by Julie Salamon
Melanie Griffith, while shooting The Bonfire of the Vanities, had her breasts cosmetically overhauled during a three-week hiatus. Her first day back on the set, Griffith pressed her newly enhanced knockers into director Brian De Palma's face and asked, "How do they feel?"
You want juicy scenes? You got 'em in abundance in Salamon's thorough account of the making of the movie of Tom Wolfe's scabrous satirical novel about '80s excess, The Bonfire of the Vanities. Salamon, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and now the paper's film critic, offers a you-are-there look at Hollywood hubris that is funny, biting and illuminating. In other words, it's everything the movie hoped to be but so resoundingly was not.
Salamon spent nearly a year hanging out with De Palma (smart, but an egomaniacal perfectionist), stars Tom Hanks (a good guy, but miscast), Bruce Willis
(a spoiled star), Griffith (in need of constant reassurance) and everyone else involved with the movie.
All of the dish is fun, but the real point is the excessive size of egos and budgets—and how lightly the two are entwined. What is also apparent is how little sense anyone has about whether a film in production is going to work. Even when Bonfire was finished, Mark Canton, then a top executive at Warner (the producing studio), announced, "De Palma's a genius. This is the best movie we've ever made." Now Canton is head of Columbia Pictures. That's Hollywood. (Houghton Mifflin, $24.95)