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« Are All The Animals Really Equal? | Main | Hits and Misses: New York Forecasts »

September 29, 2008

Toby's Movie

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I've been looking forward to the film "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." It's an adaptation of the British writer Toby Young's memoir of his wildly unsuccessful years in New York City, on staff at Vanity Fair.

Though the book is nonfiction, it's personal, fleet, funny, and touching -- as engaging and easya read as "Bright Lights, Big City."

These days Toby's book looks even better than it did initially; indeed, it looks as though it may be the definitive book about an era in the NYC media life that I think of as the Tina-and-Graydon years -- that's Tina as in Tina Brown and Graydon as in Graydon Carter. And if you don't think that nailing a big-city media era is a significant literary achievement, please recall that one of the ways we value F. Scott Fitzgerald is as a chronicler of the Jazz Age.

I've been enjoying the warmup to the film's release in the States: one example, another. Have the filmmakers taken the material in the direction of character-driven, glam, and gritty, a la "Withnail and I"? I imagine that such would be Toby's preference. Or have they steered it in the direction of rom-com formula?

Here's the movie's website. Simon Pegg: good. Kirsten Dunst? Hmmm ... But I'm really looking forward to Jeff Bridges as Graydon Carter, though the casting seems so dead-on that I'm also feeling wary of it. Toby's wife writes about what it was like to see herself played onscreen by Kirsten Dunst.

So I was double-glad this morning to see that Toby has written a smart piece -- frank, provocative, and fun, in the Toby manner -- for The Guardian ricocheting off his experience as a movie journalist and movie reviewer as well as his more recent adventures in moviemaking itself.

What has Toby learned about movies and moviemaking that he didn't fully comprehend as a reviewer? And how has it affected his attitudes towards and thinking about movies? A great passage that ought to be handed out to beginning film journalists and beginning filmmakers both:

I now realise that describing someone as the "director" -- or "screenwriter" or "producer" -- is completely misleading, in that there are no clearly circumscribed areas of responsibility on a film set. Those official titles are, at best, starting points, guideposts that sometimes point you in the right direction, but equally often lead you astray. Film-making is a fluid, mercurial process in which power is constantly changing hands, not just between individuals, but between groups of individuals, creating makeshift alliances that can dissolve at any second.

I was struck by much the same thing during my recent adventures in no-budget moviemaking. (Read one of my postings about it here.) Basically, we were all there to get the damn film -- er, webseries -- made. If an electrical cord needed plugging-in, then someone did it. If toilet paper needed fetching, then someone did that too. The titles that appear on the webseries' credits are at best a rough approximation of what the people who were involved in the project actually did.

Visit Toby Young's website here.

BTW, I know Toby a little bit. Does that mean that everything I've said in this posting is to be read skeptically? Sure -- and I sincerely hope that you read everything I write here with a skeptical mind. But does it also mean that what I've said in this posting should be dismissed? Objectivity, where's the objectivity? Hmmm ... I don't know. I'm writing about the work of a friend, but I am being honest. You'll figure out for yourself how to deal with the conundrum.

Bonus points:


  • A super-sharp article by Leonard Mlodinow about the role that chance and luck play in Hollywood. The brilliant economist / fitness-guru Arthur De Vany plays a big role in the piece. (PDF alert, but well worth it -- the layout of the piece is a pleasure.) De Vany's very rewarding website is here.

  • A charmer of an interview with the actor Brad Dillman. It's such an affable delight that I've gone ahead and ordered a copy of Dillman's memoir. Known for first-class work in a handful of memorable movies as well as for workmanlike appearances in a lot of forgettable schlock, Dillman had a long and varied career. And, like many actors, he has a merry sense of how random showbiz is.

Hey, world: luck plays an important role in life. Funny how that fact -- that realization, really -- comes as such a cosmos-shaker to some economists and scientists, isn't it? What's that about? Whoa -- chaos, man! Randomness! Not a big shockeroo to many of us lib-artsies.

Fun fact for the day: Brad Dillman's wife was the legendary beauty and model Suzy Parker.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at September 29, 2008




Comments

"Hey, world: luck plays an important role in life. Funny how that fact -- that realization, really -- seems to come as such a cosmos-shaker to some economists and scientists, isn't it? What's that about?
"

Easy: you can't measure luck, so of course scientists, economists and any other -ists whose stock and trade is in measuring things will, at the very least, play down the importance, if not outright existence, of luck.

Posted by: JV on September 29, 2008 3:50 PM



I am such a Simon Pegg fan - he wrote this funny article, in the Guardian, I think, some time back about the differences between Brit and American humor. It was surprisingly sweet.

Posted by: MD on September 29, 2008 7:18 PM



The Speccie in the nineties was the last mag I read with any interest or regularity. Jeffrey Bernard's Low Life was palely loitering on, High Life's Taki hadn't yet found his Green side, pre-spanking-scandal Paul Johnson was still feisty (and hadn't discovered his New Labour side), Jennifer Patterson was still cooking and smokin'...and professional irritator Toby Young wanted to Save the Toff.

The Speccie's cover for Young's article on that subject ranks as a best-ever. It showed a monocled and bowler-hatted seal-cub about to be clubbed on ice by a lager-lout. Deathless stuff. Don't know who was editing back then - I get all those Johsons and Lawsons mixed up. Vale the dear old Speccie.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on September 29, 2008 7:32 PM



Count me as another Toby Young (and Simon Pegg) fan interested in seeing the Hollywood version of the book. Here's the L.A. Times take on Toby, which does include one worrying note -- the film's director refuses to comment.

Posted by: Vince on September 29, 2008 10:44 PM



Graydon Carter (he is quoted as saying he once pretended to be Jewish because it seemed "more exotic").

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/dec/10/1

Leslie Fiedler (1948, 873) noted that 'the writer drawn to New York from the provinces feels...the Rube, attempts to conform; and the almost parody of Jewishness achieved by the gentile writer in New York is a strange and crucial testimony of our time.'

Posted by: Duluth on September 30, 2008 9:07 AM



JV: exactly. We don't like error because it messes up predictions, and that's what we're supposed to do.

Of course, the whole point of statistics is to quantify and bound error itself... it's kinda neat. Did you know that if you add any set of identical distributions together, you get the same bell-shaped curve? (Yes, the one Murray got in trouble for writing about.) There is something very deep about that, I don't know how to explain it to a non-mathematician though.

Posted by: SFG on September 30, 2008 10:05 AM



Gray Carter. Sigh. I think of him, together with Peter Jennings and Bonnie Fuller, as my hometown's contribution to the destruction of American media culture by Canadians (BF being only sorta hometown).

Dan Ackroyd and Tracy Quan make up for them, though.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 30, 2008 12:55 PM



In How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Toby Young's lightly fictionalized memoir of flopping as a celebrity journalist in New York, his humiliations are artfully aggravated by simultaneous spots of preposterous luck enjoyed "Alex De Silva," Toby's real life friend Sacha Gervasi, a fellow Fleet Street hack who ventured to Hollywood instead. When Young gets fired from Vanity Fair, for example, Gervasi sells a knock-off of "The Full Monty" for a half million.

But when I idly checked the invaluable Internet Movie Database last year, Gervasi's run of good fortune seemed kaput. His new screenplay was a claustrophobic-sounding fable about an Eastern European traveler stuck permanently in an airline terminal. It sounded like Waiting for Godot meets No Exit, with a dollop of The Trial for added moroseness. I couldn't help thinking of "The Simpsons" episode where Krusty the Klown - having lost the rights to feature "Itchy & Scratchy" cartoons - desperately substitutes Communist Czechoslovakia's favorite animated existentialists "Worker and Parasite."

I gleefully scanned down to see which minor-leaguers had blundered into putting Gervasi's career-killing concept on screen:

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

I should have guessed that the only people who'd think a movie about hanging out at "The Terminal" for nine months sounded like fun would be superstars so rich that their only recent experience with airports is the five feet of tarmac between the limo and the Gulfstream.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on October 2, 2008 2:49 AM



I'm in the minority on this, but I'm a fan of The Terminal. It has a gentle, absurdist bent, and harks back to the movies of Tati and Chaplin.

Posted by: Vince on October 2, 2008 2:04 PM



Christ on a crutch, I bet Sailer is a fucking BORE to be around.

Posted by: JV on October 2, 2008 5:54 PM






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