Geeky Cinephile Musings…
I don't pontificate, I blather.

“You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again,” by Julia Phillips…a wee book report

Okay, who wants to go to the bathroom?

I’d heard many things about this memoir before deciding to tackle it during our two-week camping trip to the Pacific Northwest (and I do mean TACKLE it–this book is over 500 pages long).  After all, what could be a more perfect way to spend the long hours at our campfire than a good, trashy, Hollywood-insider escape.  I’d read With Nails, the autobiography of Richard E. Grant (I HIGHLY recommend this one, btw), and I was thinking that You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again, hereafter known in this post as YNELTA (Good God, typing even the acronym is almost as much of an endeavor as reading the book…) would delve deeper and shock me in a deliciously satisfying way.  Instead, I ended up finishing the book feeling like I was missing something and I should have made a flow chart–decidedly NOT what I’d call an easy breezy vacation read.  However, let’s start with the positives.  After all, I ain’t a hater.

Julia Phillips is a major reason (she would argue THE reason) we have such great films as The Sting, Taxi Driver, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  She was the first woman to win an Academy Award as a producer, she had the balls (so to speak) to stand up and speak plainly to the misogynist, top suits of her day, and although things have not changed THAT much, she was nevertheless a true trailblazer (Sorry Julia, I know you hate that word) and a hurricane personality.  Julia Phillips, it cannot be denied, was ALWAYS Julia Phillips, no matter how much she complains about having to kowtow and grit her teeth, and that is an admirable quality in a business that frankly reeks with underhanded behavior.  Heck, she even mouthed off to King David Geffen numerous times, and he actually liked her all the more for it. 

And that’s about where my kudos end.

The writing was at times pseudo-Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, only Tom Wolfe does it much better, and although she cleverly tried to make it read a bit like a movie script (tying in with one of her favorite panic mantras, “This is not my movie…”), the end result is confusing and pretentious.  Chapters go back and forth between first person and third person, switching time periods that could be relatively close together or extremely far apart, depending on her fancy, and at times I was left wondering who the hell she was talking about.

Speaking of which…half the time the reader has no idea who the fuck she’s talking about. 

85% of the people she’s dishing the supposed dirt on  are behind-the-scenes-suits.  I’m not by ANY means downplaying these guys’ influence and power, but come on–this book is supposedly for public enjoyment, not insiders only.  I’m pretty knowledgeable about the film world, and I found myself having to Google these people every five seconds to figure out who they were, how they were linked to the projects she was working on, why what they’re saying is so scandalous, etc.  And that was of course, the people whom she named.  50% of the people she’s dishing on have had their names changed to protect their identities (and her from lawsuits, I suspect).  So NOW she’s telling stories about a bunch of people I might not know anyway, AND their names have been changed? Now you’re just wasting my time.

Last, but certainly not least, in every good story the main character MUST be likeable in SOME way–even if it’s a serial killer.  I’m skating on thin ice here because I definitely do not want to say that Julia Phillips is wholly unlikeable, but she is extremely hard to sympathize with, which makes it very hard to spend 500 pages with her.  There is a deep bitterness in this book, which detracts from the valid points she DOES make. Many of the things she says about others, rather than being insightfully scathing, are just downright petty and cruel.  She snipes that Goldie Hawn “is so dirty! EW!” about six times, and about fourteen times she comments on how female writers are “all” fat, bitter women who were ignored in high school.  The fact that she does not conform to this is somehow skipped over in favor of taking potshots at several of her colleagues, whether they did anything to deserve it or not.  She namedrops relentlessly, practically calls herself a genius at every turn, and generally does all she can to scream at you that she deserves better than this!!…when in fact I’m sure she’d be the first to admit that most of her downfalls are a result of her own actions. 

So okay, I did learn that during the scene in Close Encounters… where they’re in India, all of those extras were left to sit in their own feces for days while Speilberg and crew tried to get together more money. I also learned (and I believe her when she says) that Julia was the first person to realize that Interview With a Vampire would make a fantastic film, and was actively trying to get funding for it in the ’80s. Creative minds are complex, and they are fascinating.  Julia Phillips was an admirable woman in so many ways, she helped some of the finest films of our time be realized on screen, and she was often dealt a shitty hand, only to claw her way back.  We should all be so determined.  But a vivacious personality and strong, biting wit do not necessarily a good book make.

Update 10-01-10: This came to me the other day–I forgot to mention one of the biggest flaws in the book! David Begelman was a huge influence in Julia’s career.  He gave her her first real shot at the movie business.  Throughout her story she refers to him and their frequent encounters.  He is a mentor of sorts for her, which she readily admits in the story.  However, she neglects to mention that David Begelman was accused of embezzling money from Columbia Pictures and was subsequently fired.  He later went on to become the CEO of MGM studios….does that seem odd to anyone else but me??  So much for spilling the beans and dishing the dirt, Julia.

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One Response to ““You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again,” by Julia Phillips…a wee book report”

  1. […] may remember that, last time, I blathered about Julia Phillips’ You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. Well this was a nice 180 (NOT 360!! For the love of GOD, people!!! 360 means you’ve come FULL […]


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