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Analyzing Key Blockbusters
by Betty Jo Tucker

Peter Bart’s BOFFO! offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at some of history’s biggest blockbusters. This well-written book is filled with intriguing information about the making of such important films as Casablanca, King Kong, The Best Year’s of Our Lives, The Sound of Music, Psycho, Birth of a Nation, The Big Parade, Ben Hur, The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Batman, Modern Times and The Blair Witch Project.

How does author Bart know so much about these films as well as the various television and stage successes covered in his terrific book? Because he spent seventeen years as a film executive, serving in the capacity of vice president of Paramount, senior vice president of MGM and president of Lorimar Film Company, plus he’s been editor-in-chief of the showbiz bible Variety since 1989 -- all excellent qualifications to take on the job of writing BOFFO! How I Learned To Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb.

In analyzing the success of the blockbusters he’s selected, Bart shares his considerable insider information and great sense of humor, making BOFFO! an enlightening and fun reading experience for showbiz fans. Here are a few of Bart’s many revelations I found particularly interesting:

• Almost everyone working on The Godfather thought director Francis Coppola would be fired.

• To maintain the element of surprise in Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock bought up all the copies of the book his movie was based on. 

• Most of the people involved in making Casablanca thought it would end up as a run-of-the-mill movie.

• Julie Andrews came across as “rather steely and distanced” in The Sound of Music meetings, so studio execs worried about her ability to portray Maria Trapp.  

Are there any common denominators in the hits Bart discusses? Yes, indeed: a singularity of vision, a strong point of view, an emotional tug, and theatricality. Regarding that last element, Bart writes, “They all but drowned in their own theatricality; whether the cameras were focused on charging chariots, heroic hobbits…or even a giant gorilla groping a screaming blonde. This was about alchemy, not story, and it grabbed the audiences.”

As a confirmed movie addict, I wish Bart had included more sections on films instead of the chapters concerning television and plays. Still, those parts of the book are also fun to read. If you’re a showbiz fan, you’ll definitely want to pick up or order a copy of BOFFO! How I Learned To Love Blockbusters and Fear the Bomb.    

(Published as a trade paperback by Miramax Books on June 6, 2007. ISBN: 1-4013-6028-9; $16.95)

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