Trumping Mr. Corman

The lie starts when you actually show up an hour early for a 7:40 am flight only to be kept waiting on the ground 90 minutes due to the airline’s clerical error.  It continues when you turn on the news and a senior member of Congress is telling you Planned Parenthood spends 90% of its time on abortion when every report and factoid tells us that is only 3% of its services.  It continues when you look at someone’s Facebook post and a top website admits it publishes writers all the time who it knows in advance are factually inaccurate.  It nearly ends when you watch “American Idol” or “Dancing With The Stars” and, clearly, the worst singer or dancer wasn’t voted off and someone more talented got the axe for favoritism.  But the lie truly ends when right before you go to bed the top organization in charge of rewarding positive portrayals of your minority group  gives an honor to a movie you find impossibly, horribly and forever indefensibly offensive to you (can’t say the name of the movie) [“I Love You, Phillip Morris”] or the group [GLAAD]).

In any event –-  Those were some of the lies I endured this past week.  Probably they are something else other than lies (right now I can’t think of what) but that seems the most apt description to me right now – a deception, a manipulation that isn’t true or as it should be.   But isn’t one person’s lie another person’s – truth?  Indifference?  Zen-like acceptance of the world?  Or just plain outrage – the kind of acceptance, indifference or outrage that fuels fringe-like groups coming to power in society or mediocre television, radio, film, theatre and the endless of revivals and remakes of such.  Perhaps I’m exaggerating.  But I don’t think so.  And remain ever hopeful that..

Donald Trump is another story.  He’s so slickly…Donald…that I and no one else knows — and no talking head that I’ve seen can tell us for sure —  if he’s a Grade A, #1 liar, a misunderstood truth-teller or something in between.  What everyone does seem to agree on is he’s our modern-day P.T. Barnum – meaning he’s one of our master showman.  Someone who knows how to generate white hot light, outrage, polarization and yes, even good will around himself or a particular person(s) or story.    (I’m not repeating his “lie” because you already know it).

Trump actually trumps truth AND lies because, in some strange way, he’s entertaining.  Most reality TV is entertaining, especially after a long day at the workhouse.  Or even worse —  a long day looking for work at a workhouse.   Any workhouse.

Forget the truth.  Just give us something to talk about (thank you, Bonnie Raitt, but it still shouldn’t have been the title of that Julia Roberts movie, sorry.).  Stephen Colbert some time ago coined the phrase “truthiness.”  Which means kinda, sorta, in a way – true.  But at the very least pleasantly (or unpleasantly) anecdotal.  Jon Stewart and Colbert make fun of this kind of thing and if someone gave me my own show or paid me more than I made for this blog ($000,000.00), I would too.  Gladly.

Entertainment can get away with being untrue because it’s a palatable lie and, at least on the surface, doesn’t really hurt anyone.  It actually often revels in the art of the lie or fudge or partial truth for the sake of drama or comedy.  The trick?  Well, a lawyer friend of mine once explained it to me – lying that is.  He was admittedly a master liar.  Actually, he reveled in that ability.  His advice:  “You have to put a grain of truth in the lie or no one will believe you.”  By the way, there wasn’t a smile when he said this.  He was dead serious and believed he was giving me rock solid guidance on how to advance in my career.

I might have followed it had I not I not been the worst liar in the world and a person who feels guilty if I get extra change in the market and don’t immediately give it back.   I’m not necessarily proud of these limitations but facts are facts. And at least I can sleep at night.  So does my friend.  And quite well.  At two different houses three times the size of mine, may I add.

Where were we?

Oh yes –- entertainment.

My first big exposure to that lie was when I started the weekly national box-office column at Daily Variety.  This was in the early 80s – years before the Internet, computers (I had a manual typewriter!!!) or cell phones.  Or before the movie grosses were a box-office derby reported on by all the morning shows, major media outlets and even the New York Times.

What I had to do was call each of the major and indie film distributors with movies debuting that weekend (no, it wasn’t a rotary dial) to find out “estimates” of what their film(s) made in ticket sales that weekend.  These numbers were reasonably accurate because studios crosschecked each other via their relationships with multiplex theatre chains and, frankly, their competitors.

Where I’d run into trouble was with independent distributors who often needed to report higher grosses for their films to get future funding and to show off what successes they were in order to compete for talent and other resources with the major studios.  That’s where Roger Corman comes in.

For those who don’t know (or recall), Roger Corman  was?  is known in some circle as King of the Bs (as in “B” movies) and producer of such low budget films as “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Death Race 2000” and  “Piranha.”  He is also the man who gave some of our best known filmmakers (Martin Scorcese, Francis Coppola, James Cameron) their first shots at directing features.

One week New World had released a film whose name I can’t now recall and the rep at the studio gave me a box-office gross report that was outrageously inflated.  Not the usual 10% margin or error but, like, 30-50%.  I knew this was so because a) every other distributor had the true figure, b) it made no sense that this low budget film could have a per screen average so high, and c) New World’s past reputation for gross reportage was, well (fill in the blank).  When I politely (yes, I was polite in those days) questioned the accuracy of the figure several times to several people I was told Roger Corman himself would call me.   Which he did.   The conversation went something like this:

Corman:  Nice to talk to you!

Me:  Same here!

Corman:  So –  the grosses on (name of film) are ($ dollar figure)  at (number in the hundreds) theatres.  Do you have any questions?

Me:  Yes. I’m told that the figures you gave me…(blah, blah, blah)

Corman:  These are the numbers I’m giving you.

Me:  Right.  Right, But….

Corman:  Are you saying I’m lying?

Me:  No, I didn’t say that.  But I have…

Corman:  These are the figures I’m giving you.

Me:  (Polite explanation of figures’ inaccuracy and corroboration from others). (More apologies) …So you see why it might seem a little…

…. A long silence.

Corman:  Then print what you want!


Me:  Hello?

Dial tone.

Me:  Hello?

Dial tone.

Corman knew exactly how to bridge the roads between entertainment and lies.   Quite efficiently.  When one watches Donald Trump and many of the others, one longs for such simplicity.

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