Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Best Movies About Hollywood

The Best Movies About Hollywood

The Best Movies About Hollywood

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In almost every writing class, students are instructed to: “Write what you know.” But the rule is completely, wholly untrue for anyone with ambitions in scriptwriting. Want to quickly end a pitch meeting with a producer? Just say you have a screenplay, play, or television pilot about movies, theater, or television production. It may be what you know, kind of, does anyone really know Hollywood? But the privilege of reflecting on the process is usually given to those with established careers and don’t have to go to pitch meetings – or are self-funded.

In early cinema history, theater was the metaphor for “the business” and was most often reflected upon in terms of the lives of actors: Stage Door and 42nd Street being notable. But the unique process of filming a movie, and all the disparate players and industries involved didn’t have much to reflect upon until the mid-twentieth century and now is something of a genre unto itself. So it’s time to give credit where credit is due, and contractually obliged, gone over by an agent, lawyer, manager, and all appropriate guilds, unions, and government entities.

And the ten best are:

10. Bowfinger – 1990, Directed by Frank Oz, Written by Steve Martin

Big silly fun, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy leave no stereotype unturned in the classic story of a dreamer making it big in spite of himself. While the bad film makes good conceit has been done, and done well before, the simple charm of the actors and a trip across the 101 Freeway by Murphy pushes Bowfinger past the usual. The undocumented workers brought on as film crew who study Truffaut and Citizen Kane only adds to the collision of cultures and expectations that are part and parcel of the film industry: it is the FedEx truck coming for Bowfinger that the main character dreams of.

9. Sunset Boulevard – 1950, Directed by Billy Wilder, Written by Charles Bracket and D.M. Marshman Jr.

Perhaps the best known classic film about Hollywood starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson, told by a dead man, is about his involvement with a silent movie actress, Norma Desmond, and the delusion and desperation that are often strewn into the daily life of the entertainment industry and its subculture. Not the just by the “beyond her prime” star suffers from clinging to glories past, but so do those around her. The protagonist, the one the audience is to identify with, is already dead.

8. Mulholland Drive – 2001, Directed by David Lynch, Written by David Lynch

What? You don’t think it’s about Hollywood, being lost in a fantasy world, and the painful truth of reality intervening upon hope? Okay, but that’s what I got out of it. The title references a lovely, if motion sickness inducing, winding road in Los Angeles and one of the first power players in the City of Angeles. As with Sunset Boulevard, movies about business and Los Angeles define the journey in terms of roads, and Sunset Boulevard’s dead narrator may be the key to getting into (onto?) Mulholland Drive.

7. The Artist – 2011, Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, Written by Michel Hazanavicius

A black and white silent film about black and white silent films made in the twenty-first century. A young starlet comes to Los Angeles to make it big, well, you know the story, but that is something of the point. The derivation from classic silent cinema is brilliantly woven together with humor, but melodrama not skimped on as the main character played by Jean Dujardin clings to a can of film as his home burns dramatically and his dog goes for help.

6. Gods and Monsters – 1998, Directed by Bill Condon, Written by Bill Condon

A pondering on the last days of James Whale, the director of such indelible films as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, the uncomplicated character played by Brendan Frasier shows the lure and desire to see through and be seen through a lens of an artist, if blind to the artist framing the picture. Ian McKellan mixes genius and childishness seamlessly much like James Whale’s classic movies and monsters.

5. Postcards from the Edge – 1990, Directed by Mike Nichols, Written by Carrie Fisher

Very loosely based on Carrie Fisher’s book of the same title and with a script written by Carrie Fisher, the self-effacing reflections of a Hollywood insider vary between just plain funny to sad. Meryl Streep is brilliant, does that need to be said? And when the main character let’s go of a fake ledge on a projected set and doesn’t plummet to the street below, the whole theme of the movie is encapsulated as is the falseness of happiness based on fame, and the falseness of the projection that it must always be great to be Carrie Fisher.

4. Swimming with Sharks – 1994, Directed by George Huang, Written by George Huang

If Kevin Spacey has made a career playing the devil (does he have to pay residuals?) he’s never more unnerving than in this movie about a put upon assistant played by Frank Whaley finding out what it really takes to make it in the entertainment industry. Where many of the movies about movies ultimately celebrate human foibles and the creative process, and/or lack thereof, Swimming with Sharks shines a spotlight on the truly dark aspects of the business of filmmaking and makes law school so much more enticing.

3. Argo – 2012, Directed by Ben Affleck, Written by Chris Terrio

Technically, a movie about making a fake movie, Argo gave cinema history the line, “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.” The business of Hollywood and the artifice involved with the seeming empowerment to actually fund a film, even before any cameras are turned on, is as complex and byzantine as the filmmaking process itself – along with international espionage. The bows to Star Wars and the use of an actual film being shot interfering with the spy craft – the nasty red light holding up answering an important phone call – only deepens the commentary on perception.

And you can see Princess Leia as an action figure at the end of the movie.

2. Singing in the Rain – 1952, Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden

Hollywood became self-reflective about its own history without much history to be self-reflective about, and did a wonderful job in the process. A musical starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds about silent filmmaking is a funny conceit. The bravura talent and technical skill showcased only adds to the film’s long renown as a classic.

And you can see Princess Leia’s mom, Debbie Reynolds, before she became Carrie Fisher’s mom.

1. Ed Wood – 1994, Directed by Tim Burton, Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski

It is only right and good that the best film ever made about the filmmaking process is about what is arguably the worst movie ever made Plan Nine from Outer Space, directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Plan Nine from Outer Space was declared the worst movie ever made by The Golden Turkey Awards written by Harry and Michael Medved published in 1979. The film is also mentioned as the goal in the Seinfeld episode where the gang is waiting at a Chinese restaurant in real time trying to get to a movie.

The joy of filmmaking is shown and the human spirit is celebrated in a film about a cross-dressing, would-be movie mogul played with innocent verve by Johnny Depp and a drug-addled Bella Lugosi played by Martin Landau. The details of the filmmaking process are realistically portrayed in this black and white fever dream and driven by a man with absolutely no talent for what he does – but he doesn’t let that stand in his way. Even the great Orson Wells makes a “cameo” appearance and encourages young Ed to pursue his vision, whatever that might be.

 

The fact that Ed Wood didn’t live to see his work fully “celebrated,” just like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emily Dickenson, only adds to the complete truth of the picture and why it should be required viewing in all film schools.

 

Heart shape film reel

 

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Can Rick Grimes Really Change?

This last season, the forth, of The Walking Dead beat me up. I feel like I barely got out alive and had to cauterize a few bite marks. I had been mesmerized since the beginning of the series, but found mid-forth-season; I didn’t like visiting this world anymore. I was sincerely depressed after watching the main character of Rick Grimes played gently by Andrew Lincoln, have everything ripped away from him – again, and again, and a little more – and in something of a Grimes family tradition, be left for dead unattended in a coma, this time by his son. Sometimes the character of Rick frustrated the hell out of me, his militant altruism, while cringe inducing at times, did not inspire a desire to watch him be slowly, bit by bit, piece by piece tortured to death psychologically and physically over a period of four years. Like Carl, I kind of wanted him to die on the couch, not because I didn’t or don’t like Rick Grimes or am working through adolescent angst like Carl, the episode really belonged to Chandler Riggs as Carl, but I didn’t want to see the character of Rick suffer anymore.

The kind air that Andrew Lincoln brings to the part challenges more traditional notions of a male hero (and isn’t appreciated by some) and allows for far more complex interactions and an identifiable human being instead of a Rambo of the zombie apocalypse. But it also makes the devastation the character experiences that much more painful to watch. Even at the end of the particular episode that left me looking for Wellbutrin on a Sunday night, where Carl regains some of his own humanity at the end and embraces his father, and Machete Michonne shows up and helps Rick with Carl, it wasn’t enough as an audience member. I still didn’t want to identify with the main character of the show. A visit to the county morgue might be more cheerful.

Somewhere even in the zombie apocalypse, there has to be some worth to Rick waking up from a coma in the first episode. His best friend, Shane, played by Jon Berenthal, was more than ready to run off with his wife, Lori, and be a father to his son, Carl. Rick’s wife, acted by Sarah Wayne-Callas, was more than amenable to Shane’s plans.

All the various group incarnations seem to need Rick existentially, mostly because he represents human decency and continues to think, then they get angry with him for being decent and taking thoughtful approaches that don’t always work. He never wins, not just at a physical level, always loosing the safe haven he wants more than anything for the people around him, he doesn’t win interpersonally either. Carl can be understood as a teenager, if it still painful to watch him turn on his father, but at a certain point, it’s just this guy dying in inches.

The following episode sans Rick with Carol and Tyrese, showed once again that The Walking Dead isn’t just a good show, but important television, worthy of study. Then in the season finale, Rick does rip out a man’s jugular with his teeth, with a weird mix of revulsion and relief, and it seems he’s finally leaving behind his notion of the messianic: but I’ve been fooled by him before.

I thought Rick got to the pragmatic state he needed to find when he shot zombie Sophia in the second season, accepting his failure to save her. Then he killed Shane, his best friend, after wife Lori created a situation that was impossible to resolve otherwise. Rick did actually get angry with Lori after Shane’s death, which showed some growth in how he related to people. Rick hadn’t reacted to being left for dead by Lori and Shane, using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to run off together as a couple – with his son – no other friends or relatives with them oddly, and having sex within weeks of his purported demise, and oh by the way, she got pregnant. But after Lori’s death in childbirth, Rick nearly looses his mind in grief and slipped not only back into altruistic, sweet, and oh-so-vulnerable and caring mode, but into someone even more passive. Obviously he loved being a police officer and the guns and the idea of keeping order before the dead rose in droves in Georgia, I swear there’s a song in there, but he even looses that energy and enthusiams, something that sparks life in him, to a placid tilling of the land, just with reanimated corpses on the other side of the fence occasionally serving as mulch.

This season left off where Rick does seem ready to move on romantically. There was a hint that Michonne liked him, but since her character is so important to Carl, Rick probably wouldn’t impede or complicate that and he is always first: dad. Dad sleeping with his son’s best friend is weird. Without being a dad, the television Rick Grimes doesn’t seem plausible continuing to live. Rick has of yet to move his wedding band to his right hand. He can keep it for Carl and the baby’s sake, but in his head he still seems married to Lori. The feeling that the first two seasons played out like an adaptation of Wuthering Heights is only compounded by the fact Andrew Lincoln was cast as Edgar Linton in an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Even Lori/Cathy haunts the moors, uh, bayou. But unlike Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is dead. Emily Bronte killed Edgar Linton off fairly young, not Heathcliff. If not always sympathetic in the film adaptations, in the book Edgar Linton is something of an ideal, “eyes like an angel or a dove,” contrasted by the dark brooding passion of Heathcliff, and to repeat something oft said in The Walking Dead, not made for this world.

I think Andrew Lincoln is a brilliant actor. Giving an interview, I wondered why he was using a fake English accent since he has a perfect Georgia accent. I’m still not quite convinced he’s from Great Britain. He brings subtlety and nuance to what is usually a sledgehammer kind of role and part of the appeal of The Walking Dead as a television show. But if Emily Bronte killed Edgar Linton off, who are we to question the wisdom of a Bronte sister? Rick doesn’t have to die, but he can’t keep dying. At least part of Edgar Linton needs to go haunt the moors, uh, bayou with Lori and Shane, er, Heathcliff, just think of a Flannery O’Connor version of Emily Bronte’s novel.

In a way, I’m kind of hoping something happens with Carol and Rick. I know it seems weird and out of the box, but moving towards something other than a simple plot device. Daryl’s flirted with Beth, now he and Carol remain just good friends. Tyrese and Carol are deeply and profoundly connected, in a heartbreaking way, which truly disallows for a romantic relationship. Rick and Carol have a long, complex, even dark history together, but never a close one. Rick did banish her from the prison saying he didn’t want her around his children, but her willingness to go to dark places may very well be what saved his daughter. He didn’t save Carol’s daughter, Sophia, when she was in his care. A relationship would bring round a long evolvement for each character and a change in the dynamic of the group. Rick has always been the father figure, but the group has never had a functional maternal figure, Rick in some ways trying to be both. Carol being the closest thing to a den mother, but distant and offset, sometimes literally, and becoming very dark, seemingly in response to Rick’s unending lightness of being no matter who screws him over. The fact that Rick and Carol are original characters and had moments of genuinely not liking each other needs some resolution. It’s easy to suspect that Carol had/has never really forgiven Rick for Sophia’s death and now that she has had the benefit of forgiveness from Tyrese, she may need to confront that in herself. And if Rick gets all gooey-sweet, saintly again, Carol can just tell him to look at the pretty flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona

I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona

A snowy mountaintop near Flagstaff, Arizona, my rusty old Ford Escort, eighty-something, model year and mileage: that mountain would eat my muffler.

Way back in the twentieth century, before the Internet was something for MIT students, before cell phones could even flip, when tax forms were retrieved at post offices and libraries and snail-mailed to the IRS, long ago in the nineteen-nineties, when current contestants on American Idol were just being born and Friends wasn’t on the air, broadcast air, yet, it was a great adventure to travel America’s Interstate system; built primarily during the Eisenhower administration in case of attack by the USSR. It was true freedom. No one could reach you unless you wanted them to; truck stops were your home as you moved across the great North American Continent in rugged individualism, sort of, we did have credit cards and pay phones.

This was my great escape to Southern California. From the Northeast, crossing through Ontario, Canada, passports weren’t needed then, through the snow to the great planes, to the glorious red ridges of New Mexico that left me breathless, the grand feeling of wonder and awe at my forebears who came across the Atlantic to America, the harsh yet beautiful landscape reshaping our souls. As I came closer to the City of Angeles, Jerusalem and Mecca of my dreams, America for Americans: the great Los Angeles – I lost my muffler on a stretch of I-40, mimicking the old Route 66, that left me thinking about the Donner party and being eaten by cannibals hold-up in a deserted hotel that seemed out of a Stephen King novel on the side of the road.

The muffler had neither the decency nor the grace to just fall off the car. No, it had to be welded like bolts in a battleship on one end, and rusted through on the other, throwing sparks off the pavement in the glistening, pink twilight glinting through the majestic Ponderosa Pine trees and casting a melancholy mauve off the new, just fallen snow. I had to pull over before I actually blew the car up with the electric spray threatening the gas tank. Hiking to a nearby hotel to call for the Auto Club, the hotel being the only seeming business around for miles, the air became biting cold, the kind that can break off toes and finger if you’re not careful – and it’s hopeless to stop your nose from running and it just ends up freezing into baby icicles.

Then I saw it: “Closed for the Season.”

Desolate and abandoned, the strange nineteen-forties era hotel didn’t even have the effervescence to even seem haunted.

I went back to the car and fought to get the rotted muffler off that car. It was me – or the muffler – and it wasn’t going to be me.

 

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq

http://www.flagstaff.az.gov

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/donner-introduction