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Reel Power: THE STRUGGLE FOR INFLUENCE AND SUCCESS IN THE NEW HOLLYWOOD by Mark Litwak (Morrow: $18.95; 320 pp.)

September 28, 1986|David J. Fox | Fox is the assistant editor of The Times' Sunday Calendar section.

The business of Hollywood seems more and more what the general population considers its own business. Never before has there been so much interest in the inner-workings of the movie industry: Witness the success of "Entertainment Tonight," or popular recent books that reveal behind-the-scenes intrigue.

Likewise, Mark Litwak's "Reel Power" attempts to take readers to the other side of the cameras. The former consumer attorney was himself bitten by the movie bug, moved to Los Angeles and, trading on his association with Ralph Nader, was able to persuade a studio to hire him because he had some interesting plots in his head. Litwak admits his naivete about protocol helped him, but he rudely learned how things really operate in the film factory, when the studio management abruptly changed and he was out of a job.

He then tried producing for a few years, leading him to the firsthand experience that provided the groundwork for this overview. Too bad that he didn't write from his own perspective--that might have humanized the recitation of facts.

Instead, in textbooklike fashion, Litwak reports about all corners of the industry--from the studios and talent agencies to accounting rooms. He offers facts, quotes from more than 200 knowledgeable persons (many recognizable names) and anecdotes.

All that is thorough, if slow going. For the reader who's followed the business, there are few revelations. Moreover, without the compelling storylines that propelled movie industry books such as "Indecent Exposure" and "Final Cut," Litwak's litany of facts ends up directionless and sans a point of view.

One difficulty in writing about a closely knit industry is finding sources who'll talk candidly. Litwak encountered that problem--few of his interviews reveal much more than the safe quote. No one wants to alienate someone who may someday be their boss, Litwak admits. His chapter on the rise of the powerful Creative Artists Agency proves it. He quotes none of the five partners or their employees. Only unidentified observers and other agents are quoted.

As comprehensive in some ways as "Reel Power" is, one thing Litwak understandably omits is the phone numbers of the powerful. Knowing those would be the real power.

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