New York Times Hollywood correspondent Waxman examines the trajectory of the independent feature film in the 1990s as exemplified by the work of six Tinsel Town outsiders.
In the early 1990s, Hollywood corporate mergers and their resultant focus on the bottom line resulted in a bumper crop of sequels, remakes, and other dependable moneymakers inoffensive to anything but taste. Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction blazed across this dull background with all the shock of an incendiary device, decimating expectations about the kinds of movies people would pay to see and forcing the studio conglomerates to create independent divisions with the mission of funding Tarantino-esque films. Waxman takes a chronological look at the movies that preceded and followed Tarantino’s master work, examining the men (indies are as gender-biased as the rest of the film industry) who had the drive to steer their work through the always-treacherous studio system. Among the films considered are Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape, made in 1989, and David O. Russell's incest dramedy, Spanking the Monkey. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights was another risk-taker, and Spike Jonze’s absurdist Being John Malkovich could win an award for the film least likely ever to be made. Waxman’s accounts of the ins and outs of the Hollywood machine are as arresting as any of the indy scripts, with cliffhangers, villains, and blunders galore. Russell’s Three Kings, widely noted as a triumph, was ignored by the Oscar committee, and watching Soderbergh’s Traffic, a movie about illegal drugs, struggle and fight its way into existence is a real nailbiter—even though we know it would end up with five Academy Award nominations.
Waxman’s grasp of the interior of the studio world, and her ability to make the workings of closed-door deals comprehensible, raise her work from textbook to something truly absorbing.