For those of us who watch while talented filmmakers get taken advantage of and good (or even great) films get tossed aside, there's nothing as satisfying as confirmation of how clueless the people in power really are. There's satisfaction in spades in Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters' "Hit & Run," the story of how producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber angled to become the heads of Columbia Studios after it was purchased by Sony, and how their profligate ways wound up costing the Japanese corporation $3 billion.
With wicked deadpan wit, Griffin, an editor at Premiere, and Masters, a contributor to Time and Vanity Fair, trace the rise of Peters (a volatile, semi-literate hairdresser to the stars) and Guber (a success-hungry lawyer) as hotshot producers and their fall as faux moguls. Happy to take credit for the movies their names were attached to, Peters and Guber almost always left the actual work to other people. The pair's truest talent, Griffin and Masters tell us, was their knack for getting those in a position to offer them money and power to start salivating over the gravy, without ever producing the roast.
Of many hilarious moments, the best is perhaps when Guber summons Barry Morrow, the screenwriter of "Rain Man," and tells him, "I've got this ending which is going to be really sensational ... Raymond will come back and his brother will get him to pitch in the Dodger game -- and he'll win the game for the Dodgers! And it will be big, it will be huge!!"
The trouble with "Hit & Run" is that Griffin and Masters don't know what's lousy about "Rain Man" to begin with. They know exactly how movies shouldn't be managed as a business; they show no indication of knowing how they should be managed as art. Movies are judged almost exclusively by their commercial performance. I don't wish to be unfair to Griffin and Masters. They are working here as business journalists, not critics. And this book, a model of clarity, readability and scrupulousness, is light-years from the publicist-driven pabulum that too often passes for entertainment reporting these days. But the movies have always gotten into trouble when they have been viewed exclusively as either a business or an art. Hollywood has more to fear from a handful of M.B.A.'s who have power but no instinct for what makes good movies than from a hundred conniving little Sammy Glicks like Jon Peters and Peter Guber.