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Hollywood Animal

Joe Eszterhas

A Memoir

(Alfred A. Knopf)

Trash and Treasure: A Beginner’s Guide to Eszterhas on Film

The Eszterhas screenplays that have made it to the big screen can’t ever be accused of stalling post-viewing conversation. Whether one pans or praises it, an Eszterhas flick usually has a minimum of four talking points. Here are six Eszterhas picks to mix on a Friday night: Flashdance (1983, Director: Adrian Lyne). What a feeling to see this cinematic nod to the then newly emerging language and conventions of the pop video promo so prevalent on MTV. Beautiful girl (Jennifer Beals) longs to be a professional dancer but must settle for welding by day and tuning her body by night while “flashdancing” for eager, male eyes. Supported by the power of an emotive, thumping soundtrack and an array of leotards and torn sweats, Flashdance can be a visually tempting return to the ‘80s. Jagged Edge (1983, Director: Richard Marquand). Glenn Close stars in this whodunit as a lawyer defending a man (Jeff Bridges) charged with murdering his wife and their housekeeper. The audience, like the protagonist, is left in the grip of deciphering what and whom to believe. Charming and chilling performances make for some truly gripping moments. Betrayed (1988, Director: Costa-Gavras). Debra Winger stars as an FBI agent instructed to go undercover to get close to prime suspect (Tom Berenger) in a right-wing, white supremacist killing of a radio host. Does falling in love mean the prime suspect falls from suspicion? Charming and chilling performances make for some truly gripping moments. Basic Instinct (1992, Director: Paul Verhoeven). A film that normalised the lack of underwear in the interrogation room, Eszterhas’ screenplay follows Michael Douglas’ San Franciscan cop with drink, and relationship issues. A murky, bondage-style murder in which icy, cool and clever author (Sharon Stone) is implicated leads to psycho-sexual hijinx. Sliver (1993, Director: Phillip Noyce). True to its tagline, “You like to watch… don’t you,” Sliver is a high-rise sex and surveillance thriller. The audience engages in some Rear Window-like voyeurism while Stone plays an uptight book editor being wooed by her hunky neighbours (Tom Berenger, William Baldwin). But which one is actually a serial killer fixated on blonde-haired lovelies? Showgirls (1995, Director: Paul Verhoeven). Elizabeth Berkley is the street-wise ingénue who goes head-to-head and lip-to-lip with top Vegas attraction Gina Gershon, in this All About Eve re-hash. Much topless writing, betrayal, novel use of ice cubes and an enthusiastic use of a swimming pool, highlight the tawdriness and treachery of Las Vegas. Showgirls is priceless for being on of the few films that is able to induce a telepathic state in which viewers exclaim at the identical moment, “Is that Kyle McLachlan?”
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Rage in the Cage


Mention the name “Joe Eszsterhas” and most anyone (outside Hollywood yet within the gravitational pull of the movie factory) has an unfavourable impression of the man and his more controversy-courting and publicity-generating films (e.g. Showgirls, Basic Instinct, Sliver, Flashdance) that he wrote.


Like him or hate him, he is responsible for putting his imprint on the pop cultural landscape to startling and enduring effect. The Sharon Stone interrogation flash in Basic Instinct is one of the most remembered, spoofed or imitated moments on celluloid. J. Lo reproduced key scenes from Flashdance in her “I’m Glad” video. And darlin’, Showgirls has gone on to become a cult favourite.


Likewise within the cloistered corners of exclusive, star-studded eateries, studio offices, test screenings and luxurious suites of LA’s most famous (and infamous) hotels, Hollywood’s assortment of insiders, both high and low, have plenty to say about the $4 million per script Hells Angels lookalike:


PRODUCER: You tell your client [Eszterhas] that he is a greedy pig! I will never - never pay that type of money for a rewrite.


DIRECTOR: I am the director, ja? And you are the writer, ja? You will do what I say, ja?


AGENT: I can’t believe Joe’s turning down a chance to work with Steven Spielberg.


STAR: You’re sly.


ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: [After attempting to manipulate Eszterhas into getting his script produced] You fucked me masterfully. I applaud you. I deserved it.


TEST SCREENING AUDIENCE MEMBER: Who’s the drunken sailor who wrote this piece of shit?


JOE ESZTERHAS, SCREENWRITER: I’ve got one loyalty here, Marty [producer]… and it’s to my script.


These key players are actually the essential ingredients and characters of Hollywood Animal; they are the various types of animals (prey, predator, parasite, chameleons) present in Hollywood’s food chain. They are the animals that make the movie-making machinery go. And those that insist on joining the LA jungle, there is but one law of the land: fuck or be fucked.


Hence Eszterhas’ memoir reallyis an exploration of how a constituent within Hollywood’s food chain somehow managed not be served as a main course… and instead survive mostly unscathed save for a several critical nibbles and malicious bites. The book flips fluidly between the past and present and is peppered with one to five page asides modelled on script conventions (e.g. [Close-up] The Smart Girl, [Quick Cut] You Know I Love You). We hear of his early childhood fleeing from the Nazis in Hungary and the subsequent hardship his family faced as new immigrants in Cleveland, Ohio struggling to learn English.


We watch his anti-authority streak blossom as he goes from car thief to local reporter to feature writer/spliff-smoker with Hunter J. while at Rolling Stone and eventually to walking out of meetings with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Eszterhas’ life is Horatio Algers-esque in its disadvantaged boy makes good benchmarks. The similarities end there as Eszterhas’ scripts, his macho bravado and no-nonsense savvy escorted him to the stratosphere of the rich, famous and powerful who had side preoccupations being a different type of Hollywood Animal: the Party Animal. Eszterhas regels us with his Hollywood excessiveness. If the reader had to partake cocaine, gin, pot and 3 beautiful women each time those words were encountered in the book, they’d never make it to the end.


Hollywood Animal is well-paced and candid account that does something that few of Eszterhas produced scripts possess: the redemptive arc. Eszterhas, is now pushing 60, has battled throat cancer, lives in Ohio with the woman that he adores and their four kids and is an anti-smoking campaigner.


Reading Hollywood Animal is very much akin to seeing an Eszterhas penned film as it is full of what can be called, “I can’t believe THAT” or “Oh my goodness” moments that propel the following emotions to the fore: shock, amazement, disbelief. For those with an appetite for salacious details about Hollywood, this book will more than satisfy. As in most of Eszterhas’ scripts that have become films, the reader becomes the fly-on-the-wall voyeur who witnesses a succession of lurid, amoral and diabolical events.


The tantalising bits of showbiz gossip peppered throughout the book show amoral inner workings of Hollywood minds and lives. But what sort of salacious details, you ask? The tamer ones include:


- Eszterhas, while simultaneously playing devoted family man in Marin, insisting that he and Sharon Stone did more than talk about script details before the Basic Instinct shoot


- Producer Robert Evans sending over a personal “thank you” in the form of a note retrievable from the deeper portions of a beauties’ nether regions


- Eszterhas slugging a grip on set who dared to offer unsolicited advice after a clunky scene


Halfway through the book, the endless hoards of silicon enhanced babes, mountains of cocaine, champagne and shouting matches full of salty putdowns (such as, “You tell that sleazy cocksucker…” ) come to be dismissed with a “that’s Hollywood” nonchalance. For others that are more intrigued by the politics of the industry, Eszterhas’ exposure of the lies, spin, betrayal and inhumanity makes this another rollicking, page-turning insider’s journey, one that will sit comfortably beside Lynda Obst’s Hello, He Lied, Julia Phillips’ You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again and Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays in the Picture. Animal is a tell-all tome of how a screenwriter deemed to be no more than a malleable occupier of the nether regions became king of the jungle.

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