There was a point a long time ago when Joe Eszterhas was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood, making a cool $3 million a script, a fact he obviously relished.
A former writer for Rolling Stone, he moved into features with the first Sylvester Stallone flick post-Rocky, F.I.S.T., got a credit for re-writing Flashdance, and also wrote the films Betrayed, The Music Box, before hitting the motherlode with Basic Instinct.
Then Showgirls and Jade came out within two weeks of each other, and the fat lady sang. Eszterhas became a pariah in Hollywood, moved back to Ohio, and wrote a number of books, including the tell-all Hollywood Animal and The Devil’s Guide to Screenwriting.
Now he’s back with a new script, Lust, surprising title, I know, which will be helmed by master rap video director Hype Williams.
The plot? It’s been called Fatal Attraction meets Basic Instinct, and considering it revolves around sex and blackmail, it sounds like pretty much every other Joe Eszterhas script post-Basic Instinct, where he got fixated on lesbians, strippers and ice picks.
Then the news hit that Joe is writing a screenplay for another notorious Hollywood pariah, Mel Gibson, and the movie they’re making together for Warner Brothers is the biopic of Judah Maccabee, who as Deadline relates, “lead the Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies that had conquered Judea in the second century B.C.”
Gibson clearly wants to head back to Braveheart territory, and try to kill his reputation as an anti-semite with the same stone. It goes without saying that Gibson tackling the story of an important Jewish historical figure is certain to raise major hackles, and Hollywood Reporter quoted the ADL’s Abraham Foxman as stating, “It would be a travesty to have his story told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views,” and Rabbi Marvin Hier as saying, “Mel Gibson has shown nothing but antagonism and disrespect to Jews.”
Getting back to Joe for a moment, there’s a couple of things I can say in favor of him, one is he definitely raised the bar for screenwriter salaries, and he’s been one of the only screenwriters who stands up for writers, who are usually a pretty downtrodden group that are pushed around by idiot executives. He’s also decidedly old school with his equipment, using a typewriter. He’s got a bunch of them stacked up in the closet just in case, and I don’t even think he graduated to a word processor. (Joe also only types with two fingers, his middle fingers appropriately enough).
I remember like it was yesterday when they did Comic Relief in 1995, it was right after the OJ verdict, and everyone was on edge about making jokes about it. The fallout from Showgirls had just happened as well, and Billy Crystal brilliantly joked about the two disasters together for the first joke of the night: “Joe Eszterhas got $3 million to write Showgirls. That makes him the second person to get away with murder this year.”
For a guy that has always thrived on controversy, there’s sure to be more to come.