• Lukas Kendall

What a Bonfire


I watched The Bonfire of the Vanities on HBOMax. I was looking at the A–Z of movies in the TCM section, it came up (this is why cheapo movie producers like to start their titles with letters early in the alphabet, or better yet with numbers) and I thought, sure, why not? I wondered if it was as bad as I’ve always heard.


And...it was not good. Not funny, not dramatic, not thought-provoking. I told my wife, she said, “Oh yeah, that’s horrible.” It took me three sittings to finish it, I was so bored.


It struck me as the kind of thing that people would know how to ace nowadays. They’d give it to Aaron Sorkin or somebody doing a version of Sorkin, and make it dazzle for the tastemakers. But at the time, they tried to make it into a mass-market “Hollywood movie” and it just did not work.


I did not know the screenwriter, Michel Cristofer, is also an actor, and played the creepy CEO in Mr. Robot. Huh!


It was fun to see so many familiar faces looking young or in their prime or, at least, not dead. Although so many are miscast.


And Dave Grusin doesn’t disappoint. Grusin is probably one of the most dependable, first-call composers of the 1970s through the ’90s whose work I largely missed at the time because, The Goonies aside, very little of it was for films a kid or teenager would seek out.


The opening Steadicam shot is magnificent. And as a whole the film is impressively mounted. De Palma certainly knew how to get great production value. And I like to see New York at the time, the way I remember it as a child.


That brief shot of the Concorde landing in front of the sunset, which the second-unit director went to Herculean efforts to capture, really is magnificent.


Watching the film has been a good excuse to re-read The Devil’s Candy, Julie Salamon’s magnificent making-of-the-fiasco book. I’ll give De Palma credit—he allowed Salamon all access, and when the movie ended up being an all-time disaster, he took it like a champ.


I remember I was visiting L.A. in spring 1996 when Danny Elfman was hastily rescoring De Palma’s Mission: Impossible after Alan Silvestri was fired. (Tom Cruise wanted flutes!) I asked if I could attend Elfman’s sessions. Up until this point, I had always been welcomed into whatever I asked to visit, without reason. On this one I was told, point-blank, NO. I asked why, and was told some version of, “Brian De Palma is not a nice/warm/pleasant man.”

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