Thursday, March 17, 2005

Book: Rebels on the Backlot, by Sharon Waxman (2005)

My hopes for this book were both raised and lowered by Waxman’s infamous New York Times profile of David O. Russell, which featured the director capering in his Jockeys on the HUCKABEE’S set. I like gossip as much as anybody (OK, more), but not at the expense of reportage on a worthwhile subject.

For the most part, the focus is squarely on movies in this chronicle of the 1990s rise of independent film and its gradual merger with mainstream Hollywood. What few tidbits there are don’t exactly shock: Quentin Tarantino has questionable personal hygiene, and directors are emotionally distant control freaks. Film at eleven.

Waxman readily admits that it may be too soon for this book, and she’s right. We don’t yet have enough distance to gauge the impact of the era’s films effectively. She also limits herself by concentrating on the work of six directors (Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Steven Soderbergh in addition to Russell and Tarantino). It’s obvious that she wants to wander off the trail to follow the interesting characters who pop up along the way, like the Wachowski Brothers and Alexander Payne, who has perhaps had the most success in fusing studio filmmaking with the indie ethos.

For all the talk of creative flowering, the ‘90s were a fertile time for cinema because of money; the constant churn of mergers and buyouts created opportunities on which filmmakers were able to capitalize. Waxman recounts how BEING JOHN MALKOVICH happened only because the companies involved were in a constant state of flux and basically ignored the production.

Miramax always looms large in the story, even when it’s not involved in the movies. Paul Thomas Anderson owes his career to the fact that New Line wanted an in-house auteur of their own. Waxman’s book buttresses the argument that the premiere movie talent of the decade wasn’t a director at all, but the Brothers Weinstein.

Noticed: TV News

As a rule I try to avoid watching cable news when there’s a-doin’s a-transpirin’, but I was trapped in the gym when CNN showed Robert Blake speaking to the press after his acquittal yesterday. When asked what he would do next Blake said get a job, because he was so broke he “couldn’t buy spats for a hummingbird.” He also said he wanted to ‘go cowboying,’ which he described as getting into a van and driving until:

you wind up in some little bar in Arizona someplace, and you shoot one-handed nine ball with some 90-year-old Portuguese woman that beats the hell out of you. And the next day ... you go see a high school play where they’re doing ‘West Side Story.’

He went on in this vein until Paula Zahn and Jeffrey Toobin cut him off to complain about his tendency to ramble. I don’t get it. Idiotic press hijinks managed to scare Ashley Smith into silence earlier in the week. But when they get a man who not only wants to talk but knows how to do it, they bitch about it.