Pay or Playby Jon Boorstin
Pay or Play, now in its first paperback edition, is a wickedly funny satire of the Hollywood film industry and its peculiar marriage of vision and ambition that breeds great accomplishment-and humiliating catastrophe. Screenwriter Elmo Zwalt, his psyche "like a clenched fist," was living on peanut butter and bananas atop the Hollywood Freeway when he finally finished his Very Good Script, The Agonizer. Better than Shakespeare, or even Ben Hecht, it grabbed you by the throat and hauled you panting and screaming through ninety minutes of sex and violence. Elmo wanted to direct it, but so did every director who wanted to gross a hundred million domestic, including Chris Parrott, the lauded auteur of the sorts of films that critics called "wrenching." Then the movie is made-and Elmo finds himself in bizarre company as his script goes from concept to reality. Led by his agent, Jack Doberman, formerly the night man in the mailroom at Consolidated Creativity, Elmo pinwheels through the Hollywood firmament of silky studio execs; conniving agents; desperate producers; control-freak stars; a documentary director snatched from his teaching post at a Vermont junior college, whose documentary about plywood, through believable twists and turns, wins an Oscar; and a host of other unforgettable Tinseltown characters. Hollywood insiders like to say that making the movie deal is harder than making the movie. But, as Elmo learns, there are always exceptions.
The cast of broadly drawn characters is full of types clearly derived from the pages of Variety. And the plot begins with a typically Hollywood bit of overweening ambition when a hustling mailroom clerk at an Ovitz-like agency uses a brilliant script he's intercepted to propel himself into the business. Titled "The Agonizor," it's been written expressly for Klaus Frotner, the action-adventure megastar who's a client of the agency. The author, Elmo Zwalt, nurtures the dream of all first-timershe wants to direct, which is unthinkable on the budget proposed for the film. Instead, Jason Fo, the producer son of the studio head, brings in the artsy Christopher Parrot, a Woody Allen type who seldom works outside New York and has directed only small, wry, personal dramas. When Parrot flees from the production, in steps the unlikely Homer Dooley, a former film teacher at a Vermont community college who inadvertently recorded some amazing footage on the conflict between the lumber industry and ecoterrorists. The resulting documentary won the basically talentless Dooley an Academy Award. Frotner hopes that Dooley will act as his puppet once filming begins down in New Guinea, where they have re-created a Brazilian rain forest. The film, awash in debt, is stalked by disasters, and ultimately destroyed by Frotner's weird fate.
The problem here is that it's hard to parody an industry so skilled at parodying itself. Boorstin's novel has energy, wit, and some very sharp scenes, but it ultimately seems insufficiently savage: It's not nearly as bizarre as the business it wants to skewer.
- Avalon Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.36(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.03(d)
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