BY JAKE BROOKS | “I like being in war zones. And Hollywood is a kind of war zone,” joked Sharon Waxman, the boisterous reporter covering the film beat for The New York Times. A former Middle East correspondent, Ms. Waxman has some basis for comparison. “They’re both very challenging, but Hollywood is much more treacherous for a reporter. Certainly, if you’re a human being trying to stay alive in the Middle East, that’s a more treacherous place. But as a reporter, [the Middle East is] much more straightforward.”
Currently embedded in a Park City hotel, Ms. Waxman is covering the Sundance Film Festival for the sixth time in her career. “It kind of gets bigger and crazier–and more stupid–as the years go by,” she said. This time, however, Ms. Waxman will be adding to the hullabaloo with a little noise of her own. The release of her first book, Rebels on the Backlot, about the Gen-X directors who defined 90’s cinema–David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, to name a few–was timed to hit the bookstores on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at the height of this year’s festival.
“I wanted to know about who they were,” she said. “We spend a lot of time delving into the personal lives of all the movie stars. But really, when you are talking about films that are so personal in their vision, you can’t help but wonder from what mind or personality that piece of work sprang.”
And of course, Ms. Waxman has peppered her ode to the “Wild Ones” behind Pulp Fiction (Mr. Tarantino), Magnolia (Mr. Anderson), Traffic (Steven Soderbergh), ThreeKings (Mr. Russell), BeingJohnMalkovich (Spike Jonze) and Fight Club (David Fincher) with some choice anecdotes and quasi-Freudian observations.
For example, there’s this on Mr. Anderson: “Once Anderson went on to make Boogie Nights he tended toward the hard-partying, woman-hopping life led by Quentin Tarantino, his mentor,” she writes. “Cocaine became his drug of choice because it was better suited to his hard-charging, larger-than-thou ego and the maw of his artistic need. Russell was strictly a marijuana man, which was more suited to his neurotic, internal nature.”
Ms. Waxman also delves deep into the psyche of Mr. Fincher, the distorted mind behind Seven and Fight Club, and discovers that his favorite movie is All That Jazz.
“I saw All That Jazz a hundred times,” he told Ms. Waxman. “Bob Fosse was one of my favorite filmmakers.”
Given the recent tiff between Ms. Waxman and Mr. Russell over an unflattering Sunday Times article about the making of I § Huckabees, she no longer knows what to expect from her subjects. And in this case, she was dealing with six oversized egos.
“I’ve long since given up trying to predict people’s reactions to something that’s written about them,” she said. “I would be happy to see any of the directors [at Sundance]. Of course, I would be a little apprehensive.”
But she does feel sorry about what happened with the Times piece–sorry that Mr. Russell didn’t understand her intentions, that he assumed all of her material would be used exclusively in the book.
“I suspect that David, at the end of the process, after having given me lots and lots of time for the book, may have panicked and thought that maybe I wasn’t coming from a place of good faith, which of course is not the case,” she said. “Even after I was hurt by him saying some things in the wake of my writing the Huckabees story, I didn’t change a word in the book–even though I never would, obviously. I was disappointed that even in his own mind, after having spent so much time with me, that he felt that I would have done anything but give a fair rendering of who he was. He’s an artist …. He’s a complicated person.”
In the end, Ms. Waxman hopes not to eat her own words. “The truth is that most Hollywood books are unrepentantly lame,” she wrote in a review of Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures. The book was released several weeks before last year’s festival, and the tome about the concurrent rise of Sundance and Miramax Pictures created quite a stir. She explained that most Hollywood books have “a few racy anecdotes strung together about strategically mentioned movie stars, along with an explanation of how-I-ended-up-here-from-my-humble-beginnings.”
Watch out, Ms. Waxman–it’s a battlefield out there. In Hollywood, everyone’s a critic.
You may reach Jake Brooks via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.