My old friend Brett Ratner is in the news yet again.
Only this time, it’s not as the “billion-dollar director” or “Hollywood playboy” we’ve come to know so well; it’s for something entirely different, something very un-Ratner like.
Which is a surprising choice for the rabble-rouser, because, for one who notoriously revels in notoriety, book publishing is about as controversial as vanilla ice cream. So we’re left to wonder: Is Hollywood’s most controversial young talent becoming a culture preservationist?
If you read my October 2008 profile of him, you’ll discover that’s exactly the kind of thing Ratner would do. Because as much as he is the “Popcorn King,” revered for his kind of lowbrow, high-grossing adventure flicks, and at the same time, vilified as the industry’s most shameless under-40 lothario, Ratner is every bit the culture cognescenti who would fund a coffee table book that he would buy himself.
As I remember, his dazzling collection of art books immediately caught my attention when I visited his home last summer:
He points out his book collection on the other side of the bookshelf, noting the values.
“These are all photographs of people having sex in parks,” Ratner announces, poring over his collection of art books. He picks out a limited-edition volume by Ed Ruscha, which he values at $5,000.
“This is like $100,000 in books right here,” he says, sweeping his arm across the bookcase.
Ratner’s taste in art and photography is undeniably highbrow. His shelves teem with examples: Leni Riefenstahl’s “1936,” Alessandro Bertolotti’s “Book of Nudes,” Fellini’s “Mirror of Venus,” Picasso, architect Jean Prouvé, French photographer Guy Bourdin. Andy Warhol’s General Mao portrait dangles in various iterations throughout the house. (Asked why he chose the Mao, he exclaims, “It’s Andy Warhol! The greatest artist who ever lived.”) Splayed across his bed is a collection of Helmut Newton photographs, a recent gift from the artist’s widow.
Ratner’s friend, L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein (whom Ratner was mad at after Goldstein wrote about my profile) reported earlier today about the director’s latest endeavor—aptly titled, “Rat Press.” The venture is not entirely new. In 2003, Ratner published “Hillhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures,” a collection of celebrity picture-strips taken in his private booth during parties. The book reads like a who’s who of young Hollywood, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Justin Timberlake to Penelope Cruz—and for political parity, Chelsea Clinton. And last year, Ratner published a collection of actor Scott Caan’s photography.
He’s just launched a new series of film books through his Rat Press imprint, including a James Toback memoir about his friendship with NFL running back turned actor Jim Brown, as well as two interview books from longtime Playboy Q&A king Lawrence Grobel—a collection of interviews with producer Robert Evans and an updated account of Grobel’s fascinating 1978 interviews with Marlon Brando.
“If I wasn’t a publisher, I’d still be handing out copies to my friends anyway,” Ratner told me the other day. “I gave a copy of the Toback book to the Hughes brothers, because they’re really interested in Jim Brown. I’ve given copies of the Brando book to Warren Beatty and Jeff Berg. To me, these are stories from some of the great characters who helped me understand the movie business. The whole idea is to have a series of books that makes a part of Hollywood history available to everyone.”
It’s no coincidence that the books are all about Hollywood characters who were in their prime during the 1960s and early 1970s. “I grew up in that period, which for me was the greatest time for creativity in the film business,” said Ratner. “But what all these guys have in common is that they’re great storytellers. When you read about Toback living with Jim Brown for two years, you feel like you’re right there, getting to see the parties and the orgies. These guys all had a great time, not just in their social lives, but they had a great time making movies.”
Goldstein seems quite taken with the Brando book, but you’ll have to read his blog for that bit.
There’s no question Ratner loves movies—making them, watching them, and now, cataloging them for posterity. But Ratner also loves himself, and this move signifies his foray into mini-moguldom.