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Movie Review: Julie Salamon Is A Magnificent Storyteller In 'The Plot Thickens' Podcast

I’ve only seen The Bonfire of the Vanities once, sometime in the 1990s, and I wasn’t personally mature enough to really get what it was trying to do, and how much it failed at everything. The film is, of course, based on Tom Wolfe’s absurdly successful, and controversial, 1987 novel, and is famously one of the most spectacular fiascoes in movie history.

I’ve always meant to read journalist Julie Salamon’s book The Devil’s Candy, about the making of Bonfire, as it’s regularly called one of the great books about Hollywood. And so it was with trepidation that I approached the new season of the Turner Classic Movies podcast called “The Plot Thickens,” as it focuses on exactly this story, and as much as I love podcasts, I worried it might take something away from the enjoyment of reading Salamon’s book.

But then I learned Salamon herself is the one telling the story on the podcast, and so I figured I’d give it a shot, knowing she’d probably want to do justice to her own book. And now I’ve devoured the show’s first six episodes, and I regret nothing.

Salamon’s writing and delivery are immediately comfortable for public radio listeners—her ease and affability are exactly the sorts of things you’d find on This American Life. But what makes this such a riveting piece of work is that she’s got the tapes. Salamon spent a year on the set of Bonfire, and she recorded everything, and she still has boxes and boxes of interviews and audio from the set. And no matter how good her book may be, this is something it could never give us: the actual voices of the people involved in this debacle.

Nearly everything that could go wrong with the film did, occasionally by chance, but usually because of the unintended consequences of good intentions, the damage from ignorance and insensitivity, the egos and insecurities, and the awful grinding machinery of Hollywood. I don’t know whether hearing about just how messy moviemaking can be will captivate you, disillusion you, or both, but this is truly magnificent storytelling.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.