Pay or Play

Pay or Play

by Jon Boorstin
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Boorstin's Hollywood satire, his first novel, is so good it reads like a documentary even when events are patently absurd and incredible. That's the fun. And that's Hollywood. Elmo Zwalt, his psyche "like a clenched fist," writes a screenplay called The Agonizer. An ambitious mail clerk in a powerful agency snatches it from the trash, but he's muscled out by a seasoned mandarin agent who sells the script to a star with heat, Klaus Frotner (rumored to have been a Balkan killer before he became a star). A producer is attached, and he tacks on a director, Chris Parrott, and a calculating studio exec, Annette Foray. Meanwhile, Homer Dooley, a pedestrian film teacher at a Vermont junior college, makes a documentary about plywood (his first film) which, through believable and hilarious turns, wins an Academy Award. That gets Foray's attention just as her problems with The Agonizer gain force: the rewritten script isn't working and, since the story is set in a rain forest, Parrott has built an $8-million forest set in Culver City because the real jungle "didn't look right." Result: Parrott is out and Homer Dooley, neophyte (but "brilliant" and controllable), is summarily whisked off to New Guinea to put Elmo Zwalt's original vision on film. This doomed escapade brings everyone back to a form of reality in gruesomely satirical scenes that make real life sound completely untrue. Heaping equal scorn on pretentious aesthetes and big-business blusterers, using wild hyperbole in the service of genuine insight, Boorstin has written the definitive send-up of Hollywood. (Mar.)
Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Boorstin's Hollywood satire, his first novel, is so good it reads like a documentary even when events are patently absurd and incredible. That's the fun. And that's Hollywood. Elmo Zwalt, his psyche "like a clenched fist," writes a screenplay called The Agonizer. An ambitious mail clerk in a powerful agency snatches it from the trash, but he's muscled out by a seasoned mandarin agent who sells the script to a star with heat, Klaus Frotner (rumored to have been a Balkan killer before he became a star). A producer is attached, and he tacks on a director, Chris Parrott, and a calculating studio exec, Annette Foray. Meanwhile, Homer Dooley, a pedestrian film teacher at a Vermont junior college, makes a documentary about plywood (his first film) which, through believable and hilarious turns, wins an Academy Award. That gets Foray's attention just as her problems with The Agonizer gain force: the rewritten script isn't working and, since the story is set in a rain forest, Parrott has built an $8-million forest set in Culver City because the real jungle "didn't look right." Result: Parrott is out and Homer Dooley, neophyte (but "brilliant" and controllable), is summarily whisked off to New Guinea to put Elmo Zwalt's original vision on film. This doomed escapade brings everyone back to a form of reality in gruesomely satirical scenes that make real life sound completely untrue. Heaping equal scorn on pretentious aesthetes and big-business blusterers, using wild hyperbole in the service of genuine insight, Boorstin has written the definitive send-up of Hollywood.
Library Journal
In this fine comic first novel by documentary filmmaker Boorstin (son of Daniel), a perfect action-film screenplay is sold, developed, packaged, pre-productioned, then produced into abysmal catastrophe. Like his beleaguered movie crew, Boorstin too loses his way in the New Guinea jungles, and his book ends on a momentous, oddly despairing note, in effect, the collapse of movies as an art, entertainment, and industry. This is barely noticed by Hollywood, however, whose best players succeed best without, as Boorstin puts it, "the distraction of an identity." Despite the drawbacks, this novel is lively, droll, smart, and great fun.-David Bartholomew, NYPL
Kirkus Reviews
The latest in a spate of Playeresque novels, this entertaining first fiction by Boorstin (The Hollywood Eye, 1990) borrows from the recent big-studio production disasters of our time, from Apocalypse Now to Bonfire of the Vanities, to invent a movie so bungled (and expensive) that it never gets finished.

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-timers—he 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786703593
Publisher:
Avalon Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/17/1997
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.03(d)

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