Sunday, June 13, 2004

Video: Mildred Pierce (1945)

In a just world, this adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel would be revered as a classic. It’s a meticulous examination of the effects of money in American life. You won’t find a better movie about social climbing, or the buried emotional costs of childrearing. All of it served up in a propulsive story that moves with the zing of the best pulp fiction. It’s a truly great film. But in the wake of MOMMIE DEAREST (the Faye Dunaway movie more than the book), anything starring Joan Crawford has been reduced to camp. It’s our loss. She’s extraordinary here. The most recent DVD includes a solid Turner Classics documentary on the actress that makes the story’s parallels to her own life abundantly clear.

Book: Hollywood Interrupted, by Andrew Breitbart & Mark Ebner (2004)

Here’s how shallow I am: given access to a time machine, the first history-warping errand on my list would be preventing the birth of SPY magazine. Yes, I know that the jaded attitude it represented was in the air back in the halcyon days of the ‘80s and would have coalesced around some other rag if SPY didn’t exist. But I still believe that if that early vessel had been snuffed out – if someone had bought the book proposal that Graydon Carter had to be pushing back then, if Kurt Andersen had been hired to draft ad copy for the Connecticut Tourism Board – the tone it established would not be the default voice for all entertainment reporting today. Jokey without actually being funny, simultaneously in-the-know and vague about details.

This style of writing is only part of the problem with this exposé of celebrity misbehavior by Drudge Report researcher Breitbart and journalist (and SPY veteran) Ebner. It’s sloppily organized but with a footnote fetish. It’s selective in its examples; saying that Hollywood has “declared war on the American family,” it offers as evidence AMERICAN BEAUTY, SIX FEET UNDER, SEX AND THE CITY and the Jessica Lange TV movie NORMAL. Two of the four projects are from one writer (Alan Ball), and three are from HBO, which markets itself as an alternative to network TV. Breitbart and Ebner conveniently overlook the fact that most Hollywood product focuses relentlessly on happy endings and happy families.

There’s some good gossip buried in here, and once again the SOUTH PARK boys come across as bastions of common sense. But the book ultimately lost me by putting a political spin on its argument, something I should have figured out when I read the pullquotes from Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg on the jacket. Hollywood sucks, they say, because it’s full of permissive liberals stuck in an outdated ‘60s mindset. As it happens, I think there’s plenty of truth to this case. I’m the first to blame hippies for society’s woes (read the top theory here if you don’t believe me). I don’t even like AMERICAN BEAUTY, the most overrated movie of the last 20 years. That’s why I’m looking for a book that takes on the mechanics of celebrity, the system that builds people up and forces them down our throats before we – or they - know who they are. That lays out a rational, non-partisan argument for what we all know to be true: celebrities are a danger to themselves and others, and must be stopped. Sadly, this is not that book.

Magazine: Premiere, July/August 2004 issue

Asked to name a favorite performance, Christopher Walken cites the little-seen 1988 film PUSS IN BOOTS:

“I play the cat, and I’m very convincing ... I did a lot of, you know, cat things. I thought I was really good in it.”

I’ll take his word for it. The movie is part of the Cannon Movie Tales, a series of low-budget musical(!) adaptations of classic children’s stories made by legendary B-movie hack Menahem Golan. I once caught a few minutes of RUMPELSTILTSKIN starring Billy Barty and Amy Irving and never fully recovered. Other entries include THE EMPORER’S NEW CLOTHES with Sid Caesar and Art Carney, and a version of SLEEPING BEAUTY starring Old Navy pitchwoman Morgan Fairchild and Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Gos. (For more on Cannon Films, check out their appreciation society, which I learned about from Jaime Weinman.)

The magazine also says that ‘wheelhouse’ is the new power buzzword. As in: slapstick is in Ben Stiller’s wheelhouse. Great. Another perfectly good word ruined.

Miscellaneous: Links

Defamer reports from Meryl Streep’s AFI ceremony, keeping the focus on the bits that will be cut from the telecast. Slate says the National Enquirer is more accurate than you think. And courtesy of the Cinetrix, here’s the Four Word Film Review.

Website Update: Links

Some new, some updated. Check ‘em out.