- Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma and Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge by Becky Aikman
Becky Aikman. New York: Penguin Press, 2017, 320 pp.
“No one would . . . like women who committed violence, and no one wanted to watch them drive off a cliff” (Aikman 53). In Off the Cliff, Becky Aikman, who is a journalist for Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times, tells the story of the making of Thelma and Louise, a landmark film that may have, in some senses, paved the way for Wonder Woman. This is a film that came about from the frustrations of its screenwriter, Callie Khouri, with a system inherently flawed and full of inequities to women—and all done before the Me Too movement. More than a book about how a film gets made, this is a book that describes a culture that women have been fighting for almost a century in Hollywood, and it stands not only as a commentary on the filmmaking process but also as a commentary on women in the workplace. That said, it is still a book about Hollywood. It provides a full window into the business of Hollywood, provides insight into the filmmaking process, and affirms the Me Too movement.
To understand how some films get made, you need to understand what drives the artists behind that project. The author provides this understanding in great detail as she explores how Khouri, a “nobody in the business,” battled through the inequities of the Hollywood business with her writing (19). Khouri is a representative of much of the industry—someone cast off from her Midwest upbringing and who enjoyed the theater as a youth but initially majored as a landscape architect at Purdue University. Like so many before and since, she had to find a safe alternative to her passions in school. She eventually changed her major to theater but later would drop out of college, and she began her quest, as Aikman points out, couch-surfing in Los Angeles. This just illustrates Khouri’s desire to find her voice and pursue excellence. Aikman points out that the cinema lacked any real women voices in Hollywood in the 1980s, a strange contrast to early Hollywood. Women were only seen as eye candy or given the opportunity of acting in roles such as the prostitute with a heart of gold. On top of poor role selection, finding a woman executive to push your film at the that time was, as Aikman notes, almost impossible. Khouri Khouri incorporated her struggles as a production assistant and secretary into a story of two women who seek justice and the ability to pursue their goals. Aikman’s work offers a clear lens into the motivations of the screenwriter, driven by what screenwriters experience and how you can take those experiences and create a new reality. Khouri presents as someone with a singular goal: “get Thelma and Louise made” (Aikman 84). The singular desire to get the film made is similar to the focus of the female heroines in the film.
There was no room for newcomers to Hollywood, or so it would seem. This is a tale of why the script matters. A first script is often an author’s entryway in, but then it is the screen-writer’s second or third script that gets sold and made. Thelma and Louise, as the author makes a point of, was seemingly read by everyone in Hollywood. They all loved it, but it ran into a problem that Wonder Woman once had—it was about women. The book points out that this was truly a story where all the dominoes lined up perfectly. Ridley Scott had a new production company and thus the funding to support his projects. This production company also had a partnership with a great, well-known production executive, Alan “Laddie” Ladd Jr. Laddie had a great filmmaking pedigree, with a classic actor for a father, and was the visionary who greenlit Star Wars. Because of both of their backgrounds and experiences they could take [End...