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KILLER INSTINCT
By JANE HAMSHER (Broadway Books; 1997) 

In the category of books about moviemaking this one for me ranks among the top of the heap.  It’s about the twisted inception of Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS, told from the jaundiced point of view of Jane Hamsher, one of its producers.  Together with her lunatic partner Don Murphy Hamsher nurtured the script, written by a lowly video store clerk named Quentin Tarantino, through a twisted development process that included a lame-o director who spent more time worrying about the design of the crew baseball caps than the film itself, and Tarantino’s own meteoric rise, when, according to Hamsher, he tried to kill the project because, again according to Hamsher, he didn’t want it known that he was a one-trick pony.  Luckily NATURAL BORN KILLERS was salvaged when Oliver Stone decided he wanted to direct it--but little did Hamsher and Murphy realize the real insanity was only beginning. 

     Obviously this book isn’t kind to Quentin Tarantino--matter of fact, I’d say it’s the most vicious portrait of the man I’ve ever encountered.  It was KILLER INSTINCT that inspired Tarantino’s infamous altercation with Don Murphy in a posh LA restaurant, in which the latter was pummeled repeatedly and Hamsher, who was present, dubbed Tarantino an “arrogant brat”. 

     Of course, in the ensuing years both Murphy and Stone have put aside their differences with Tarantino, which frankly makes me wonder about the accuracy of this book’s claims.  (The fact that Hamsher and Murphy have split up even though they’re portrayed as all-but inseparable herein further piques my suspicions.)  Hey, I still think Quentin Tarantino is cool, even after reading this book twice.  As far as I’m concerned JACKIE BROWN and KILL BILL ably refute Hamsher’s contention that Quent is “on his way to becoming the George Gobel of directors, famous for being famous”.  

     In any event it’s not Tarantino who comes off the worst here but Oliver Stone.  Sure, Hamsher gives him credit for taking a chance on her and Murphy, but portrays the production of NATURAL BORN KILLERS as a drugged-out nightmare presided over by a manipulative nutcase.  Highlights include an early location scout during which everyone was high on ‘shrooms, and a final prison riot scene shot in an actual Illinois prison with mayhem that was all-too real.  Throughout it all Stone comes off as a sadistic, temperamental, self absorbed, testosterone-fuelled bully; unsurprisingly, Stone’s reaction to this book was nearly as vitriolic as Tarantino’s.  (For more Stone age fun, check out JFK, NIXON, OLIVER STONE AND ME, a deeply corrosive memoir by former Stone staffer  that makes the present book look positively warm ‘n cuddly by comparison!)  

     Getting back to the question of authenticity, I’ll confess Hamsher’s portrait of Hollywood in the early-to-mid-nineties feels pretty accurate, particularly during the opening chapters, in which she and Murphy find themselves courting a succession of “worthless losers who claim to be fabulously wealthy/well-connected/extremely talented/far more important to their company than they actually are”.  As one who was active in the lower rungs of Hollywood during the time, I know exactly what--and who--she’s talking about! 

     Still, I can’t help but question some of Hamsher’s claims regarding the production of NBK.  She takes credit, after all, not only for the film’s score (she says she turned the musically illiterate Oliver Stone onto the tunes used in the film while the credited musical supervisor Bud Carr apparently did nothing) but also for its final edit (saying she was the only person on the crew who dared criticize Stone’s incoherent first cut) and the psychedelic poster art (because she reportedly badgered Warner Bros’ publicity department into changing their initial shitty design).  Good thing Jane Hamsher was around, I guess, or NATURAL BORN KILLERS might have been a whole ‘nother movie!

     But I said at the heard of this review that I loved the book and I wasn’t kidding.  It’s lively and raunchy, told in a smooth, hip, expletive-packed vernacular that’s mighty easy to read.  Best of all is the way Hamsher presents herself, not as a starry-eyed innocent lost in the corrupt machinations of big bad Hollywood, but as a tough, bitchy diva in training, unafraid to name names and lay waste to reputations.  I’d place this book alongside actor Klaus Kinski’s unforgettable autobiography I NEED LOVE (or KINSKI UNCUT, as it’s better known), a scabrous account whose facts have been called into question repeatedly but still remains an all-time fave.  KILLER INSTINCT is in many ways just as potent, a questionable piece of work in many respects, but goddamn is it entertaining!
 


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