"A definitive portrait of the madness of big-time moviemaking" ( Newsweek ), now the basis for the new season of TCM's hit podcast, "The Plot Thickens"
When Brian De Palma agreed to allow Julie Salamon unlimited access to the film production of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book The Bonfire of the Vanities , both director and journalist must have felt like they were on to something big. How could it lose? But instead Salamon got a front-row seat at the Hollywood disaster of the decade. She shadowed the film from its early stages through the last of the eviscerating reviews, and met everyone from the actors to the technicians to the studio executives. They'd all signed on for a blockbuster, but there was a sense of impending doom from the start--heart-of-gold characters replaced Wolfe's satiric creations; affable Tom Hanks was cast as the patrician heel; Melanie Griffith appeared mid-shoot with new, bigger breasts. With a keen eye and ear, Salamon shows us how the best of intentions turned into a legendary Hollywood debacle.
The Devil's Candy joins John Gregory Dunne's The Studio, Steven Bach's Final Cut, and William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade as a classic for anyone interested in the workings of Hollywood. With a new afterword profiling De Palma ten years after the movie's devastating flop (and this book's best-selling publication), Julie Salamon has created a riveting insider's portrait of an industry where art, talent, ego, and money combine and clash on a monumental scale.
Julie Salamon has written twelve books in many genres, most recently Unlikely Friends, an Audible Original released summer 2021. BEfore that, An Innocent Bystander. released in June 2019 by Little, Brown. Julie's other books include New York Times bestsellers Wendy and the Lost Boys and The Christmas Tree (illustrated by Jill Weber) as well as Hospital, The Devil’s Candy, Facing the Wind , The Net of Dreams , and Rambam’s Ladder. She has written two children's books, Mutt's Promise, and Cat in the City, also illustrated by Jill Weber. Julie was a reporter and then the film critic for The Wall Street Journal and then a television critic and reporter on the staff of the New York Times. Julie is a graduate of Tufts University and New York University School of Law. She is chair of the BRC, a social services organization in New York City that provides care for people who are homeless and may suffer from addiction or mental disease.. Born in Cincinnati and raised in Seaman, Ohio, a rural town of 800; in 2008 she was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. New York City has long been home; she lives in downtown Manhattan with her husband Bill Abrams, executive director of Trickle Up. They have two children, Roxie and Eli, and a dog named Frankie, most recent in a long line of feline and canine friends.
Salamon tells the tale of the making of Tom Wolfe's satiric masterpiece Bonfire of the Vanities into a film. It provides an incredibly detailed view of diverse aspects of movie-making, any of which could, if done wrong, turn a good product into a bad one. She notes the thought process behind many of the decisions made for the film, particularly the bad and costly ones. It is unique in my reading to have such an inside view covering such a wide range of information. A must read for anyone who loves cinema.
A brilliant, exhaustive and totally exhausting account of how a big budget Hollywood movie gets conceived and scripted and cast and filmed without anyone involved having the faintest notion that what they are creating is one of the famous worst movies ever.
Rolling Stone : On film, Bonfire achieves a consistency of ineptitude rare even in this era of over-inflated cinematic air bags
LA Times : Certainly Wolfe's canvas might lend itself to a broad approach, but broad like Dr. Strangelove, not broad like the Three Stooges
Empire : A spectacular misfire from a director who should have known better
JULIE SALAMON IS VICIOUS, I LIKE IT
This was the movie of the best-selling novel, and a lot was riding on it. Average budget of Hollywood movie in 1990 : $26 million. Bonfire of the Vanities budget : $40 million.
Punches are not pulled in this book.
De Palma liked the work Melanie Griffiths had done on that film (Body Double) but he didn’t like what it took to get it out of her. She had been a whine and a nag and she liked to get high.
Julie Salamon also likes to explain exactly what people do in the film biz:
The second assistant director made sure everyone got to where the first assistant director wanted them to be, and the second to the second did what the second assistant did when the second assistant couldn’t….
And there would be squadrons of people who never moved at all. The latter group had one job only : simply to be there. For example, because Vilmos Zsigmond belonged to the Los Angeles cinematographers’ union, a New York cameraman also showed up every day because the New York union rules demanded it. The New York “director of photography” was paid $3,850 a week to sit and watch Zsigmund work.
Ouch ouch ouch.
You might think that a big name director like Brian De Palma chooses all his projects, but no, in this case the book rights were bought by studio execs and BDP was then hired by them after going for a job interview.
They had already picked Tom Hanks to be Sherman McCoy, the Wall Street trader whose downfall we enjoy so much in the novel.
So the producers had already made the fundamental mistake which turned the movie into a massive failure. The way they saw it, the book was full of really unlikeable characters
whose sole purpose was to illustrate the greed and ambition that propelled New York through the go-go eighties. It was axiomatic in the film business that unlikable characters were box office poison. Guber (producer) saw Hanks as the perfect solution
So Tom Wolfe’s fairly nasty and wholly enjoyable satire had already been to the dentist to have all its teeth removed before there was even a script.
Everything followed from the ridiculous obsession with likability. The role of the sleaze-bag English journalist who transforms Sherman’s private agonies into a major series of pieces about The Great White Defendant – perfect for someone like Richard E Grant – was given to of all people Bruce Willis, who could only play Bruce Willis, and then came the other major clanger. The producers thought about their nicer versions of these two main characters and realized that they had created a new problem.
Now, instead of mimicking the book’s modus operandi, which was to insult everyone equally, the script painted an unfriendly portrait of blacks, Jews, and rich women, but begged sympathy for white Wasp men… there wasn’t a sympathetic black character. That was the problem.
AND THE CONSEQUENCE WAS
To fix this, they decided to change the alarming but morally forthright Jewish Judge Myron Kovitsky into the black Judge Leonard White. You see how one thing leads to another, but wait… now they need an impressive black actor for this role, and they find Morgan Freeman. Problem is, he has to film all his scenes in New York, because of tight stage commitments (Shakespeare – you cannot disrespect the bard).
The decision to cast Morgan Freeman, coming so late in the game, put the producer in the position of the foreman of a very large automobile factory who’d been given a brand new design for the cars he was manufacturing one week before the plant was scheduled to go into production. Suddenly months of planning were nullified.
So instead of filming the courtroom scenes on a sound stage in Los Angeles they now have to do them in NYC.
The film crew was already in New York and so were the actors… They’d have to begin filming in New York, uproot the entire film crew and move to Los Angeles for two weeks, return to New York, and then fly everyone back out to New York.
So instead of THAT they decide to locate a real courtroom and shoot the crucial scenes there. The search for a suitable courtroom then takes weeks and weeks and weeks, with this or that judge telling them no, or when one does say yes, Brian De Palma then says no. And time is ticking, so this is where the location scouts may wish to have their medication readily available to them at all times.
Three dogs had been lined up to fill the role of Sherman McCoy’s dog Marshall. Dapper Dan was the lunger and the tugger. A dog named Maggie would play Marshall planting his feet and refusing to walk. Brody would lie on his back while being dragged.
Ah the magic of the movies. When we see this scene, it really does look like ONE DOG.
TOPICAL REFERENCE ON PAGE 63
Even the much-publicized marital problems of billionaire Donald Trump and his wife Ivana were heralded in the tabloids as “Bonfire of the Inanities”
Wonderful and horrifying. Imagine feeling sorry for someone who decides he's going to wander around NY listening to La Boheme on his newly bought Walkman when he should be watching dailies, who's avoiding anything to do with the film he's making because he's stressed about finding the right courthouse location, despite turning down dozens of potentials, as the actor cast to appear in said scene (Morgan Freeman) will soon be unavailable, as the film's budget spirals, who explodes when green interns wake him up from his afternoon nap because an actress he invited for audition has arrived. You will somehow feel sorry for Brian de Palma (who, to be fair, can't sleep nights), but not for the hopelessly-miscast Bruce Willis and his entourage, nor anyone else in the film business. (And the stuff mentioned here takes up a mere fraction of the whole unspeakable, relentless nightmare, perfectly captured by Julie Salamon, although why De Palma agreed to the project -- and to granting Salamon such wide access to absolutely everything -- is a mystery. This reader is eternally grateful. You earned your $2.5m, De Palma.)
Anatomy of a flop from start to finish. Read if you're fascinated by Hollywood, movie making, and enjoy watching train wrecks in slow motion. But seriously: such a fascinating read! I had never seen Bonfire of the Vanities, but heard this book mentioned on YouTube and thought I'd check it out. Was a fun glimpse at the landscape of studios and movie making in the late 80s/early 90s. I ended up watching the movie on HBO Max, too, to compare and contrast. You can really see all the missteps that added up, starting with casting and going from there.
Salamon in particular has a gift for describing people--presenting them in a straightforward way, based on things they said and did, drawing such a specific picture of the types you find in Hollywood and working on movies. I wasn't surprised in the 10 year and 30 year updates at the back (a cool addition!) to hear some people weren't fans of how they came across. I had some fun Googling names and looking up IMDB credits to see where most people landed. And I'm still LOLing at how butthurt Bruce Willis was about the whole thing. And poor Kim Catrall and Melanie Griffith--the casual misogyny on display was staggering.
It was just fun getting the movie making process chronologically, seeing all those best intentions and high hopes when you know how everything turns out. Gave the whole thing some delicious tension.
This book details the making of 'The Bonfire of the Vanities', a movie which, along with 'Heaven's Gate', 'Ishtar' and 'Waterworld' is in the exclusive club of big budget Hollywood flicks that aspired to greatness but proved to be critical and box office flops. The director, Brian De Palma, gave Ms. Salamon the run of the set, with permission to interview anyone involved in the production. The story reads very much like a novel; in fact - by design - it reads very much like Tom Wolfe's novel 'The Bonfire of the Vanities', which documents the ubiquitous greed and wanton materialism among the financial aristocrats of New York City, circa mid-1980s. One of the delights of this narrative is that many, though not all, of the people involved in producing the movie are just as venal and greedy as the characters in the story they are trying to turn into a motion picture. Brian De Palma actually turns out to be a sympathetic character: the tortured genius auteur who values artistic merit above commercial success. His second unit director, Eric Schwab, is also portrayed as an honest movie-lover who is trying to survive and make art in an industry obsessed with the 'bottom line' to the exclusion of all other considerations. The problems with the movie were many, but the essential flaw seems to have been that there really isn't a movie in 'The Bonfire of the Vanities'. The book is panoramic, Balzacian, filled with detailed descriptions of the clothes people wore, the food they eat, the objects they surround themselves with at home and work. A millenium from now, a cultural historian would be able to reconstruct the look and feel of New York City in the 1980s from this novel alone. The problem is, it is impossible to pack this sort of detail into a two hour film. Also, there isn't a single likeable character in the story; everyone, from the super-rich to the denizens of the Bronx is motivated by greed and acts solely out of self-interest. The casting was problematic. Tom Hanks as a greedy Wall Street junk bond trader? Really? The Jewish judge in the novel is played by none other than Morgan Freeman, because the studio wanted 'racial balance' in the cast. The alcoholic British journalist in the novel was played by Bruce Willis, who comes across as a brutish boor. Melanie Griffith plays Tom Hanks' gold-digging mistress; she comes across as a complete ditz and an emotional train wreck. As a bonus, this book presents a realistic description of the process of making a feature motion picture in Hollywood in the last decade of the twentieth century. I just read my copy of today's 'Variety', and it appears that not much has changed.
This is a strange choice for reading material, waist-deep as I am in what I lovingly call “this beshitted century.” This book is about a 32-year-old movie that no one remembers and hardly anyone saw, based on a novel that few people have heard of and even fewer have read. That’s probably the case for people under the age of, say, 45. The Bonfire of the Vanities was sort of a big deal when it came out, but it’s certainly dated now. Who wants to read a book about a 1980s rich Wall Street asshole? Especially since those are the Wall Street assholes that set our economy up for the 2008 financial collapse. If you want to read about them, I’d recommend The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. It excels at doing the thing Bonfire author Tom Wolfe did so well in books like The Right Stuff; The Big Short excavates the drama and trauma from real-life events. I promise that you’ll get your fill of rich Wall Street assholes with that one. So is this book even necessary anymore? I’m going to have to say “no.” I suppose if you’re really interested in how movies were made in the late 1980s, then this will certainly fill the bill… and then some. The subtitle says it’s an Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco and it certainly lives up to the "Anatomy" part. Author Julie Saloman takes the complete access director Brian DePalma gave her and slaps this sucker right on the table, slicing it open from stem to stern and digging right in. What probably would have been an intriguing magazine article quickly becomes tedious as a book. Did you know that three different dachshunds played Tom Hanks’ dog in the movie? Do you want to know their names? There is an embarrassing amount of time spent on a second-unit director shooting some film of the Concorde landing. The shot is in the movie for about thirty seconds, but it takes up about a quarter of this damn book! Candy is at its best when it leans into the salacious. When auditioning for the role of Tom Hanks’ mistress, 19-year-old Uma Thurman threw herself into the part, climbing all over Hanks and, apparently, making him more than a little bit uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, she didn’t get the role. That went to Melanie Griffith, whose career was pretty much winding down from its Working Girl peak. According to this book, one of her favorite places to sit when she was working was on director Brian DePalma’s lap. Not that they were romantically involved or anything. She just comes off as a ditzy party girl who hasn’t quite realized that the party’s pretty much over for her. And then there’s Bruce Willis. Was this book overtly mean to him? I don’t know… maybe? It’s certainly honest about his limited range. You don’t have to worry about Bruce Willis playing MacBeth anytime soon. Warner Brothers was just hoping for a little Die Hard shine on the film’s box office numbers. And he certainly spends a lot of time bitching about how “the press” is always writing lies about him. Considering his bad case of fakeus newsitus, it’s not surprising that he suggested that author Julie Saloman take a gun and blow her brains out after this book was published. No, really.. that’s what he said. Much like Melanie Griffith, he doesn’t have to worry that people will write about him today. Did you know Bruce Willis released 12 movies between 2021 and 2022? Have you seen any of them? These guys have and, boy, are they bad! Not boring bad like Bonfire, but hilariously bad! You know, I think I just went through all the good parts of this book. I guess I should have spoiler alerted. The rest of it is the tedious nuts and bolts of how a boring movie was made. Oh, no, Warner Brothers lost $40 million on this turkey! Put about five of those together to match up to the money they lost on the 2016 Suicide Squad movie, and I sure don’t want to read a book about that. I declare that Candy is Rated X, for Gen-X Fanatics Only!
Fascinating! There's much that I enjoyed in the film. There's the bits everyone liked ... Chrysler building, opening tracking shot, Concorde ... but I also enjoyed F Murray Abraham, John Hancock and Melanie Griffith.
It's just that the male stars are all wrong, horribly wrong.
Tom Wolfe: "'A great movie is about 85% writing and 15% not ruining the writing with the pictures.'"
"orderly women like Nevin and Goldstein were quite accustomed to invisibly supplying the warm, personal touch on behalf of their bosses. Thousands of gifts and notes were passed back and forth by powerful people who didn't have a clue that they were being so very thoughtful."
"Even the much-publicized marital problems of billionaire Donald Trump and his wife, Ivana, were heralded in the tabloids as Bonfire of the Inanities."
"Following the tradition of the old moguls, Canton kept the original scripts of the movies he produced bound in heavy maroon leather casings, each identified in gold lettering. Those elegant bindings preserved for posterity the scripts for National Lampoon's Vacation, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and Police Academy."
"'A lot of these people obviously love to be written about. Remember 'Seven Days' magazine? The best headline of the eighties said, You Went Out Last Night. Nobody Wrote About It. Do You Exist?'"
"(De Palma's) next stop was a music store, where he bought a number of tapes for his new machine: Madame Butterfly, La Boheme, Debussy's La Mer, and the Philip Glass soundtrack from the movie Mishima."
"(Griffith) didn't want to have to tell the world that she hadn't actually read the book all the way through."
I’ve had this waiting to be read for about ten years, and I finally read it over six months. What’s with that? Oh yeah, parenting. It’s cold and matter of fact and does exactly what it should. I wish I’d read it all those years ago, because it would have felt more searing. I’m older now. It doesn’t surprise me how any of this stuff works, and I can see too many of the protagonists’ points of view.
Because I’m human, here’s my theory on why the movie bombed. In part. The book is not that great. It might have hit a key spot at the end of the eighties, but I reckon that moment had already passed by 1991 when the movie came out. That’s the year Nevermind came out, you know? No one *did* care about these moneyed yuppie New York problems (maybe). There’s no one to root for in the movie, it’s just downward spiral. Aside from all the pressure, and art made by committee, and all that.
I felt a bit sorry for Brian De Palma. Only a bit. It’s telling (in these me too times) how matter-of-factly Salomon reports all the casual touching (“on the bottom” etc, and Jesus why is he always sitting women on his lap?) that goes on with Melanie Griffith. If that’s what she was used to, no wonder she’d had all the substance issues. De Palma’s always going on about visual storytelling, and the book reports that he felt thrillers were the best way to do that. So, yes, lots of exploitation of women’s bodies in his oeuvre. There’s a whole generation of dudes who don’t even notice themselves going back to the well on this issue. Like that don’t even realise what a cliche that stuff is. And you know, you still get the same old Wolf of Wall St stuff 20 years later.
Salomon does a good job. Everyone who was in the book was angry at her, but really they all seem pretty human to me, doing regular human work and making the usual human errors. We are all human, it’s ok guys!
Anyway. It’s a good one. I recommend Steven Bach’s The Final Cut and Lillian Ross’s Picture as highlights of this genre.
This is a very well-written, absorbing behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film version of Tom Wolfe's celebrated 1987 novel Bonfire of the Vanities. The film was released in 1990 and was a notorious critical and box office disaster. Author/reporter Julie Salamon was granted total access to the production by the director Brian De Palma and it is to his credit that he went along with it, come what may. I got the feeling that Salamon went into this project with an open mind, and it really shows. Unlike other writers (like Peter Biskind), whose books about the film industry seem to concentrate with especially laser-like focus on the most wretched inner workings of Hollywood, leaving you feeling pretty grossed out by humanity in general, she captures her very flawed subjects with depth and some sympathy—even celebrities like Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith, who I normally can't stand, are relatable to some degree here; Salamon makes clear the enormous pressures that are the constant companions of celebrities, and the effects of this on their psyches and behaviors. And her portrait of De Palma reveals an actually fairly likable though often brusque and insular person. The book is a genuinely absorbing document of a troubled production - the downfall of which seems to be that its makers never quite figured out what they wanted it to be, that whatever they wanted to say got lost in the maelstrom. I enjoyed it so much that I'm actually planning to watch the film sometime soon, something I never thought I'd be planning to do.
Interestingly, though the movie is largely forgotten today, this book is still in print and apparently Salamon wrote a "Ten Years Later" afterword for the 2001 edition, which I want to check out asap (was only able to nab a copy of the original 1991 hardcover). If reading about the artistic process going disastrously wrong makes you (like me) purr like a happy kitten, you'll be purring throughout The Devil's Candy. 4 out of 5.
A comprehensive documentation of a Hollywood disaster. I've never seen The Bonfire of the Vanities, in fact I knew nothing about it except the talent behind it, and yet, I still found this utterly compelling from start to finish. Salamon is given full access to this high-profile film production, and she details every good-intentioned misstep that leads to this film's legacy as a notorious critical and commercial failure. To use a clichéd phrase, it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
I feel like I need to see the movie to adequately review this. So many clearly awful decisions were made that read as gigantic misfires and history's judged them as gigantic misfires, but to truly appreciate the portrait Salamon paints here (and especially the fleeting moments of hope from the producer/director figures that it might just have come together) you've got to see the carnage firsthand.
Even without that angle, it's still absolutely entrancing. You've got a nuanced portrait of the behind the scenes figures involved (Brian De Palma, Fred Caruso, Ann Roth, Eric Schwab), all of the curveballs and unchecked blind spots that gradually built up on the production's end of things, and a few great moments behind the scenes with Tom Hanks (rough start, but seems like a total sweetie by the end of things), Melanie Griffith (constantly on the precipice of disaster), and Bruce Willis (comes across as a total prick 10-15 years before I assumed he did). The hits just keep coming so fast that things like De Palma having an affair with Beth Broderick (always Aunt Zelda in my heart) and putting her through emotional abuse for a completely unnecessary and crass scene with no basis in the original book doesn't even really register as that crazy.
The only gripe I have is the lack of access and insight on whatever was going on with Michael Cristofer and his messy-ass script - there are bits early on about how everyone involved hates it and then there are just vague allusions to things getting better with no real specifics. I still need to see the final product, but it definitely seems like everything was rotten from the ground up and having to write it off as "they picked the wrong guy to write the script" seems so weak.
3.5 stars rounded up. This is definitely what it says on the tin: an in-depth look at a movie that was declared a box-office and creative flop almost immediately upon release in 1990, and one that has lingered in the popular culture as one ever since.
The author had unfettered access to the cast and crew from the start, and reconstructs the timeline and everything that plagued the production, from New York unions to New Jersey courthouses to penny-pinching studio execs to assholish ~stars~ (wow, can Bruce Willis not take criticism!) to everyone's fee-fees being hurt in some petty form or fashion.
Rather amazingly, in spite of all of the disasters (or near disasters), everyone involved thought this film would be a cultural masterpiece and instant hit at the box office. The book (which basically shares the title and maybe 1/3 of the plot?) was a toast of the literary intelligensia on both coasts, but so much changed in the movie (based on Willis's limited acting ability, miscasting the other two major roles, and the studio financing the deal wanting magnificience without being willing to pay for it) that I'm not sure how anybody thought this would be a the equivalent of a literary masterpiece. They even changed the ending(s), for goodness' sake!
All told, the main impression that I walked away from this book with his major respect for Brian De Palma. I don't think I've seen any of his movies, other than Carrie, but I definitely empathize with his creative process and his feelings of desperately wanting to be accepted by a group that he doesn't really like (hello, shades of IY fandom experience), and being crushed when a project he worked so hard to save was rushed out to meet an arbitrary deadline and wasn't even given the editing polish it deserved. I mean seriously, recording the soundtrack a week before release?! I know nothing about the movie business and even I know that's insane!
De Palma did resurrect his "popular" career with 1993's Carlito's Way and 1996's Mission Impossible, and he's basically retired now at 80. I appreciated the new afterward, recorded eleven years after the mess that was Bonfire, and how even with deep reflection De Palma himself doesn't regret what he tried to do with the film. It was quite interesting to read about the creative visualizations he strove for in his attempt to bring the 659-page novel into a two-hour film. We all make mistakes, but if you can get over them without regret, you've truly accomplished something.
I was truly, for years, looking forward to this book. From everything I had heard over the decades every. single. aspect. of this film and its production was an absolute disaster. But in the end…it really wasn’t. It truly seemed as if it was a typical movie being filmed.
There were tales about how especially difficult Bruce Willis was on set. But whenever he’s mentioned in the book, it’s pretty mild. One part: he keeps himself separated from the rest of the cast and crew. Which, sure, maybe he isn’t the most open guy. Perhaps he’s introverted and prefers his own friends. Another part was when he tried overstepping his role and quasi-directed a couple of actors without checking with De Palma first. But…then he and De Palma talked about it and they came to an agreement. So…no real conflict. For some reason, though, Willis has nothing but vitriol for the author (Julie Salamon).
Tom Hanks was mentioned, but it was exactly what you’d expect of Hanks. Melanie Griffith was typical of what you know of her. She likes attention- but she’s an actress, so of course she does.
Brian DePalma is a director, of a big budget (at the time) motion picture, and had to juggle everything that was thrown at him. And at no time was he a diva or a horrible abuser to his crew. He was a leader just like he’s supposed to be.
Julie Salamon as a writer has a habit of adding details which are unnecessary. Such as one woman who was wearing open-toed shoes and a dress. Okay- that doesn’t matter in the least, just tell me her role in the story. Also, she repeats things. Like at least twice there was mention of a previous project someone was involved in…and then it’s mentioned again a few pages later.
And Salamon was also not the best narrator. Her voice just isn’t right for it. Often she’d end a section sounding as if it was the saddest occurrence ever. It’s hard to explain. 6/10
I have a real weakness for these "making of a movie" books and have read any number of them over the years. I especially like the ones that are about the making of movies that are acknowledged to be critical and financial disasters. The version of this book I read was a first edition from the public library, published in 1991 not long after the "Bonfire of the Vanities" movie was released, and it had the original subtitle "Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood". I thought I would be handicapped in reading this book by the fact that I have never read Tom Wolfe's novel or seen the movie, but no matter, it was an enjoyable read as far as these books go. Salamon's fly-on-the-wall recounting of the story is told in a straightforward fashion and captures the hubris, titanic egos, power brokering, exhausting effort, and artistic struggles that are ingrained in the "magic" of making movies. To me the most interesting aspect was the snapshot in time of Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, both of whom were at critical junctures in their careers, both hoping this film would expand their range and credibility, and both of whom were egregiously miscast in the film. Hanks comes across as a hardworking and amiable everyman, and Willis comes across as a pampered and narcissistic jerk. No surprises there. What the book is missing, in my opinion, is a convincing explanation of why the movie tanked despite all the talent and money thrown at the production. Perhaps this is better covered in the newer edition, given the perspective of greater remove with the passage of years. Four out of five stars.
this book is incredible!!!!!!! 5 stars, obviously!! it follows the entire production of The Bonfire of the Vanities, a movie that literally no one i know—including me—has ever heard of because it bombed spectacularly in 1990 and disappeared from the public consciousness. but it stars Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Morgan Freeman, and was directed by Brian De Palma (the controversial director of Scarface and The Untouchables), so how bad can it be? i watched the movie for the first time as i was nearing the end of the book. it’s really bad.
reading this is like watching an 18-wheeler truck crash in ultra-slo-motion, but in a way that’s enjoyable. it’s riveting, hilarious, and often second-hand-embarrassing. it covers practically every crew and cast member and touches every little drama and misguided decision that goes into making a huge-budget Hollywood flop. the 10-year retrospective afterword from 2001 was one of my favorite parts of the book, and the 30-years-later from 2020 is also insightful and sweet. Julie Salamon, the author, seems very cool.
I love love love books like this that give us access to movies being made or TV shows and Networks or whatever in Hollywood. Disney Wars, SNL and ESPN oral histories, both Late Night war books. Everything that goes into making movies is wild. Think of spending hundreds of hours and $80,000 to get a 30 second shot of a plane landing in a two hour film and all that goes into it. The crazed panic of trying to find a courtroom to film a scene in to avoid scheduling delays or how to deal with 150 extras in a midnight shoot in the Bronx. It’s all just so wild and fun to me. I can’t even imagine!
I’ve never read Bonfire of the Vanities or seen the film this book was written about (I thought about reading it real quick once I started this, but it’s 700 damn pages, and this book isn’t short, itself), so I don’t know how that would have changed my enjoyment, but this book did make me want to watch the film.
I’m impressed with the access the author got and felt like she did a great job of making us feel like we were in the room.
Picked up this book, written in 1992, in the library system, the last of its kind. I became interested when TCM did a podcast on it, using it as material for the making of The Bonfire of the Vanities, a failed movie, I personally dislike. What fun! Lots of good material and provides insight into a time when movies weren’t all franchises and studios still tried to make big epic films. This one bombed and that’s sad but it was easy to see why. There’s no clear story and a inability to even explain what it’s about. I remember the novel and loving it and I can’t remember the plot from that because there wasn’t one. Just a car accident of a wealthy couple in a shady neighborhood which leads to chaos. I highly recommend this book and the TCM podcast. The podcast is a little more open and edgy because of the lapse of time but the book provides more details ams background. Glad it was available.
I love to watch movies, but didn’t have a clue about how movies were made. This book provides an excellent guide to moviemaking. I found it interesting to read about a studio system as well as the stars in the movie. I thought the book was a little long which caused me to skim the end. I loved reading the 10 and 30 year afterwards by the author. If you are a movie buff, but not in the movie business, this is a must read.
Maybe this is a "me" thing, but I found The Devil's Candy to be compulsively readable. I haven't seen The Bonfire of the Vanities but I'm a HUGE fan of Brian De Palma and film history in general so my familiarity with the various references may have helped. I could have listened to outlines of hair and makeup tests for Melanie Griffith and Kim Cattrall all day.
Read in 1992. Salamon was granted complete access to Brain De Palma for the making of Bonfire of the Vanities. She goes into every detail of the making of the film until it's release and the blistering reviews. Fascinating reading. One of my favorites that year.
Incredibly detailed and super interesting look into filmmaking and the machinations of Hollywood. Salomon follows the production of ‚Bonfire of the Vanities‘ in the late 80s/early 90s and her insights are interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking but always enriching!
A fun and fantastic read, even for a movie I hadn’t seen. I loved learning every aspect of the production, and the author did a great job of setting the scenes and people involved. I felt like I was back in 1990 (I was eight, but I still remember that year vividly.)
I haven’t seen the movie or read the Bonfire of the Vanities book but this was a super interesting deep dive into the many aspects of filmmaking that you just don’t think about as a viewer. Also kind of a snapshot of the year 1990 in a few different ways.
The most complete accounting of the movie making process from start to finish I have read. The only problem with it is that it compels you to watch Bonfire of the Vanities. I wish a similar book existed for Cats.
3.5 stars. A very interesting look at how a big (and ever growing) budget movie gets made. Dragged on a bit. But looking forward to watching the movie for the first time after reading this behind the scenes look.