Alfred A. Knopf
As an aspiring screenwriter and director, I subscribe to Weekly Variety. A recent issue featured an article about problems screenwriters face in Hollywood these days. Underpaid and overworked, they often submit rewrite after rewrite of a script before it gets picked up, and then have to complete more rewrites without getting paid any more money. In fact, right now the Writer's Guild is protesting this process, trying to get more money and more rights for its members. And more money. In other words, screenwriters, as many of you may know, are the lowest of the low in Hollywood. Sure, they can win an Oscar and a few other awards, but they usually don't become Hollywood insiders.
Except, that is, for Joe Eszterhas, author of Hollywood Animal: A Memoir as well as such classic films as Jagged Edge, Flashdance, Basic Instinct and Telling Lies in America. Also in his arsenal of credits are the laughable, controversial Sliver, Jade and—my personal favorite—Showgirls, the latter deemed by many to be one of the worst films ever made. And yet, with such a strange track record, Eszterhas has done what no other scriptwriter has ever been able to do—he's infiltrated the upper echelon of Hollywood to become not only a player but a self-proclaimed "Hollywood Animal," his nickname for himself and other what I'd term brats in the industry.
Eszterhas writes with candor, expertise and wit, detailing every little (and not so little) process in making deals for his screenplays. He announces proudly that he is the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood history, the only such person to maintain control over his projects, even garnering million dollar deals for scripts that never make it past studio shelves into production.
In Hollywood Animal, he provides drama worthy of a screenplay itself. Eszterhas also talks at length about his friendship with Sharon Stone, even including an indulgent description of her body and the famous crotch shot in Basic Instinct. At times, this gets tedious. But there's more to this memoir than Hollywood dirt (and, believe me, dirt galore comprises much of the book). We learn about his childhood in a WWII interment camp, his delinquency on the streets of Cleveland, and later even the anti-Semitic history of his father. We learn how, at age 60, he realizes he's the typical Hollywood Animal, and repents, not wanting to live the lifestyle and raise his children from his second marriage in such an environment.
I can't help but like the guy, animal or not. But the memoir itself is flawed. We don't need a 736-page accounting of his life. We don't need a lot of the stories he includes. An editor should have deleted large chunks of the memoir to make it a less daunting, less detail-laden read. Still, for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes workings of Hollywood, Hollywood Animal is an enjoyable, if extremely lengthy, read.
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