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A savage, bitter, ultimately tragic self-portrait.
on June 2, 2002
In her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Picture, Julia Phillips described herself as a "nice Jewish girl from Great Neck." Well, she got 2/3 of it right. But nice? No way.
This book is one of the greatest acts of literary self-immolation ever published. It's hard not to feel sorry for Phillips at first, suffering as she does from a toxic mother, a workaholic father, insomnia and a Talmudic intellect.
But you get over that feeling in a hurry, as Phillips bullies, maneuvers, sleeps and stomps her way to the top, winning an Oscar for The Sting at the unheard-of age of 29. Her motto: overcompensate; overachieve. If you can't be best, be first.
As she notes, no young person is ever ready for massive success, and her career crashed just as quickly. After being more or less fired from Close Encounters by Steven Speilberg, her life became a broken record of drug abuse, failed relationships, financial problems and closed doors gleefully slammed by those she used and abused on the way up. Through it all she makes it all seem like a big game, but the human wreckage strewn across the landscape will give the reader pause.
It's hard to know whether Phillips' broadsides at anyone and everyone with whom she had contact are simply through spite, or whether we'd all be better off if Hollywood simply disappeared in the next big quake. Phillips claims that she's just being honest, but snide remarks about a crewmember's physical deformity make her seem only nasty.
Hate it as she did, Phillips revelled in the politics, the backstabbing, the lies and shallowness, the feeling of power that came with the title of Producer. She learned fast ("Always negotiate the height and WIDTH of your [on-screen] credit," she advises, after her on-screen credit for The Sting is "willow thin.") Her films (Taxi Driver, The Sting, Close Encounters, among others) were good, though one gets the sense it was in spite of her take-no-prisioners approach.
One wishes at the end that Phillips would "get it," but instead she reaps what she sews. There was to be no Hollywood redemption for her. Phillips' death this january was untimely, but no human being could possibly survive for long carrying around so much bile. Very much worth the read, even only as a cautionary tale.