Picks and Pans Review: Fast Fade
by Andrew Yule
In late 1986, newly brought from Britain to head the Coca-Cola Company's Columbia Pictures subsidiary, David Puttnam tongue-lashed Hollywood. "You're not shooting movies anymore, you're shooting deals.... The reason there are so many lousy films around is because of the corruption of the role of producer.... Our new credo at Columbia goes like this: We're saying that audiences are people, too." Comments Yule, in this account of Puttnam's safari into darkest filmdom: "What had just been declared was nothing less than total war on the existing Hollywood system." Who won? Hollywood, of course—in little more than a year. His fall eased by Coke's $3-million parachute, Puttnam was back in England, making pictures on his own. What happened? Yule, a show business journalist-author, presents the facts of the showbiz imbroglio with clarity and no apparent ax-grinding. He pays tribute to Puttnam's pre-Columbia successes as a producer—among them the 1982 Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire—but also presents a man who too often talks without thinking twice—or even once. Years before, Puttnam had told a reporter that Dustin Hoffman was a "worrisome American pest." When Puttnam got to Hollywood, the monstrously expensive Ishtar was underway at Columbia, starring Hoffman. Co-star Warren Beatty, accusing Puttnam of bad-mouthing Beatty's Reds, also became a foe. Beatty made his position clear: "Who gives a s—what Puttnam thinks?...Just tell the asshole to keep paying the bills." Similarly, though the goodwill of Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray was vital to Columbia for a sequel to Ghostbusters, Puttnam soon fell out with both. Aykroyd, committed to making Vibes first, didn't want Cyndi Lauper for a co-star; Puttnam insisted, so Aykroyd walked out. And at a Chamber of Commerce lunch, the garrulous Puttnam announced (later denying the words) that Murray "makes millions off "movies but gives nothing back to his art." According to Fay Vincent, head of Coke's Entertainment Business Sector, most of the Ghostbusters II lineup was against Puttnam: "Almost every single cast member and director Ivan Reitman said the movie would never be made with Puttnam." Next on the miffed list was Bill Cosby, producer-star of 1987's Leonard Part VI. Eager to protect Columbia from the economic consequences of what proved to be a monumental turkey, Puttnam refused to approve Leonard unless Coke underwrote the film. Fast Fade's depiction of a petty, arrogant, irresponsible Cosby evokes sympathy for Puttnam as a human being, if not as a politician. The bottom line? Puttnam's gone; Leonard WAS indeed a superbomb; the Ghostbusters sequel is being made. Movies are a tough business, and running a major studio is as strictly business as it gets. Puttnam apparently thought that the Coca-Cola Company would allow him to spend multimillions according to his personal ideas of "film integrity." He was wrong. But if Puttnam is Fast Fade's hero, he and a few small-minded actors are its villains also, not the Coke brass. When push came to shove, the diligent soft-drink executives, protecting the interests of their stockholders, simply delivered the shove. (Delacorte Press, $19.95)
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