Signet, 1991, 628 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-451-17072-5
Sex! Power! Drugs! Money! More money! More power! More sex!
Nope, I’m not talking about Washington. The New Babylon, as most suspect, is Hollywood. Tinseltown is what happens when you funnel millions (assuming that every American spends 25$ a year to see movies on screen or video, that’s six billion dollars, folks.) and you place it in the hands of people without talent, brains or restraint. I’ve never had too much of a high opinion of Hollywood (that’s what happens when you identify more closely with the writers and CGI animators than anyone else) and it sank even more with You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.
Lunch is the autobiography of Julia Philips, a movie producer. Her filmography is semi-impressive: In the seventies, she produced The Sting, Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Other than that, not much. No wonder that most moviegoers haven’t really heard of her.
But outside a simple filmography, Phillips spent most of her time in Hollywood (and most of this book’s hefty 600+ pages) doing drugs. Lunch is a confessional where she describes her ascent, descent and recovery. It’s less glorious or fascinating than it sounds.
Lunch, in a few words, teaches important lessons: When reading an autobiography by someone you don’t know, it is essential that:
A> The narrator is likeable. Not the case here, since Phillips is most definitely someone I wouldn’t like to meet (and this is reciprocal; “Scorsese, Dreyfuss, Milius, Spielberg, Schraeder, etc. A rogues’ gallery of nerds. There is not a single guy here I would have dated in high school or college.” [P.131] I happen to be a nerd; G’bye, Julia!). Her constant, and unrepenting, abuse of drugs, alcohol and sex doesn’t help. You’ll excuse me if I don’t find attractive folks accepting Oscars while on a coke high. What also grates is that while she says she stopped doing coke, by the end of the book she’s still heavily in the so-called “softer” drugs… Redemption? Really?
B> If you can’t be likeable, be interesting. Here too, Philips fails: Lunch is six hundred pages of minutia, of boring and unlikeable anecdotes, of flings with people we couldn’t care less about. Some will say that this only adds texture to the narrative; I say that this would have been a crackerjax 200-pages autobiography. As such, most of the time we’re wading in irrelevancies. I didn’t skim, but I really wanted to.
C> The narrative should attach itself to known markers. Here, Philips is most interesting when she talks about the making of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Steven Spielberg, Arthur C. Clarke or known actors. Since we’ve already established that we’re not interested in her life (see A> and B>), she might as well talk about others. Sadly, this doesn’t really happen as often as we wish it would. (In the middle of a chainsaw autobiography, however, it’s fun to see who remains unscathered. Speilberg comes out okay.)
D> Be coherent. And Phillips isn’t. As said before, the book is overlong. But it’s also full of digressions that aren’t related to the tale, of sermonizing little philosophical speeches and of self-congratulatory monologues. Problem is, most of them don’t make as much sense as she thinks it does (I did mention she was still doing soft drugs, hmmm?) and the remainder is just embarrassingly juvenile. It also doesn’t help that Phillips consider herself as exceptionally intelligent. I was reminded of a line in John Brunner’s The Sheep Looks up: “If [she’s] so intelligent, then why isn’t she so smart?”
The result is a bloated failure. Fortunately, a complete index will help out the impatient reader anxious to get to all the good parts. Read the sections about CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, about Spielberg, Beatty, Clarke, Gere, Rice, Truffault and (Don) Simpson, but don’t give Phillips the karmic satisfaction of dumping all her anxious neuroses on you.