May 11, 2006


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Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops, by James Robert Parish (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, 359 pages)


Why read a 359-page book about some of the worst, most bloated movies ever made?

That one German word meaning, more or less, delight in the misery of others explains why Fiasco is such an entertaining book. For all that the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is intoxicating and fun, the failures of Hollywood are a junk food treat we are all eager to gobble up.

Actually, Fiasco is less one book and more 14 long features (written breezily but with a just-the-facts style that makes the enormity of bad choices all that much more entertaining) on 15 movies that sucked so bad and so big that even their names cause you to wince. Showgirls, Battlefield Earth, Ishtar — these films are movie shorthand for big budgets that will never be made back and self-infatuated stars whose misjudgment caused a shock wave of destruction.

The story of each failure is similar in structure to the others — a mediocre story that doesn't appear entirely promising and a star that seems a bit too full of himself and just a touch unstable come together to receive a big budget and way too much leeway from a studio with not enough sense and some sort of desperation (to be apart of the actor's big wave of popularity; to find the hit that can keep the studio from sinking, etc.). Problems generally appear immediately and you in the reading audience think to yourself "why don't they just pull the plug?" Luckily, they don't and the production stretches on too long, costs too much and by the day of the film's premiere failure is nearly assured.

Though each one of these stories follows this outline, each one is also special and different, like a dirty, mishapen little snowflake. The failure of Cleopatra was the public manifestation of the fall of the studio system. The failure of Shanghai Surprise is an excellent cautionary tale for those who would put pop stars on the big screen. Battlefield Earth is a demonstration for why some actor's cult-like religion shouldn't serve as the basis for a film. And then there's Town and Country, the icky, embarrassing movie that shows what happens when aging cads like Warren Beatty think they are 20 years younger than they are. These films aren't just flops. They are colossal mistakes that usually stem from extreme hubris. And though Fiasco is itself a lesson against smugness, you and I can't help but feel smug knowing that, no matter how much we screwed up at work, we'll never be blamed for both The Postman and Waterworld. B

— Amy Diaz

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