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Meanwhile, according to Showbiz 411's Roger Friedman, Wolfe himself knew nothing of the new project until Friedman called him up to ask him about it. "I guess he’s calling his agents on Monday," Friedman surmises.
THE FILM STAGE: DE PALMA'S 'BONFIRE' DESERVES MORE RECOGNITION
Last month, The Film Stage's Jonah Jeng wrote an essay in defense of Brian De Palma's 1990 feature adaptation of Wolfe's book. "De Palma’s confident, hilarious polemic is a formidable achievement, hitting places that hurt in 1990 and, sadly, continue to hurt today," Jeng states. "That the film feels like it was made for the 2016 moment is a depressing testament to the state of race relations in America, but it is also precisely this continued relevancy that makes Bonfire necessary viewing."
A bit later in the essay, Jeng discusses how De Palma's style fits with the absurdity on display in the film:
"Some satire is subtle in its magnifications of reality. The Bonfire of the Vanities takes a different, more boisterous route, fitting De Palma’s florid directorial tendencies like a glove. Scenes turn to farce to convey the moral absurdity of the characters’ actions, whether in Abe’s wild gesticulations or in the way we are introduced to the Reverend via a very Spike Lee-esque, low-angle shot that imparts onto him the exaggeratedly looming presence of a cartoon villain. De Palma’s cinematographic stylizations, so generative of suspense in Sisters and operatic in Scarface, here serve a different but no less meaningful purpose. The camerawork is sometimes highly precise in its satirical function, such as when a dolly zoom is used to parody the experience of white fear. At other points, the cinematography creates the more abstract impression that the camera is emulating this film’s plot-level zaniness. Often, De Palma appears to be channeling the story’s ludicrous energy by way of his trademark visual acrobatics — weird camera angles, split diopter shots, long takes, etc. — which, in turn, intensify the energy that gave rise to them."
"(It’s also a pleasure to see the younger versions of several high-profile actors — Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Kim Cattrall — especially Hanks, who was quite nice-looking back when he had more hair and fewer pounds. His acting has improved over the years even if his physique has not. Watching him in Bonfire, I thought about how much better he is in the new legal thriller, Bridge of Spies."
TRANSCRIPT FROM BEGINNING OF VIDEO: TOM WOLFE ON BOOK VS. MOVIE
Here's a brief transcript from the beginning of the discussion (viewed at LiveStream), in which Wolfe discusses some differences between the book and the film:
Rosenbaum: It’s been, now, thirty years since the events of this novel—and the best-selling experience of this novel—how often do you watch the film? I know you and your wife sat in our audience and watched it. Was it miserable for you, are you happy to be here watching the film? What is it like when your novel is adapted into a movie—a critically-acclaimed novel—adapted into a movie that’s considered a flop?
Wolfe: It takes a while to realize that if someone makes a movie out of your work, it’s not going to be your book. It’s going to be something very different. And this was very… different. [Laughter] For example, at the end of the film, there’s a marvelous, heartfelt, sermon, really, from the judge. And it kind of sweeps your emotions away there at the end, it’s… everything is working out well. In the book, the judge and Sherman McCoy are running for their lives. [Laughing] They had the same mob in there. The outcome’s a little different. Also, this is an example of the changes: the studio was not happy, once they had the book, to see that the book ends with a white judge giving a lecture to a predominantly black audience. And they said, “wait, we can’t do that!” So that’s why they brought in Morgan Freeman, who’s a wonderful actor, but it completely changes the plot of the book. And not completely, but to a large part.
Rosenbaum: And Sherman McCoy, who you unsparingly made unsympathetic in the novel, once the part was given to Tom Hanks, he was treated much more favorably.
Wolfe: Oh, I think that wasn’t accidental, either. We’ve got this man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and who’s going to have any sympathy for him? You can’t help but have sympathy for Tom Hanks, if he wants you to have sympathy. [Laughter]
Rosenbaum: You know, I was wondering, if you’re reading the papers nowadays, if, for you, whether the novel and the film are a déjà vu all over again. I remember in the novel, Reverend Bacon, it’s not in the film, at some point says, “Is a black life worth less than a white life?” And that sounds a lot like “Black Lives Matter.” Which is, as you know, a mantra of today. And the 2008 financial crises, we had Occupy Wall Street, and now we’re living in an era where there’s a great backlash against bankers, Wall Street insiders, there’s a great sense of wealth inequality, class divisions, and those feelings are precisely the way people responded to Sherman McCoy in the eighties. And it must be weird to you, as if things either haven’t changed, or this is really the sequel—we’re living the sequel of Bonfire Of The Vanities.
Wolfe: Well, one thing that has changed is that, in Bonfire Of The Vanities, there’s a… tremendous emphasis is put on Wall Street, for example. Well, we still know about Wall Street, but the Masters of the Universe are on their feet, they’re shouting as things go for sale, for bidding. Neckties are pulled down, coats and jackets are off. I happened to go through Wall Street twenty-five years after the book came out. You would not recognize the place! Nobody’s standing up and shouting. It’s mostly… at one point, what was known as high-speed trading was almost 75% of the market. And all of the great Masters of the Universe are now all clerks behind their computers, and if they have anything to say, they have to say it on… they have to tweet it. And that’s about it. That’s a huge change.
In addition to Wolfe and Bharata, novelist and law professor Thane Rosenbaum will also be on hand for the post-film discussion.
At the museum, there is an ivory comb from the Egyptian Predynastic Period. Roughly 3200 B.C., they say. They suggest it might have been part of the accoutrements of someone's funeral more than 5000 years ago; more than 20 times the entire history of the country the museum is housed in. More than 115 times as long as I've been alive. The teeth of the comb are broken off; what remains is a little more than two inches tall and a little less than two inches wide, and those four square inches hold more than 20 individual renderings of animals. The carvings have symbolic significance, but they're also carefully and elegantly done, particularly on a piece so small. The comb played a role, perhaps, in an important ritual, but it's also a beautiful object, like many of the drums and bowls and pieces of blown glass.
The piece was, then, meant to be an offering of the artist's skills, to convey a meaning, to evoke an emotion, and to bring pleasure. So was The Bonfire Of The Vanities. So was The Thrilling Adventure Hour.
Those aren't the only purposes to which these other works are being put: the film was also engineered to make money, of course, perhaps cripplingly so. The live show, while far less damned by its relationship to commerce, is part of the performers' livelihoods particularly in the broad sense, since many of them remain people whose projects might well be described using, at some point, the word "cult." It supports you, the cult, but only sometimes does it keep you in food and shelter. And it demands to be fed in return, of course.
The Bonfire Of The Vanities didn't just aspire to keep people in food and shelter; it aspired to keep people in mansions and private planes. What it doesn't have that The Thrilling Adventure Hour has is an animating love of the material. Everyone involved seemed to have assumed Wolfe's book was capital-G Great, whether or not they had read it, but they began excising its controversial elements – which in this case meant its essential elements – almost immediately. There was so much money, there were so many trailers, there was so much fake rain, there were so many gowns and extras ... but the way Salamon tells the tale, few of them were – maybe nobody was – there for love.
M:I - "IT'S EXCITING TO HAVE A BLOCKBUSTER"
Another film discussed is Mission: Impossible. "This was the first film Tom [Cruise] ever produced," De Palma tells Sperling. "Because I’d produced a couple of pictures at that point, he and his partner Paula [Wagner] at times relied on my judgment. I remember that Tom was very responsive and straightforward. There were two very difficult scenes in the film: the CIA vault scene and the one atop the train. We had a jet engine creating the wind for the train sequence. You couldn’t stand up without being blown off. The shot where Tom does the flip, that’s really dangerous stuff for anyone to do. He did it twice for us, which was very brave. We were on top of that train for weeks and weeks. As for the CIA vault, that was my idea. I’d wanted to do an incredible action sequence that was completely silent. And then I had to think of all the things that could go wrong as the character tried to lower himself upside-down into this mythic vault. It was a sequence I thought about for months and months before I actually filmed it. Whatever people say, it’s always exciting to have a blockbuster. Everybody thinks you’re a genius for 30 seconds."
THE MEGALOMANIA OF AMERICAN SOCIETY
De Palma also talks about Carrie and Scarface. Of the latter, he tells Sperling, "Some people say this film is excessive—I disagree. The script was a direct report by Oliver [Stone] on the places he visited in Miami. He saw all the clubs, the coke on the tables. People were cutting each other up with chainsaws! We had a battle with the MPAA because they wanted to give it an X rating. We even had narcotics cops from Florida come to testify that people should see this film because it showed what was actually happening. On a deeper, thematic level, Scarface is about something that recurs in a lot of my films: the megalomania of American society that can lead to excessiveness, greed, and very cruel interplays between people who are desperate to stay on top. Wealth and power isolates you. Whether you’re Walt Disney or Hugh Hefner, you create a bubble around yourself. It’s that old cliché: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Pacino conveyed that perfectly. He kept his Cuban accent, on- and off-set. His sidekick in the film, Steven Bauer, was Cuban, so they were constantly speaking in that accent during the shoot. There are a lot of quotable moments in the film but my favorite is, ‘Every day above ground is a good day.’"
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