Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Devil's Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood (1991)

For this book, Julie Salamon won a surprising amount of access to Brian De Palma and other principals behind the film version of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, including all the stars and representatives from every phase of production. The expectation apparently was that the movie would be as spectacularly successful as Wolfe's book, and that Salamon's account would document that success from the inside out, no doubt providing one more successful promotion and merchandising cornerstone of the coming success empire. Instead, circumstances dictated that it turn into a fascinating chronicle of how a flop comes into existence. Films notoriously require colossal levels of collaboration, with thousands of moving parts set into motion on competing tight deadlines, which make them completely fraught with peril. Who can say, in the moment, what's right or wrong? That's what I appreciate most about Salamon's book—we know, from inevitable benefit of hindsight, what a disastrous mission these people are on. Yet for the most part their decisions rarely seem catastrophic in themselves (beyond that first one of ever pinning any hope on making a movie out of something written by Tom Wolfe, whose work is so entirely driven by a fever swamp of words on a page; even Wolfe, as Salamon shrewdly if quietly catches on early, knew enough to stay the hell away from it. At the same time, this is just rank second-guessing on my part). Salamon's tale is so compelling that I was driven to finally take a look at the movie just for the small victories she reported. And, yeah, it's bad all right—but that brief shot of the jumbo jet touching down is as good as promised.

In case it's not at the library.

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