Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On Powerhouse (The CAA Story), Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs, And A Word On George V. Higgins


A few notes on what I’ve been reading.


I finally finished Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency by James Andrew Miller. It took forever as it’s a long, long book.

It was absorbing from beginning to when Ovitz, Meyer and finally Bill Haber, three among CAA’s original founders, finally exited stage left. They were outsized—some lovely, some unlovely—characters. The founding, their ascent, their massive success, as told by way of oral history from their mouths, their clients’, and their friends’ and enemies’ lent concrete reality to this comprehensive account. 

As well, the personal perspectives reveal the big, bright distinction between the “talent,” essentially the creative sensibility, and the agents, their down to earth business mindedness, their strong shoulders to cry on, their always being there for the talent, essentially 24/7, and the talent mercurial, sensitive, seemingly kind of hopeless outside the envelope of their art. Not to a man and woman of course, but generally so it’s fair to say.

Once those original three left, the book became somewhat of a drag, but, still, made somewhat interesting by how things changed in comparison with the new guard, those changes tracking the changes in “entertainment America.” Amongst the guard, no one stood to me out in an outsized way; things became more corporate and the culture of CAA changed: more dog eat dog, more agent turnover, more of the top rewarding itself at the expense of the big, big amounts paid to keep agents in place by the old guard when business began to  hum; and sports became for CAA an unprecedented and huge revenue stream. But I didn’t get the sense of the athletes’ particular sensibility the way I did in the noted contrast between the Hollywood talent and the business side.

Final comment of the many more that can be made: only one character emerged as the successor to the CAA founders’ larger than life quality—Ari Emanuel, aka “Superagent,” and loosely and effectively played as Ari Gold by Jeremy Piven in Entourage.  Ari Emanuel is brother to Rahm and Ezekiel Emanuel. What a guy, what a family, and what an Agency cum ginormous business he’s built! It didn’t fit Powerhouse’s format to concentrate on him, but I divined an author chomping at the bit to key in on him but restrained by the bit of his main subject. 

Road Dogs:

I’m at the start of Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs. It’s nothing but a pleasure to read, or even better, listen to, this totally involving novel.  Nearly all dialogue so authentic you have to remind yourself it’s a book not an actual conversation, you’re compelled to listen, to hang on every word. It’s written in a style I’d call cinematic: you can easily visualize what’s going on as you read or listen. I believe it’s Leonard’s natural fiction style but not for nothing do many of his books become movies, this one became Out Of Sight, George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, an endlessly re-watchable movie. 

A little noted aspect of Leonard’s superb fiction writing talent is his ability deftly to invest would be losers, marginal men and women, riff raff, ex cons, low life’s, criminals, with their own particular vitality, singular character, and strengths  and flaws. I can’t get enough of this book: it’s like eating a delicious meal while  wanting always to have it. 

Leonard has said one of his writing masters is the incomparable George V. Higgins, incomparable especially in his earlier novels. I’ve read everything he’s written (and at the end IMO he lost his fictional way.) He’s a harder, more challenging read than Leonard because he creates more complex, more gritty, more fully realized characters and worlds. And even more impressive is Higgins’s mastery of point of view through the dialogue and various lengthy first person accounts of things that dominate his novels. 

Different characters will go on for pages giving their version of events forming axes of the story. And you will see these events so entirely and deeply from their perspective that you will be persuaded by them. And then a few pages later, you’ll be persuaded by markedly different account. What he does is create different overlapping worlds with each character’s tell tale. “Worlds colliding” as George Constanza once said. You need to get to the end of the books to see the resolution or irresolution of the collisions as the stories wind themselves up. It’s a brilliance quite unique to Higgins, at least in my reading experience.

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