Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hollywood's bubble...

George W. is has had to endure a lot of criticism about his administration being isolated...like they were lost on a raft with no dry land in sight or trapped in a bubble. The inside of Bush's "bubble" doesn't have much room apparently, and is limited only to Condi, Carl, Dick and Don...a five-person bubble, bouncing around making bad decisions.

I don't pretend to know whether or not this administration is any better/worse than previous administrations when it comes to seeking outside guidance...or even whether or not that's a bad thing. For better or worse, Clinton seemed to look for guidance in polls. Considering how difficult it is to craft unslanted poll questions, that might not have been a good thing. To the contrary, Bush seems to have a set of core values that keep him steady despite polls...or he's just arrogant and conceited...or confident and secure in his beliefs.

Anyway, it occurs to me that Hollywood has found itself in it's own bubble in recent years. They're the ones that seem out of touch and isolated. Having lived in LA for a few years, I can vouch for the fact that it's a very tight-knit community. The elites of the Hollywood machine are definitely not open and interested in other opinions. They've got an agenda, and now more than ever the movies that Hollywood produces are aimed at promoting their messages first, and at entertaining second.

This is a great article on the subject by Jason Apuzzo:
Oscars & the New Hollywood Triviality
"This year, the Academy is hot for left-leaning, 'social issue' films: North Country (sexual harassment), The Constant Gardener (evil pharmaceutical companies), Good Night, and Good Luck (evil Republican Senators), Syriana ('it's all about oil'), Brokeback Mountain (gay cowboys), Munich (the 'cycle of violence'), Transamerica (sex change operations), etc.

Taken together, these films embody an important new Hollywood trend I'd like to call: The New Triviality.

Hollywood, you see, has become a lot like the Democratic Party -- namely, a loose coalition of aggrieved constituency groups requiring representation. And just as in the Democratic Party, these groups will now get to fight it out over the next few weeks over who gets Oscar gold.

Will Charlize Theron win Best Actress, playing a sexually-harassed coal miner in North Country? Hard to say, because Felicity Huffman gets a sex-change operation in Transamerica. Does the Academy risk offending NOW or the 'trans-gendered community'? That one's too close to call.

Or how about Best Actor? Playing the sainted Edward R. Murrow, actor David Stathairn fights Republican Senator Joe McCarthy in Good Night, and Good Luck, but Heath Ledger plays everybody's favorite gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. Again, that's a hard one to pick. Do you side with the gay lobby, or with CBS journalists in the fight against 'Republican scare tactics'?

Don't even ask me what will happen when Syriana's George Clooney goes up against Brokeback heartthrob Jake Gyllenhaal for Best Supporting Actor. Clooney plays an embittered, 'outed' CIA agent in Syriana. So will Academy voters go for the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame-type whistleblower or for the sexually confused ranch hand? Hard to say.

But let's back up for a minute. What characterizes a Trivial film? A good place to start is whether the film was produced by eBay co-founder Jeff Skoll's Participant Productions (Good Night, and Good Luck, North Country, Syriana, the forthcoming Fast Food Nation). Participant's films received 11 nominations this morning. And for those of you who don't know, Participant's avowed purpose is to produce films around which social activist (read: 'left wing') campaigns can be organized.

As Participant vice-president Meredith Blake put it in a recent interview, "Our product is social change, and the movies are a vehicle for that social change."

Participant is essentially the MoveOn.org of Hollywood. So, for example, in the case of Syriana - an infinitely trite thriller about the 'relationship' between oil and terrorism -- Participant uses its film to encourage the online purchase of 'TerraPasses' to help reduce auto emissions. If 'TerraPasses' aren't your thing, Participant's web site for "North Country" cheerfully encourages visitors to sign a "Women-Friendly Workplace Pledge and implement a sexual harassment policy at your school. Yes, comrade!

I don't recall whether David Lean bought any 'TerraPasses' while shooting Lawrence of Arabia, be he certainly made a better film than this year's Oscar crop. And so, by the way, did George Lucas.

You may remember George Lucas. Some thirty years ago he made a little film called Star Wars that revolutionized filmmaking, inspired a new generation of filmmakers, and saved Hollywood's finances. Lucas recently revolutionized filmmaking again by pulling Hollywood kicking-and-screaming into the digital age. In 2005, he made a little independent film called Star Wars Episode III that was the year's box office champ, received some of the warmest reviews of Lucas' career, and successfully rounded out the most popular and influential film series in movie history.

George's thanks for all this? Star Wars Episode III got one nomination this morning -- for Best Makeup. Lucas wasn't nominated for Best Director, although George Clooney was for Good Night, and Good Luck. Star Wars' Ian McDiarmid, playing the deliciously wicked Chancellor Palpatine, wasn't even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

So sorry, George Lucas. If your film doesn't get us angry at Bush, Oscar just doesn't care. Why? Because we're now in the era of film as social activism, The New Triviality.

The Trivial film, you see, is merely an occasion for social activism or celebrity posturing. For example, on accepting a Golden Globe for his role in Syriana, George Clooney used the occasion to make an untoward crack about Jack Abramoff. A friend of mine angrily remarked that the comment had "nothing to do with the film" for which Clooney was being honored. I politely demured. "It has everything to do with the film," I said. Why?

Because Syriana, as its creators proudly admit, is really just a 'platform.' Just as Hollywood views films like "Lord of the Rings" as 'platforms' from which to sell merchandise, so too are films like Syriana or Good Night, and Good Luck or The Constant Gardener now viewed as 'platforms' from which to sell politics, to pontificate about the world we live in. After all, there really is no 'point' to a film like Syriana unless it's to enable a George Clooney to deliver political cheap shots on TV during awards season. He does it in the film, so why not on TV?

Of course, all of this Trivializes the cinema -- turning it from an art form into something much smaller, more polemical. That's why this year's Oscar nominees are truly films for the era of the iPod, with its 2-inch video screen. These new films make 'points' but constrict the imagination into something trite and pedantic - something with which we're supposed to be edified, rather than entertained.

"Gee, I never knew that about pharmaceutical companies exploiting the African underclass. I'm so glad I saw The Constant Gardener." "Heck, I never knew America has 5% of the word's population but accounts for 50% of the world's military spending! I'm really glad I caught Syriana." "Boy, I never knew the history behind the first sexual harassment lawsuit. I'm so happy I saw North Country."

It is apparently no longer enough for audiences 'merely' to enjoy a film. Enjoyed Star Wars or Harry Potter this year? Too bad. Together those films made $1.7 billion worldwide, but they didn't indict the global right-wing conspiracy of oil-homophobia-pharmaceuticals so together they received only 2 Oscar nominations.

Meredith Blake of Participant Productions recently stated that her company had repeatedly turned down films that were "creatively fantastic but found to be socially falling short."

"Socially falling short"?

If you love the movies, these words should chill your spine. They indicate that movies are becoming smaller, more partisan, more ...Trivial."
Laura Ingraham:
Hollywood Heads in the Sand
"We are used to hearing the elites in the entertainment and media worlds complain that conservatives like President Bush are "out of touch" with the real world, they don't identify with the lives of real people. But real people are showing up in droves to see The Passion. Real people hunger for entertainment that speaks to their souls, that confronts the consequences of sin, that takes on the new aggressive secularism. Real people are weary of having their values and beliefs derided by the Big Thinkers in the entertainment industry as backward and ignorant."
Michelle Malkin:
The Lost Patriots of Hollywood
"During World War II, Tinseltown roused the country's fighting spirit instead of trying to stifle it. In February 1941, the entertainment industry convened an extraordinary Academy Awards ceremony. The president of the Motion Picture Association, independent movie mogul and World War I pilot and intelligence officer Walter Wanger, went out of his way to use the Academy Award ceremony to support the war effort. Wanger invited President Roosevelt to address the crowd.

In an unprecedented radio speech simulcast on all three major networks at the time, FDR praised Hollywood for its wartime fundraising efforts and thanked filmmakers for "sanctifying the American way of life."

Can you imagine Hollywood extending such an invitation to President Bush today? Can you imagine CBS, ABC and NBC agreeing to simulcast such an event? And can you imagine the howling from the ACLU, ethnic groups, Barbra Streisand and Sean Penn if President Bush were allowed to appear at the Academy Awards to speak in support of "sanctifying the American way of life"?"
Hollywood Reporter:
"Hollywood has always worn its liberal politics on its sleeve, from 1976's "All the President's Men" and 1979's "Norma Rae" to 2002's "Bowling for Columbine." With Tuesday's crop of Oscar contenders, though, politics have never been more front and center.

"What all these films have in common is they're about the human condition," said Oscar-nominated "Crash" co-writer Bobby Moresco. "The pendulum has swung back to movies about politics. People want films that have something to say; they're tired of fluff.""
Personally, if "fluff" is funny and entertaining, I'll take it everytime.

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