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Review: Rebels on the Backlot

Rebels on the Backlot
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“George Clooney can suck my dick.” -- director David O. Russell

Author: Sharon Waxman

What is it with our perverse nature to get the dirt on filmmakers we admire? This phenomenon has been around forever, whether its Kenneth Anger’s HOLLYWOOD BABYLON, EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS or the weekly pages on any supermarket gossip rag.

In the vein of EASY RIDERS.., comes Sharon Waxman’s REBELS ON THE BACKLOT. The book chronicles a more recent time, mostly set in the year 1999. This was the year of FIGHT CLUB, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, MAGNOLIA, etc. A strong year, that gave an adrenaline shot to the heart of cinema. Entertainment Weekly even ran a cover story at the end of the year that boldly proclaimed 1999 as the “Year That Changed Movies”.

Waxman follows the careers of six directors as they moved into the new Millennium. They are Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Spike Jonze. The book moves at lightning speed as it chronicles the trials and tribulations that birthed some of the greatest films of the last 10 years. I think I plowed through it in 2 days (416 pages).

Thankfully, since the book follows a different generation, we don’t have to wade through hundreds of accounts of who was high on what movie set. But there is still plenty of drama. THREE KINGS gets the most coverage in this department, with a detailed account of the tension between George Clooney and director David O. Russell, which culminated in Russell head-butting his star. There’s also a copy of the letter that George Clooney sent to David O. Russell begging for a truce.

There’s plenty of stuff we’ve heard before, whether it’s about Quentin Tarantino turning his back on his friends, or David Fincher battling with the studio over FIGHT CLUB, but there are plenty of new bits as well. You may think you know these films, but there is still plenty of new ground to cover.


Did you know that Peter Jackson was being considered for FIGHT CLUB and that there was talk of Russell Crowe playing TYLER DURDEN? You also get the extensive back story on the directors. Some of it you have heard, but never is this much detail. For instance, Spike Jonze is not actually the heir to the Spiegel fortune as had been widely reported, or how Steven Soderbergh had to finance TRAFFIC through most of its pre-production, or just how obsessed Paul Thomas Anderson got with the frogs in MAGNOLIA. All of the filmmakers cooperated with Waxman, so the book has credibility, but there are still plenty of anonymous sources, which is how we get to hear the more surprising stories, like Gene Hackman calling Wes Anderson a “cunt” on the set of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

Waxman thankfully doesn’t dive too deeply into gossip. The point of the book is more about the films, and what it took off camera to get them made. What’s interesting is that the featured directors are all still working. It’s not like looking back at the “glory days”, through the filter of hindsight. These directors are still very much in the present, their films are still fresh. This gives the book a vibrancy, like studying a growing plant, instead of a withered vine.


For as much as the book gets right, there are some inaccuracies. Call me whiny, buy this stuff drives me nuts. For example:

- Page 64: She mentions that Disney was the studio behind HOME ALONE. Nope, it was 20th Century Fox.

- Page 101: I got really confused when she mentions Julia Stiles going to buy drugs in the ghetto in TRAFFIC, until I realized that she meant ERIKA CHRISTENSEN, Julia Stiles is not in TRAFFIC.

- Page 110: She states that Soderbergh’s OUT OF SIGHT was released in 1997, but the film was released on June 26, 1998.

- Page 148: She states that David Fincher’s SEVEN takes place in New York. While the film was shot in LA, the city that inspired Andrew Kevin Walker to write SEVEN was indeed New York. The location is never mentioned in the film, but it must be somewhere near a desert.

- Page 191: She says that EYES WIDE SHUT was “ridiculed”. But many established reviewers showered it with praise. Roger Ebert gave it 3 and half stars, Charles Whitehouse of SIGHT AND SOUND called it “endlessly fascinating”, and the San Francisco Chronicle said “it is an absorbing tale of jealousy and obsessiveness in a marriage,” just to name a few. I believe TIME magazine also called it “Kubrick’s final, haunting MASTERPIECE”.

- Page 223: mentions that in TRAFFIC, Erika Christensen’s character goes to private school in Cleveland, Ohio. Actually, it was Cincinnati, Ohio.

- Page 242: She mentions that David O. Russell used a corpse to show the effect of a bullet tearing through a body in THREE KINGS. Well…Russell has admitted plenty of places that it was a joke that got out of control in the media. He didn’t use a real human cadaver.

Despite some small inaccuracies, overall, this is a great book, well worth reading. Will we still be talking about these directors many years from now? Or will this book be nothing more than a snapshot of our time, when a new wave of filmmakers stormed onto the scene, only to break on the beachhead of Hollywood?

Only time will tell.


Source: JoBlo.com



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