.Murray Abrahams (who took his name off of it because he didn’t have top billing), in a way you would never know movie stars in the bullshit programs you see today. Famous people are very protected. This book is probably part of the reason why.
Back to my theory. Why does it matter if a box office hit is no longer earned today? Because there isn’t consequences for a movie sucking. You can make a 200 million piece of shit and do pretty well, and even make several sequels to said piece of shit. So, if you can make a bad product and still have it make money, why bother to make a good one?
It’s hard enough to make a bad movie like “Bonfire of the Vanities”. And since people usually only learn from mistakes and Hollywood has erased this mistake – the “bomb” – the industry has nothing to learn from.
As it turns out, “The Devil’s Candy” is actually a very positive book. DePalma, Willis, Cattrall and especially Hanks recovered to become bigger than they were. Ironically, the producers who abandoned “Bonfire” to run “Sony Pictures” (Jon Peters & Peter Guber) are not really heard about anymore. The folks who wanted to make a good movie learned from this massive train wreck and got what they wanted.
Decades after it was written, this book documenting the pressure cooker of Hollywod’s dream machine is unlike anything that I’ve read. “Bonfire” was shit, but at least it has this to show for it. If you want a career in movies, this book should live in your library.
Written by: Norith Soth