Killer Instinct by Jane Hamsher [Book]
August 27, 2014 Leave a comment
Fresh out of film school, aspiring producer Jane Hamsher and her partner Don Murphy stumbled onto a screenplay by a geeky filmmaker-wannabe named Quentin Tarantino. For $10,000, Jane and Don optioned Natural Born Killers and set off on a two-year roller coaster ride no classroom could have prepared them for. With an outrageous cast of real-life characters including Oliver Stone, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Juliette Lewis–along with a slew of film-crew leeches and behind-the-scenes studio pitbulls–Killer Instinct rivals the most mesmerizing, gut-wrenching movie scenes. A wild joyride like no other, Hamsher’s tale provides a fresh, insider’s perspective on stardom and the real balance of power in Hollywood.
I had been wanting to check out this book for such a very long time, but somehow it just kept slipping on down my reading list over the last 15 years or so. I was just a young 12-year-old, movie obsessive kid when it was released, but I remember it quite clearly. What I mainly remembered was learning about an incident involving my then favorite filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, and some producer I had never heard of named Don Murphy (seriously, what 12-13 kid really gives a shit about the “producer”?) in which QT apparently clocked Mr. Murphy in the jaw because of things that were said in this little book, Killer Instinct. Well, I will be damned if I wasn’t at least a bit intrigued. What could have led one of my heroes to fly off the handle like that? But, as I previously stated, the hype of it all died down (for me, anyway) and I just went back to loving the work of a man who I just knew was going to continue to thrive and make wonderful films. Jackie Brown came out that year, and I was in love, and completely forgot about these Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy people.
As any young kid with wild aspirations to be a “screenwriter”, whatever that really meant to me, I loved Quentin Tarantino. And it was easy to side with him on any matter that might put him in a negative light. For this reason, I believe I decided not to read this book because I was fearful that I might see my hero in a light I just didn’t want to see. Who wants to hear terrible things about somebody you admire so much? So, I just let it go and continued to enjoy the world of QT. Although there was a 7 year dry spell in there where I was desperately wanting a feature film to come around, but I knew he would be back. And boy did he ever.
Before I get to far into the defensive or offensive of QT, I’d like to throw some thoughts out there about the author, Jane Hamsher, herself. Jane, teamed up with Don Murphy, were a duo of producers who dove right into the 90’s world of cinema and created quite a splash when they took a script originally penned by Quentin Tarantino entitled Natural Born Killers, and managed to engulf themselves into the world of the legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone with this film by creating one of the most controversial films of the decade. For all that it is worth, Natural Born Killers is a great film, albeit landing somewhere near the bottom of my “favorite things QT”, but that shouldn’t sway from the film’s brilliance, as the story was almost entirely reconstructed and removed so much of the original writer’s vision, that his name being attached to the film is simply a contractual obligation it seems. Jane would go on to produce, alongside Don Murphy, a few other fabulous films that creating the beginnings of a wonderful career. She managed to produce films like Apt. Pupil, Permanent Midnight, and From Hell. But, Jane, for reasons I don’t really know (or honestly care to really research anymore than I already did) sort of fell out of the producing scene after splitting with her partner Don Murphy (who would go on to bring the world Transformers, which is a phenomenon to say the least, albeit one I couldn’t give a shit about) and has transformed into a professional blogger of sorts. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, and on her very own blog. Mostly political stuff, I guess. S0 there is that.
So that sums up Jane Hamsher and her career to date, in my eyes anyway. Her career is not something to laugh at entirely, but in all honesty much like the content of Killer Instinct and my poor grammar, quite disdainful. When you really stop and take a full on look at it: what has she accomplished? The main focal point of this book, Natural Born Killers, is a wonderful and blood spattered film that only received attention by riding toe curtain tails of the newly sought after screenwriter and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino that would have never even came to life had the legendary Oliver Stone not managed to find interest in it as a project and half-heartedly let a couple of nobodies with serious attitude problems tag along with him. This was a project Tarantino never wanted to see come to life, but was forced to settle with a check for $350,000 and knowing that his world will be forever intertwined with the likes of the legendary Oliver Stone. And I am not saying that Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy didn’t suffer their own stresses and challenges on their part to get this film started. But, what became of the final product, and the short career of Hamsher and continual career of Murphy, are obviously owed to the brilliance of both Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone. This is a fact that can be argued very easily. Sure, they put in the work, but would these two even have jobs today if it weren’t for a good bit of luck? If both Jane and Don where ever willing to clearly state that they essentially owe EVERYTHING they have now to these two men, I think this would do them a bit of good.
So in Killer Instinct, does Jane Hamsher recognize the fact that the only reason she made it into the business was because of the genius of one man who penned a script she managed to acquire early enough? Or that if one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation and the previous one hadn’t become interested in the script, she would be counting greasy dollar bills at a bank in Santa Monica somewhere? Does she have appear to have a humble bone in her entire body? In my opinion (which of course, is not fact) the answer to all of these questions is a sad “no”. Instead, she manages to do something that truly embodies the US Weekly quality of journalism that Killer Instinct provides. She bashes. She exploits. She demonizes every single move that anyone made around her, except for her own. Hamsher manages to profile herself as the only person she knows with a fully functional brain. The disgrace is even aimed (a lot!) at her business partner and “friend” Don Murphy who she seems to portray an as an arrogant, junk food swilling, mindless fuck who can’t even dress himself, and one who would be nothing without her.
When I completed Killer Instinct, the complexities of emotions I felt were fierce. Here I had been waiting all of these years to check out this book out of fear that I might hate to see my hero being demonized. But what I came to hate about the book was so much more than some petty QT bashing. In fact, after the first 100 pages or so, I was already discrediting every ill word stated towards the man. It didn’t take long to notice the self-righteousness that was spilling out of each page. It is as though Hamsher never once took the time to think that maybe when others look out for their best interests, it’s not a full on attack against you? No, instead it was the entire world (well, at least a few naysayers in the L.A. metro area) fierce fully attacking this poor little film school grad who just wanted to get her name out there.
But in all fairness, although I believe this book reads like a very long article for the National Enquirer, it is actually very well written, and does contain some cool little snippets of knowledge of what it means to make a movie. If you are able to look past the idea that this was a book that was basically written by a recent film school graduate who thought her “experience” and “knowledge” out-weighed that of many folks who have extremely successful careers, you might find a few interesting things to learn. Hamsher is articulate, even funny at times. And whilst reading a bit of her work these days, it is obvious that she has grown quite a bit. I know I have spent a good deal of time bashing her for what she wrote, but I do believe she has a good heart, and it seems as though her departure from the producing world was probably best for everyone. And who knows, maybe every word she printed is right, and the odds were stacked against her so damn hard that she felt compelled to put it all on paper. I highly doubt it. I couldn’t verify a damn thing, but it just seems far too unrealistic to be all truth.
In the end, Natural Born Killers became a successful film, and Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy certainly deserve to be acknowledged for the work they put in, almost as much as Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone deserve credit for giving them the best bit of luck they could have ever hoped for. While I generally disliked this book, it’s not hard to see that it is simply a period piece where some totally fucked up events happened, and made for a quite a story. All self-righteousness aside, it is certainly a good little story.