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Titanic aside (don’t hate me), I really do usually love disaster stories. And there’s none bigger than the one surrounding the making of the Tom Hanks/Melanie Griffith/Bruce Willis Bonfire of the Vanities way back in olden times. It’s a movie adaptation that should have been a surefire thing, combining a monster bestselling novel that definitively captured (supposedly, though I dunno, do we talk about this novel much anymore?) the complicated intersection of racism, ambition, and class during the cocaine-fueled 1980s with three of the top stars of the moment but, uh, it couldn’t have been a bigger disaster if an iceberg had slammed into it.

I’m always fascinated when smart, talented people make dumb, creatively bankrupt decisions; it gives me the same funny feeling as when there’s a truly bad singer on a singing competition show. Do they have no friends, no one to step in and say, “You know, I think your range is a little too narrow for a Mozart aria, Larry.” As for Bonfire … was there no one to step in and say, “Uh, Melanie, maybe you are all wrong for this part. You too, Bruce. And oh, Tom. TOM. Just stop, Tom. You should just make Turner & Hooch Part 2 instead.” Apparently there was NOT.

I’d tell you to see it and decide for yourself but I’m afraid you might (justifiably) bring me up on assault charges after you’ve watched it, so instead, just subscribe to the new season of Turner Classic Movies’ podcast The Plot Thickens. Season Two* is called “The Devil’s Candy” and it’s allllll about how allllll of The Bonfire of the Vanities went alllllll wrong and alllll bit of it is completely delicious. But I’d still rather have that Turner & Hooch sequel.

*The first season is all about Peter Bogdanovich and features extensive interviews with him; it’s really interesting and I say go for it, but maybe have about five thousand grains of salt ready.

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About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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  • Well… the movie prompted me to read the book so it was not all bad….

  • Guess I don’t miss much. But the plot sounds interesting.

  • Ok I’m in. As always, enjoy your musings.

  • DG, kudos for showing me there are Things Out There that one, I never even knew existed and two, that I should get out of my classics bubble (Beethoven and Beatles) for and try something different. And by the way, you have THE most eclectic mind I have ever encountered! A delight to hear from you, always.

  • Hearing everything that went wrong? Im not going to pretend I don’t look when passing an accident…

  • I still think of the term ‘social x-rays’ w a smile and think of the book whenever I have to drive on the Cross Bronx Expressway. You can still see them in NYC.
    Book, mind you. Tom Wolfe.

  • I love reading about films that go wrong, particularly the humungous ones. It’s often a better story than the screenplay 🙂

  • I’m now signed up to receive TCM movies because of this post. I have always enjoyed older movies and this is too perfect

  • Have you read the book “ The Devil’s Candy “ about the making of the movie? It’s absolutely crazypants. They were stupid enough to let a reporter follow them around during the entire process. Also, the book about the making of M.Night’s “ The Lady in the Water “ is equally entertaining.

    • So glad you mentioned this – it sounded familiar. I read Tom Wolfe’s book (will never forget the part when he off ramps into the Bronx) and then read The Devil’s Candy (what a tale of multiple dysfunctional relationships!!) – but never watched the movie. Probably never will.

    • Yes, the narrator of this is that same reporter. It’s sort of astonishing how many bad decisions she was present for.

    • I hear some of her interview tapes for the book are excerpted in the podcast!

  • I have this one on my list – contemplating reading Julie Salamon’s book first . . .

  • Saw the movie when it first came out. Time I will never get back.

  • Thank you for this, I’ve never heard of it since it’s fantastic. Reminds me of Final Cut

  • p.s. – apparently, if you want to knit to something cringe worthy , the movie is streaming on HBOMax. Forgive the enabling.

  • How did I miss this podcast? I don’t have cable, but the Criterion Channel makes up for it!

  • Two stories: I attended a 2015 screening of the film with Wolfe and Preet Bharara (then the NY US Attorney Southern District) and yes, Wolfe wore all white. I went with my Match date (a white guy and former NY banker in the 80s – me, I’m black and a former IT geek on Wall St.), it was a test to check if we would argue in the future about how films depicted black people and white “professionals” in the past. Google 92nd St. Y to watch it (Wolfe and Preet, that is, not me and my date arguing lol)

    2nd story: A dear friend’s new car broke down nearly in the same location as Hank’s character (she is white and was with her husband and preschool son), they thought of the movie when a “good samaritan” drives up in an old Volvo. He was black and a bit unkempt. They had to choose whether to trust him or sit there, in the dark, in Harlem (before cell phones). She told me that a little boy peeks out of the window, the same age as her son. He brings them to a gas station where they call for a tow. The black man, turns out, was a Columbia University professor and for well over 15 years, they remained in touch!

    • Excellent stories. Important lessons.

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