Today the movie business is everyone’s business. Box office receipts, troubled film
productions and soaring star salaries are the stuff of water-cooler conversation across
America. Demand for behind-the-scenes information on Hollywood is stoked by a host of
outlets in print and on television from Premier magazine to Entertainment Tonight to the E!
Channel. Even the august pages of the New York Times now carry weekly box office totals.
The same trend that turns cab drivers into armchair movie moguls is one that
diminishes the impact of Ian Grey’s Sex, Stupidity and Greed. Billed as an inside look at the
film industry, the book has some interesting interviews but offers little more than a rehashing of well-publicized film production
fiascos such as Waterworld and a scattershot indictment of Hollywood as a mass-marketing
One can’t really argue with Grey’s underlying theme that consolidation among giant
entertainment and industrial companies that own movie studios have led to increasing
reliance on commercially safe but insipid blockbusters at the expense of more creative films.
But he doesn’t illuminate the subject with many fresh insights or examples. The reading
public possesses a knowledge of the film business from other books, feature articles,
documentaries and even satiric films such as The Player, that renders Sex, Stupidity & Greed
How does a chapter discussing a 1985 appearance by actress Tahnee Welch on Late
Night with David Letterman expose the inner workings of Hollywood, anyway? The section
also highlights the disjointed organization of Mr. Grey’s book which jumps around from stale
gossip about film stars to Q-and-A interviews with directors to the author’s own curious
observations. In a chapter praising splatter films, he writes, “Gore is life-affirming because it
is, by definition, the literalization of everything not life-affirming. Sometimes, one needs a
scalpel to find the cancer buried within.” And sometimes one needs an editor to cut out
passages like that.
Mr. Grey often approaches his subject with the tone of a precocious teenager–a voice
that quickly grows tiresome. Writing prior to the release of Titanic, he notes, “And so,
nobody figures that having a movie, any movie, named after the greatest oceangoing disaster
in history might be, well, kind of a bad idea.” So much for his box-office handicapping.
That tone is also reflected in his annoying habit of overusing quote marks such as
when referring to “the burgeoning ‘youth culture,'” of the ’60s and the “breakup of the
‘studio system'” in a single sentence.
Weak writing aside, one section toward the end of Sex, Stupidity and Greed on
independent filmmaking offers a glimpse of what might have been a more successful book. It
briefly describes the rising prominence of independent films since Quentin Tarentino’s
Reservoir Dogs and features interviews with well-known inde directors such as John Waters
and Nadja producer Andrew Fierberg. By focusing on this growing niche of the movie
business instead of taking a broad, uneven swipe at Hollywood, Mr. Grey would likely have
produced a more edifying work.
Reviewed by Mark Walsh