HOLLYWOOD TO AID
U.S IMAGE ABROAD
Copyright 2001 www.variety.com
[ December 6th 2001 ]
producers claim they want to use their films to
promote a more positive image around the world.
Rivers thinks that's fine but argues that, in
order to do so, Hollywood must cut some chase
scenes and add some brainy women and real-life
aftermath of Sept. 11, Hollywood volunteered to
help the United States polish its image around
the world. A group of moviemakers met with President
Bush's chief of Staff, Karl Rove, to discuss ways
this might be done. "We know how to tell stories,"
said Ron Silver, the talented character actor,
on a recent TV panel. "Why not use us?"
a major problem is the kind of stories Hollywood
has been telling. Mainstream American films have
convinced much of the world that the United States
is a decadent society, filled with gun-toting
guys with bulging muscles and naked women who
shake their assets at every opportunity.
of the film business, rather than any issues of
morality, is at play here. When a Hollywood producer
came to Boston University some time ago, he lectured
to idealistic film students whose heroes were
Truffaut, Scorsese and Cassavetes. But the mogul
told them to forget those guys and write scripts
for 14-year-old boys. That's what Hollywood was
globalization of the film market has had the effect
of shrinking women and magnifying men. In the
1940s, female movie stars were larger that life.
Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and
Rosalind Russell often played feisty working gals
who were clearly the stars of the show. Movie
plots were built around them.
teen-age boys are not interested in feisty gals,
for the most part. They want an extension of what
they see on their computer games - lots of action,
lots of gore - and if there's a woman around,
she's Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, a female with size
DDD breasts who kicks butt just like the guys.
As Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter
puts it: "'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' stars Angelina
Jolie's lips and breasts and, in a much smaller
role, the actual Angelina Jolie herself."
sort of product can sell to a teen-age boy in
Thailand at the same time that it sells to a teen-age
boy in Norway? Car chases, explosions, lots of
cleavage. The special effects are getting grander
as the human beings, especially the female ones,
recede into caricature.
many women are "bankable" today - that is, they
can get a picture built around them? One, really.
Julia Roberts. Maybe Sandra Bullock for romantic
comedies. Demi Moore once, but no longer. Otherwise,
most of the parts for females are girlfriends,
bimbos, junkies and murderesses. What's the most
famous scene of recent vintage featuring a female
star? Sharon Stone flashing her you-know-what
when she crosses her legs in "Basic Instinct."
producer Joel Silver summed up what a lot of Hollywood
guys think when he said that in his movies he
wanted women naked or dead. No wonder people around
the world think American women are oppressed sex-pots.
And of course, women who are naked or dead don't
talk much - rather like a woman in a burka.
don't talk, what can we know about them? In her
book, "Fast Talking Dames," Yale professor Marie
di Battista notes that the great movie heroines
of yore may have been sexy, but they were sassy
too. Roz Russell was faster with a quip in "His
Girl Friday" (about a newspaper reporter) than
was her co-star, Cary Grant. Katharine Hepburn
was Spencer Tracy's equal because she could talk
just as smart and fast as he could. Talk was power;
today too many women are silent--either because
they've been slashed to death or because their
entire job is to display body parts.
Hollywood has always sold sex and glamour--from
Pola Negri vamping in the silents to Marilyn Monroe
standing over a subway grate that blows her skirt
up to reveal her panties. That was practically
pure compared to what's on screen today. One producer
I know says that many of his fellow filmmakers
find normal sex boring--they are interested in
perverted, violent, sadomasochistic sex. But in
the past, even though sex sold, there was a more
complex view of American life in Hollywood movies
(along with the schlock) because the major audience
was adult Americans, not affluent teen-agers.
And filmmaking was cheaper, so you didn't always
have to dumb down your product to make it sell.
Why was "Armageddon" so loud and stupid? Because
loud and stupid sells--and when you are paying
over a hundred million bucks for a movie, you
don't take a lot of chances.
criticism heard abroad of American society is
that our families are in terrible shape. And if
Hollywood is all people have to go by, no wonder
that's what they think. American parents in mainstream
movies are usually either dolts who are outsmarted
by their horny teen-age sons, or psychopaths who
ruin their children's lives. (See "American Beauty.")
Outside of a few chick flicks, mothers are monsters.
Where are the sort of roles Greer Garson used
to play, heroic moms who held the family together
in times of crisis? Among the missing.
than Tom Hanks, who plays the roles Jimmy Stewart
used to get--the decent, average Joe who loves
his family, plays by the rules and stays honest
no matter what befalls him--actors today prefer
to bulk up their pecs so they can bash heads and
wade in gore all the way to the bank. And who
does the complex social dramas that Henry Fonda
and Gregory Peck were famous for: "Grapes of Wrath"
and "To Kill a Mockingbird"? Would either of those
films get greenlighted today? Probably not. Fourteen-year-old
boys wouldn't understand them.
Hollywood is going to try to show the world what
America is really like, some producers are going
to have to take risks. They won't be able to simply
let car chases, explosions and breasts fill the
screen most of the time. Characters will have
to really talk to each other; women will have
to be real people, with brains as well as bosoms.
Men will have to be seen raising their kids, going
to work and wrestling with real social issues,
not just blasting every sentient body in sight.
soon will that happen? Maybe when we all take
a trip Over the Rainbow.