Off the Cliff

Finished Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge by Becky Aikman.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“You’ve always been crazy, – says Louise to Thelma, having just outrun the police in a car chase and locked an officer in the trunk of his own car. “This is just the first chance you’ve had to express yourself.”

In 1991, Thelma and Louise, the story of two outlaw women on the run from their disenchanted lives, was a revelation. Suddenly, for the first time, here was a film in which women were, in every sense, behind the wheel. It turned the tables on Hollywood, instantly becoming a classic, and continues today to electrify audiences as a cultural statement of defiance. But if the film’s place in history now seems certain, at the time its creation was a long shot.

Before Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, and a young up-and-coming actor named Brad Pitt got involved, Thelma and Louise was just an idea in the head of Callie Khouri, a thirty-year-old music video production manager, who was fed up with working behind the scenes on sleazy sets. At four a.m. one night, sitting in her car outside the ramshackle bungalow in Santa Monica that she shared with two friends, she had a vision: two women on a crime spree, fleeing their dull and tedious lives–lives like hers–in search of a freedom they had never before been able to realize. She knew in that moment that she had to be the one to write it.

But in the late 1980s, Hollywood was dominated by men, both on the screen and behind the scenes. The likelihood of a script by an unheard-of screenwriter starring two women in lead roles actually getting made was remote. But Callie had one thing going for her–she had no idea she was attempting the almost impossible. And she pulled it off, by dint of sheer hard work and some good luck when she was able to get the script into the hands of the brilliant English filmmaker Ridley Scott, who saw its huge potential. With Scott on board, a team willing to challenge the odds came together–including not only the stars Davis and Sarandon, but also legends like actor Harvey Keitel, composer Hans Zimmer, and old-school studio chief Alan Ladd Jr.–to create one of the most controversial movies of all time.

In Off the Cliff, Becky Aikman tells the full extraordinary story behind this feminist sensation, which crashed through barricades and upended convention. Drawing on 130 exclusive interviews with the key players from this remarkable cast of actors, writers, and filmmakers, Aikman tells an inspiring and important underdog story about creativity, the magic of cinema, and the unjust obstacles that women in Hollywood continue to face to this day.”

I first saw Thelma & Louise when I was 12 or so.  I remember renting it the first weekend it was available (at my local Blockbuster–this was back in the days when one did such things), and I didn’t know much about it.  But I liked Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon (I had already seen The Fly and Bull Durham; my parents were very liberal about what I watched), and I loved the movie immediately.

I don’t think I could have articulated why then, but now I realize that I love the fact that–while there are guys in the movie and some of them are good or great guys and some of them are complete jerks–the movie is about their friendship.  It was probably the first movie I had ever seen (and there haven’t been that many since, either) where the guys were in the background and the women were centerstage.  It felt like a bit of a revelation, and it still does.

I like to think of myself as a Louise (in fact, one of my mantras was stolen from her—the unsympathetic but no less true “You get what you settle for”) but I’m probably slightly more of a Thelma.  I can be scattered and I may not be the best person around in a crisis.  Honestly, though, I’d be incredibly proud to be either of them.

But that all doesn’t matter.  If you love Thelma & Louise (or movies in general), you need this book.  It’s so well-written and thorough and I feel like I love the movie even more now.  And, of course, it’s always great when people are passionate about the same things I’m passionate about–and people were so passionate about this, and still are–even decades later.

Highly recommended.


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