Thursday, March 09, 2006

Noonan Diagnoses Hollywood

Good column.

Excerpts: to look at movie stars. So many of them are physically perfect, which is kind of fascinating, or at least startling. Most of us don't spend our lives surrounded by physical perfection. Once in Los Angeles I met a young actor who was so beautiful I thought, So that's what God meant. Even if you see such perfection as only freakish, it's still interesting.


We all like Jack Nicholson not because he's classically beautiful--he's not--but because somehow he signals, in the way he lives his life, in the way he walks into the world, at least as seen through newspapers and magazines, that on some level or to some unusual degree he . . . gets the joke. It is odd to think, as a moviegoer, that you know Jack Nicholson, and yet in a way you do. We watch the young ones coming up. Will Charlize turn into someone who gets the joke, or someone who is the joke?


If a lot of the American audience, certainly the red-state audience, assumes Hollywood hates them, they won't go as often to the movies as they used to. If you thought Wal-Mart hated you, would you shop there?


Orson Welles was an artist. George Clooney is a fellow who read an article and now wants to tell us the truth, if we can handle it.

More important, Orson Welles had a canny respect for the audience while maintaining a difficult relationship with studio executives, whom he approached as if they were his intellectual and artistic inferiors. George Clooney has a canny respect for the Hollywood establishment, for its executives and agents, and treats his audience as if it were composed of his intellectual and artistic inferiors. (He is not alone in this. He is only this year's example.)

And because they are his inferiors, he must teach them. He must teach them about racial tolerance and speaking truth to power, etc. He must teach them to be brave. And so in his acceptance speech for best supporting actor the other night he instructed the audience about Hollywood's courage in making movies about AIDS, and recognizing the work of Hattie McDaniel with an Oscar.


But Mr. Clooney's remarks were also part of the tinniness of the age, and of modern Hollywood. I don't think he was being disingenuous in suggesting he was himself somewhat heroic. He doesn't even know he's not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

How could he think this? Maybe part of the answer is in this: The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.

Most Americans aren't leading media, they're leading lives.

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