Bach, Steven 1940- (Steven Heinemann)
Bach, Steven 1940- (Steven Heinemann)
Born April 29, 1940, in Pocatello, ID; son of Robert Lee (an executive) and Audrey Jean (a homemaker) Bach. Education: Sorbonne, University of Paris, diplome superieur, 1960; Northwestern University, B.A., 1961, M.A., 1962; attended University of Southern California, 1965-67. Politics: "‘Card-carrying’ liberal." Religion: Pantheist. Hobbies and other interests: Film history and preservation, the Holocaust, civil liberties, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) care, teaching, painting, piano.
New Trier High School, Winnetka, IL, teacher of American literature and film history, 1961-65; Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, CA, assistant to artistic director, 1967-68; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Los Angeles, CA, story editor, 1968-70; Palomar Pictures, New York, NY, story editor and assistant producer, 1970-74; Palladium Pictures (now Pantheon Pictures), partner; involved in film productions for various companies, including Twentieth Century-Fox, 1974-78; United Artists, New York, head of production for East Coast and Europe, 1978, head of worldwide production in New York and Los Angeles, 1978-81; MMA (independent film company), Los Angeles, president, 1981-83; writer. Coproducer of films, including Mr. Billion, 1977, and Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, 1979, and stage productions, including Same Time, Next Year; Filmex, member of board of directors; Outpost Productions, president. Has taught at Columbia University and Bennington College.
Authors Guild, Authors League, Writers Guild of America, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Final Cut: Dreams and Disasters in the Making of "Heaven's Gate" was shortlisted for the Book of the Year award, British Film Institute, 1985.
(Adapter) Heinar Kipphardt, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (play), produced in Los Angeles at Lincoln Center, c. 1968.
Final Cut: Dreams and Disasters in the Making of "Heaven's Gate," William Morrow (New York, NY), 1985, new edition published as Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of "Heaven's Gate," the Film That Sank United Artists, Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart (biography; Book-of-the-Month Club alternative selection), Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including American Film, Arts, Cinema, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and TransAtlantik; former contributor of theater reviews to Los Angeles Free Press under name Steven Heinemann. Wrote the preface to The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era by Thomas Schatz, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
Bach's book Final Cut: Dreams and Disasters in the Making of "Heaven's Gate" was adapted as the documentary film Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of "Heaven's Gate" by Michael Epstein, 2004. Books have been recorded on audiocassette by Dove.
Steven Bach, who had earlier worked as a teacher, film critic, and film story editor, became a production head for United Artists studios in 1978, an experience that led to his best-selling book Final Cut: Dreams and Disasters in the Making of "Heaven's Gate." As the executive most in touch with the production of film director Michael Cimino's spectacular bomb, he witnessed the poor decision-making, irresponsible spending, and studio indulgence that resulted not only in the failure of Heaven's Gate, but also, some asserted, in the downfall of the studio itself. Cimino, given unusual artistic freedom to create an epic western, went months beyond his filming schedule and millions of dollars over his budget; he shot more than one hundred movies' worth of footage for a movie that flopped among critics and the public alike. In the aftermath, most of the people involved with the project lost their jobs, and United Artists was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. By relating his own experiences with the movie, dubbed "the most misbegotten American film in recent memory" by Gary Arnold in the Washington Post Book World, Bach provided "an authoritative account of the way Hollywood misfunctions."
Final Cut earned acclaim from a number of critics as an informative and entertaining study of a memorable disaster. Judging the author "an excellent memoirist," Arnold lauded Bach's witty personal approach and his willingness to admit his own role in the fiasco. Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Charles Champlin echoed Arnold's sentiments, commending Bach's objectivity and remarking that he absolves "no one, himself included." Some reviewers lamented, however, that the warning conveyed by Bach's revelations would be lost on Hollywood. Time contributor Jay Cocks expected the industry to ignore Bach's lessons, even though he judged Final Cut "a fine textbook and a strong caution." Cocks's praise for the book also extended to the "brio" of Bach's narrative and his "knowing portraits" of industry executives. The quality of Bach's prose drew compliments from several other critics as well. According to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, contributor to the New York Times, for example, Bach "brings a novelistic sense of structure, scene and pace to the complex story he tells."
In his next book, Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend, Bach assays the life of one of the world's most legendary performers. He traces Dietrich's life and six-decade career from her first stage appearances in Berlin, Germany, during the 1920s to her numerous film appearances, which began in the 1930s and lasted through the 1970s, and on to her reclusive retirement. Despite the sex-symbol image and bisexual escapades that led some to downplay her achievements, Bach, "to his everlasting glory,… actually takes Marlene Dietrich seriously, not only as a woman but also as an artist," marveled director-producer Peter Bogdanovich in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Bogdanovich called the book "the finest picture-star biography I have read" and praised Bach's writing ability and the sense he conveys of "passionate interest in his subject."
Bach faced a decided challenge with his next biography subject, the playwright, director, and screenwriter Moss Hart. Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart was completed without the cooperation of Hart's widow. It also uncovered unpleasant truths about Hart's childhood that Hart omitted from his own immensely popular autobiography, Act One. Additionally, Dazzler offers a candid presentation of Hart's bisexuality and suggests that the famous Broadway fixture suffered from bipolar disorder. Throughout the work, however, Bach strove to fix Hart in his rightful place in the history of Broadway with careful attention to his professional accomplishments, which include directing My Fair Lady and Camelot as well as cowriting The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can't Take It with You. In the New York Times Book Review, Brad Leithauser commended Bach for his "refreshingly modest claims on behalf of his subject; the unglamorous but indispensable doggedness of a thorough reporter; and a cleareyed elegiac portrayal of … Broadway."
In his National Review review of Dazzler, Terry Teachout noted that since Bach was denied access to Hart's wife and personal papers, "we never hear directly from the offstage Hart, a man who was far more complicated than he cared to admit in public." Teachout added: "That Bach has nonetheless managed to write an informative and readable book speaks well of his skills as a researcher." Wendy Smith made a similar observation in her Variety review of the book. Smith wrote: "If Steven Bach's appreciative biography doesn't fully convey this complex man's inner life, it compensates by brilliantly evoking the Broadway theater he loved so much and served so well." A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that, "despite being surrounded by a luminous, vividly depicted ‘supporting cast,’ Hart and his indelible contributions to the theater shine through this fascinating portrait." Steven Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle declared that Bach "joins assiduous research to graceful writing in this life-sized portrait of Hart and his glossy era." Winn concluded: "Dazzler offers an evenhanded chronicle of Hart as both an artist and a man. In his full-bodied account of a life dedicated to commercial success—sometimes at considerable psychic cost—Bach gives Hart's career an emblematic weight."
In his next work, Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, Bach looks back at the life of the woman who was considered by some to be the most controversial individual connected to films in her day. He begins with Leni's childhood in Berlin and depicts her as a young woman who would do anything to achieve her ultimate goal: a career in one of the arts. When an injury kept her from dancing, she simply moved on to films. Aside from her looks and a strict worth ethic, Leni had little going for her other than an ability to appeal to people in a position to help her advance. It was this particular skill that ultimately led to her being linked to Adolf Hitler during the rise of the Nazi Party, and to Hitler serving as her patron. Bach approaches Leni's career with a filmmaker's eye, providing a slightly different perspective than previous works on Leni. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly, called the book "a lively, incisive look at a compelling and somewhat appalling figure who demonstrated that beauty isn't always truth." Simon Callow, writing for the Guardian Online Web site, remarked of Bach's approach to Leni: "Patiently, systematically, he dismantles each of her evasions, revealing a woman who was utterly ruthless in pursuit of her work and intensely devoted to Hitler and his cause. Bach takes care not to demonize her, but he doesn't need to: the record does that for him."
Bach once told CA: "I think I always wanted to write, ever since I got a library card in Boise, Idaho, where I grew up. Before my escape from Boise, I began writing for the high school paper, and I wrote one-act plays for a radio program I produced, directed, and mostly ‘starred’ in on the local CBS affiliate, called Boise High Teen Time. I do not blush to record this, as it was innovative, in prime time, and gave me practical experience I would later use in the theater and motion pictures.
"I became a high school teacher out of a deep conviction that American secondary education was inferior to the European variety I had witnessed while a student in Paris in 1959 and 1960 studying contemporary French literature. I was (and could be again) a dedicated teacher but was defeated by administrative and bureaucratic detail. Having taught Moby Dick four years in a row, and knowing no life but academe, I made my way to the University of Southern California Film School. After that, I took the only job I could get, turning out reams of hyperbolic press-agent prose about minor television and film people whose fame was so fleeting (mea culpa) that even I do not remember who they were.
"My surreptitious writing of theater reviews got me a job in the theater (one way to remove a critic from the field), and there I did my first ‘real’ writing, adapting the German play In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer for America. This earned me an official program credit of ‘research, editing, and special material,’ but the special material was three-fifths of the play. The original text was not, as the German author claimed, strictly based on the transcripts of Oppenheimer's security hearings in the Theater of Fact style, but was laced with invention, propaganda, and rhetoric (some of it scabrous) never uttered by the characters portrayed on stage—most of whom were living, had lawyers, and threatened to sue if the play were presented in its original form. From the complete transcripts of the Oppenheimer Hearings (eleven hundred pages of minuscule Government Printing Office type on onionskin paper) I fashioned a substantial portion of the play (lawyer-proof) that was produced in Los Angeles. It went on to become the longest-running dramatic show ever produced at Lincoln Center. No one has ever noticed that the dialogue does not resemble Heinar Kipphardt's published version of the play—for the good reason that it is mine.
"I write because it is the only way I have of collecting, examining, understanding, and passing on my experience, observations, enthusiasms, rages. I love words: the look of them, shape of them, sound of them, their ability to play or pierce the heart, their sometime ability to explain what we do and are and aspire to become. Or maybe I do it just to leave footprints.
"I wrote Final Cut to exorcise a nightmare experience and found that the writing brought it back more vividly than memory, which had formed merciful callouses around bad days in my life. I wanted to settle some scores—not for myself, but for others who I felt had been victimized unfairly by a rabid and ignorant press and a cravenly hypocritical industry. I also wanted to atone for my role in unwittingly (and wittingly) being part of the very thing I wanted to clarify and castigate. By giving it form I began to understand the experience as I could not while living it. The initial purpose of the book was excoriation; its result was a broadening of sympathy.
"I would like my writing to be understood as both biographical (in the most general sense) and interpretive. Final Cut was—to me—less autobiographical than my life of a great star I barely knew [Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend], but with whom I had to identify in order to fathom her world, her motives, her aspirations, her ruthlessness. Both books were interpretive, for there are as many ways to tell a story or a life as there are tellers, and there can be no such thing as a ‘definitive’ life. Gifts of insight and compassion and judgment vary from writer to writer and, with them, from subject to subject.
"To gain distance, I read voraciously but selectively. I am astonished by the skills of others that give me perspective and goals I know I will never achieve. I admire writers of distinctive style: Elmore Leonard and S.N. Behrman, to nominate an odd couple right away. Rebecca West, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Isak Dinesen, P.D. James, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Eugene O'Neill, and Noel Coward. Loren Eiseley is a writer for a lifetime, and then there's Gore Vidal and, yes, Ernest Hemingway. Shakespeare, on anything, anytime."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, July 17, 2001, Charles Isherwood, review of Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart, p. 65.
American Theatre, April, 2001, Benjamin Ivry, review of Dazzler, p. 50.
Booklist, February 1, 2001, Jack Helbig, review of Dazzler, p. 1019.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 18, 1985, Charles Champlin, review of Final Cut: Dreams and Disasters in the Making of "Heaven's Gate," pp. 3, 13; September 27, 1992, Peter Bogdanovich, review of Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend, pp. 1, 8, 11.
National Review, May 28, 2001, Terry Teachout, "Almost Famous," review of Dazzler.
New Leader, May, 2001, Ben Yagoda, review of Dazzler, p. 48.
New York Times, July 17, 1985, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Final Cut, p. 21; April 23, 2001, Janet Maslin, "Searching for a Showman in a Crowd of Superstars," p. B6.
New York Times Book Review, April 29, 2001, Brad Leithauser, "Broadway Returned His Regards," review of Dazzler, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, March 26, 2001, review of Dazzler, p. 77; January 29, 2007, review of Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, p. 57.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 29, 2001, Steven Winn, "The ‘Prince of Broadway’," review of Dazzler, p. 80.
Time, August 5, 1985, Jay Cocks, review of Final Cut, p. 62.
Times Literary Supplement, November 16, 2001, Patrick O'Connor, "From Showcase to Nutcase," p. 19.
Variety, May 21, 2001, Wendy Smith, review of Dazzler, p. 27.
Washington Post Book World, July 28, 1985, Gary Arnold, review of Final Cut, pp. 1, 14; May 6, 2001, Tim Page, "Broadway Baby," p. 6.
Guardian Online,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (May 12, 2007), Simon Callow, "As Pretty as a Swastika."