For those of you who live in the Roanoke area, you may have read my book reviews which have appeared periodically in the Sunday "Roanoke Times." As I am getting ready to write another review for another book that the book page editor Mary Johnson sent me, I thought I would write a mini-review for a delightful book that my sister Lale Lovell got for me for my 36th birthday in March.
The book is entitled "Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops." It is written by James Robert Parish. who has authored books about film director Gus Van Sant ("Elephant") and actor Jason Biggs, of "American Pie" fame. The book retails for $24.99 and was published by Wiley and Sons (www.wiley.com)
Parish looks at how 15 films from the Elizabeth Taylor soap opera "Cleopatra" (1963) to Warren Beatty's $90 million comedy "Town and Country" (2001), and how each of these highly touted projects went way over budget and ultimately proved to be either critical or box office calamities, or both.
The book has some films I actually like, including (always hesitate to admit it) "Showgirls" (1995), "The Chase" (1966), "The Cotton Club" (1984) and "Waterworld" (1995). I also liked Robert Altman's "Popeye" when I saw it as a kid at at the Salem Valley Cinema in the summer of 1981 (was part of a double-bill with "Airplane!"), but when I saw it as a adult, I realized that even amazing filmmakers like Altman can direct truly bad films.
Other films profiled, included "Shanghai Surprise" (1986), "Battlefield Earth...(2000), "Last Action Hero" (1993) and "Cutthroat Island" (1995). And, a film which was featured in a classic "Far Side" strip- "Ishtar" (1987). In the Gary Larson strip, customers are in a video store from hell and the only movie that is available is "Ishtar."
The book was incredibly well-researched. There was stunning revelations, including how the first camel that was to be one of the stars of "Ishtar" was eaten for dinner by locals in Morocco! It also talks about how Robin Williams wanted out of "Mork..' obligations very badly, and he thought "Popeye" was his ticket out of hell ("I thought it would be my 'Superman.'). The ever-sexy Gina Gershon apparently knew "Showgirls" was going to be quite campy and hence decided to act like she was in a "Guiding Light" episode- with lots of sex and nudity.
John Travolta spent 20 long years hoping to bring L. Ron Hubbard's novel "Battlefield Earth..." to the screen. But, he was to old to play the good guy, Johnny Goodboy Tyler, so he decided to play the arch-villain instead and pay himself $20 million in the process. And, lastly, Kevin Costner shelled out a fortune to have gills that appeared below his neck in "Waterworld" (he was playing a half-man, half-fish character) digitally removed!
It is also amusing to read about how Warren Beatty brought not one, but two old flames- in Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn- together for "Town and Country." The shoot was such a mess that Keaton told the director Peter Chelson that 'you will never have it this bad on any shoot ever again!' And, how Madonna, the star of "Shanghai Surprise" insisted that one take was all she needed...........
"Fiasco..." not to be confused with the best-seller about the War in Iraq, which stands to perhaps last until the year 3000, is a great, amusing read. There is an on-going theme of the book which is that ego and ambition and lots of financiers eager to give a green light can indeed pave the way for nightmare productions that can now cost well over $100 million!
But, it is Travolta who puts things into perspective with his thoughts on "The Battlefield Earth" calamity, which he thought would be 'as big as Star Wars.' "Earthquakes.Fires. War. These are disasters. A film losing money at the box office is not a disaster."