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Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System (P.S.) Paperback – January 3, 2006

3.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

New York Times Hollywood correspondent Waxman has written a gritty, truthful study of six boundary-breaking young directors who revolutionized 1990s filmmaking and still represent a refreshing alternative to "cookie cutter scripts and cheap MTV imagery." Her full-blooded profiles introduce Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), David Fincher (Fight Club), Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), David O. Russell (Three Kings) and Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich). Waxman shows these auteurs, who "wreaked havoc with traditional narrative form" and combined brutality with humor, as eccentric, frequently antisocial and hardheaded. Their stories make for compelling reading: Waxman dramatizes Russell's erratic, explosive nature in the book's most blistering episode, where the director loses his temper and has a fistfight with actor George Clooney on the set of Three Kings. Other chapters depict Tarantino's penchant for jettisoning close friends after achieving success and Soderbergh's unswerving loyalty to pals. These men possess a daring vision, which the author skillfully depicts, simultaneously offering an illuminating view of motion picture politics. Most of all, Waxman proffers assurance to artists with original voices that their ideas can reach the public if they maintain Fincher's attitude - "Take me or leave me. My way or the highway" - and possess a little luck. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In the 1990s, a group of young directors roiled Hollywood in much the way that Coppola, Scorsese, and their peers shook up the establishment two decades earlier. New York Times correspondent Waxman traces the careers of six of those next-generation rebels--Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, and David O. Russell--from Tarantino's groundbreaking and influential Reservoir Dogs in 1992 to Soderbergh's success, Traffic, in 2000. The '90s had more than its share of innovative and challenging films, ranging from Anderson's Altmanesque Boogie Nights and Fincher's brutal Fight Club to Russell's prescient Three Kings and Jonze's unclassifiable Being John Malkovich. Waxman details the shooting of those films and others, and the corporate barriers their directors had to overcome. The young turks of the '90s didn't change the course of the film industry the way the '70s rebels did, but if they evaded the self-destructive lifestyles that sabotaged many of their earlier counterparts, their self-indulgences were manifested in their films instead, as Waxman's sympathetic but clear-eyed account shows. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060540184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060540180
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you felt a little let down by Peter Biskind's recent look at 90's indie film, "Down & Dirty Pictures," this juicier but also more personal book might be closer to what you were hoping to find there.

Instead of focusing primarily on Sundance and Miramax, Waxman focuses on the six men responsible for some of the biggest movies of the past decade: Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction"), P.T. Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia"), Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich"), David O. Russell ("Three Kings"), David Fincher ("Fight Club") and Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic").

They're a mixed bag of personalities and Waxman tells their stories with detail and relish, and also touches on other interesting filmmakers such as Wes Anderson, Roger Avary, Charlie Kaufman, Alexander Payne and others (though some are conspicuously absent -- Spike Lee and especially Richard Linklater, who isn't even mentioned).

It's hard to miss with a collection of stories like this: Tarantino's rise to power; Hackman cursing Wes Anderson on the set of "Tenenbaums"; Avary's attempts to buy a famous French film studio; Russell headbutting George Clooney on the set of "Kings" and P.T. Anderson admitting that "Magnolia" was probably too long.

"Rebels" (very deliberately) rises to the same sordid, "print the legend" heights as Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a very quick read, but unfortunately shows all the signs of having been an equally quick write. I have never before stopped in the middle of reading a book to pull out a pen and write down all the glaring factual errors and omissions that I saw, but Rebels on the Backlot forced me to do just that. I see that many of the most egregious errors have already been noted by others, but here is some of what I wrote down as I read:

On page 231: "Texas preppie-geek Wes Anderson had made his first movie, Rushmore, based on his experience in prep school, with an utter unknown in the lead, Jason Schwartzman." Wes Anderson's first film, of course, was Bottle Rocket, not Rushmore. And, yes, Jason Schwartzman had no previous film acting experience before Rushmore, but was hardly an "utter unknown" to the film world- his family (both the Schwartzmans and the Coppolas) had done a little bit of film work in their past, both in front of and behind the cameras. Even Waxman might have recognized the mother of this "utter unknown" from all of the Rocky movies.

Traffic star Erika Christensen is identified on page 321 as "Erika Christenssen" and, most howlingly, on page 101 as "Julia Stiles." Yes, the two actresses do look alike, but that's just absurd.

On page 266, describing the marketing of Fight Club, Waxman writes that "Fincher insisted the studio hire a cutting-edge advertising firm, Weiden + Kennedy, based in Seattle." Weiden + Kennedy are based in Portland, home of Nike, their biggest client. They have offices in Portland, New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Shanghai, but not in Seattle.

On page 194, Waxman describes the profound influence of Aimee Mann's music in the creation of Magnolia, both at the script level, and in the soundtrack.
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Format: Hardcover
I tore through this book, enjoying it thoroughly. It's a quick entertaining read, and seems to reveal a lot about the craziness of trying to manage a directing career.

However, there's also a really shoddy first-draft feel to the book. The irony is Waxman is a New York Times writer, and the book is filled with passages that would embarrass the paper. Example- "The question of Tarantino's ability to write without the support of a partner became a real question over the years." Oy vey!

The factual errors also make me wonder how much of these stories I can take at face value. She briefly mentions Wes Anderson's first film, Bottle Rocket, early in the book and then later calls Rushmore his first film. She misidentifies Erika Christensen as Julia Stiles in Traffic. She reports that David Russell used a real corpse for a shot of a bullet entering a body in Three Kings when it's been reported widely that this story was a misunderstanding of a joke that Russell had made and a dummy was actually used. These are just the ones that I (not a film industry person) caught.

That said, I recommend it to wannabe film directors as a fun set of stories that may inspire you or may revulse you to the business altogether.
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Format: Paperback
Rebels on the Backlot is an interesting look at six film directors (Spike Jonze, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, David O. Russell, David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson) and their rise in the Hollywood film world, starting from the late 80's and finishing out in the early 2000's. While it admittedly reads like one big gossip article, this in itself makes the book a page turner. What I found most interesting about the book was in how it draws similarities in the six directors through their behavior and general demeanor. Artists of their stature are usually social misfits and boy, oh boy does that ring ever so clear here. It doesn't necessarily go as in depth on their backgrounds as I would have liked but it does offer up plenty of information on not just the directors and their output but the machinations of the shark infested Hollywood studio system and how a business model like what it employs works against artistry and originality when the bottom line is all that matters. It also becomes quite painful to read in some places. The behind the scenes bits about Fight Club's travels to the screen are especially uncomfortable, along with the early days of Quentin Tarantino's career and David O. Russell's general insanity.

When the book ends, it almost feels you've just finished a piece of angel food cake. Light, fluffy and enjoyable all the way through but it won't change your life or anything when you stop and reflect upon it. What you will come away with is a little more of an understanding of these undeniably talented individuals. In fact, I'd go far as to say that Rebels on the Backlot is required reading for anyone with dreams of becoming a film maker, period.
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