Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego and the Twilight Zone Case
Prior to reading the book, my primary association with Twilight Zone: The Movie was the profoundly creepy third segment, especially the shot of the sister with no mouth; I made the mistake of watching the movie on HBO as a kid, and that image has stayed with me since.(I don't think I knew until looking it up just now that she's played by Cherie Currie, which is a neat bit of casting.)Most other people remember John Lithgow's segment, based on a story from the original series that featured William Shatner.
Vic Morrow's death and those of the two children have receded in the public memory; I've had two dozen conversations in which Brandon Lee came up, and maybe one about the tragedy on the TZ set.I don't remember having any contemporary awareness of the trial, either, which I guess is a function of my age at the time but also probably proceeds from our living in a different world now.In 2008, the footage would go up all over the internet within the week, and public opinion would play a far larger role in the trial.I don't think John Landis could have kept working, which he did; I don't think a jury could have let him off.It's kind of shocking that a helicopter could fall on, and end, three people, two of them grade-schoolers, and then the justice system would have such difficulty apportioning responsibility — but life isn't a Law & Order episode (more's the pity at times), and the authors do an excellent job examining why and how this is true without leaning on overly simplistic power-of-celebrity explanations.
The book itself is quite good — it goes overboard with the SAT words in spots, but it moves a complex narrative along at a healthy clip and draws its conclusions carefully.(Some of it is a bit dated, through no fault of its own — the observations about Jennifer Jason Leigh's career, accurate at the time of publication, land like bricks now — but you'll recognize a majority of the players.)
And as fun as it is for those of us who enjoy that type of behind-the-scenes look at a Hollywood bomb in progress — I've probably read The Devil's Candy four times — it also raises larger questions about how important we as a culture should make storytelling.You can defend Landis, up to a point and in the abstract, for insisting on realism despite the evident dangers and for breaking the rules in the pursuit of that realism.But the critical distinction here, the difference a calculated risk and tunnel vision that excludes safety or even listening to a different opinion, isn't one Landis made.I do think that film is important, that good stories should mean as much as they do, but to not even pretend to value human life above a bitchin' special-effects shot…there's important, and there's self-important.
It's an interesting, disturbing series of events; it's even more so because it's not very well known.
Tags: books Brandon Lee Cherie Currie Jennifer Jason Leigh John Landis John Lithgow Julie Salamon movies Twilight Zone untimely demises Vic Morrow William Shatner