I was very sad to read in the New York Times about the death of Steven Bach. Steven and I were colleagues at Columbia University, and we discovered we had many other things in common. We both went to Northwestern and we both worked at United Artists at the same time, although we didn’t get to know each other until we were at Columbia. Steven was instrumental in shaping what has become the producing program at the school, and even after he moved to Vermont, he came down for guest lectures a few times every year. The students loved his lectures on the history of producing and the origins of independent film.
The last time I saw Steven was at a lecture and book signing for his latest book about Leni Riefenstahl. Steven, as usual, was fascinating and entertaining, and he was genuinely pleased by the numberof Columbia students who attended the event.
Charles Lyons, a former Variety reporter and ocassional contributor to the NY Times, wrote the following response to the NY Times obit to express his displeasure with its emphasis. We’ll see if the Times prints it.
March 28, 2009
In his obituary of Steven Bach (3/28), William Grimes and Times’
editors make the unfortunate choice to highlight Bach’s connection to
the “colossal failure” “Heaven’s Gate” as if this was the most
important thing in Bach’s life. The reference comes in the obit’s lead
paragraph and in the pull quote, which reads, “An executive behind the
flop ‘Heaven’s Gate’ who later wrote about the experience.”
I met Steven several times—once when I interviewed him for Variety,
upon the publication of his book, “Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss
Hart”; and several years ago, when he visited a class I was teaching
at Yale, during which he eloquently reminisced about the freedom of
early 1970s Hollywood. During both the book interview and the class,
he was passionate and wise about the movie business—cynical, to be
sure, about the current craze for sequels and franchises, but still
optimistic. He was a true believer in the power of auteurs to get
their work made and seen on the American screen, and the power of the
movies to change our perceptions of the world and of ourselves, no
matter the dismal odds.
Lower in Grimes’ obit we read of the other movies with which Bach was
involved, including “Raging Bull,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,”
“Stardust Memories,” “Annie Hall,” “Eye of the Needle,” “Cutter and
Bone” and “True Confessions.” And also lower we learn of Bach’s
commitment to teaching and of his books “Marlene Dietrich: Life and
Legend,” “Dazzler” and, most recently, “Leni: The Life and Work of
To his credit, Grimes quotes film critic David Thomson on Bach’s
classic book, “Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of
Heaven’s Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists”: “It is the best
book ever written about the making of a movie….” But Grimes might have
gone to the book itself, a book that reaches well beyond the focus of
Charles Lyons, Princeton, NJ