MONSTER by John Gregory Dunne


Living Off the Big Screen
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 Further proof, elegantly presented, that Hollywood screenwriting is a mad, bad, wasteful, and highly remunerative process. Novelist Dunne (Playland, 1994 etc.) and his wife, Joan Didion, seasoned screenwriters, were approached by a producer with a hot movie idea: a biopic of the late news anchorwoman Jessica Savitch. Her life was a classic American tragedy, with the bonus of a richly prurient overlay: wild ambition, abusive relationships, supercharged sex, drugs galore. Disney was the only studio to express interest. Because money is Hollywood's wizard king, transmuting ideas with alembic ease, it was soon bye-bye to seamy biography and hello to the plucky tale of a sanitized Savitch-like reporter. Ambition became enthusiasm, sex became romance, drugs shriveled to the occasional social drink, and Savitch's abusive Svengali was replaced by the improbably named and conventionally characterized Warren Justice. As draft followed draft, almost every last drop of tragedy was drained away. Perhaps the producer, Scott Rudin, best summed up this new conception of the story: ``It's about two movie stars.'' For whatever reason, this project attracted enough attention to remain alive, but not enough to get made. In other words, it was in development hell. As the years went by, producers came and went, Dunne and Didion were repeatedly on and off the project, more and more drafts were written (for more and more money). Eventually, Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer signed on to star in it, and suddenly there was speed, progress, urgency. A director, Jon Avnet, was found, locations scouted, a crew hired, and just a few drafts later, what was now called Up Close & Personal started filming. It had taken nearly eight years. This is a reasonably familiar Hollywood story, but Dunne's limber prose and acute, acid-tipped observations always keep things interesting: No need for rewrites here.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45579-5
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996


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