Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book review - "Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon - Arnon Milchan" by Meir Dolman and Joseph Gelman (2011)

Arnon Milchan's name is well known to film fans as producer or executive producer on a large number of successful films; buffs got to know him well in the 80s and 90s as a financier and supporter of maverick directors: he helped fund Once Upon a Time in America, almost financed The Big Brass Ring for Orson Welles (something not addressed in this book, interestingly), supported Terry Gilliam in the Brazil battle.

His cinematic CV is very impressive: Fight Club, Gone Girl, Pretty Woman. Obviously as smart as a whip I had heard he was independently wealthy but didn't realise he was a billionaire. More than that he was a spy for Israel, using his business contacts to secure Israeli weapons, including the bomb.

Milchan wasn't a born and bred filmmaker - he is Israeli born (not a refugee, though descended from some), who inherited his father's fertilizer company. He expanded it and used it as a launching pad for other operations, which included helping provide weapons for Israel. It was a patriotic act for him but he also took a commission, and diversified into a bunch of other businesses and activities - including helping provide weapons for apartheid era South Africa.

In the 1970s he got involved in financing films, via Elliott Kastner, the producer who is connected with a lot of people at the early stage of their careers, and became successful at that too.

Not surprisingly, he was a successful womaniser, with various mistresses (usually Swedish) stashed in various parts of the world

This is a sympathetic biography, though I couldn't help feeling a sense of unease with Milchan helping Israel stock up on warheads and supporting the Afrikaaners. I also wished there was more on the movies - the authors seemed more interested in Israeli politics. Still, I learned a hell of a lot and it is a fascinating story.

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