Here’s the punch line to an old show business joke: “…Because I needed a new bathroom.” Many of today’s movie stars, whether they know it or not, are now the unwitting deliverers of that sadly funny but telling line. The first part of the joke is: “What would have ever possessed you to take that role.” (For writers or directors you can substitute, film, script or assignment for the word “role”).
I don’t mean to pick on movie stars specifically but to make the argument you have to cite some group and, well, movie stars are as good an example as any of those who choose to sell out their ample talent to the highest (or just high) bidder. And frankly — they’re rich, famous, privileged, and awfully good looking (most of them) so I feel they can take it.
Actors talk all the time about there not being enough good parts (for movie studios substitute good enough scripts, for directors substitute cool or meaty projects). But here’s the truth – really desirable parts get created from directors, writers and yes, producers and studio executives, who are trying, working hard, going out on a limb, and exploring new and dangerous territory. Or just being clever and true to themselves in a way that hasn’t been quite been done before because they’re tapping into something that’s uniquely them.
To whit: Jennifer Anniston CAN act – quite well – and even in something more than light comedy — watch Mike White’s “The Good Girl.” She’s also lovely in many of her rom coms. She has enough friends (and that also includes her work on “Friends,” the great TV show that still holds up) and money to finance any movie she wants ENTIRELY for, let’s say, under $5 million and not get too hurt. Hell, she just sold her house in Beverly Hills for $42,000,000 (well, that was the asking price) and made a tidy profit for quite a bit more than that. But she doesn’t choose to. Nor do most others. (For further examples of others, substitute the name of, oh, Johnny Depp).
I like Ms. Aniston professionally and several friends of mine who have spent time with her personally like her quite a bit too. She’s nice. She’s down to earth. She’s a lot of fun, they say. So why do she and handfuls of other film stars not choose to take matters into their own hands and make/finance lower budget movies on their own at a price. And do the schlock only when they really need a new bathroom? (But really, how many bathrooms does one realistically need anyway?).
George Clooney does this to some extent and Ms. Aniston did do this to some extent when she had a company with ex-husband Brad Pitt, which he now has and which enables him to still do it, to some extent. But that isn’t the norm these days. Well, maybe she doesn’t have the time or interest? It does take some effort. But so does walking across the room to change the channel if your remote isn’t handy. (And that’s assuming you don’t have someone in your house or an employee that can get up for you, which I’m thinking she may have). Yet if she and others don’t do something (because money is power right now) the upshot for actors (or writers, directors, etc) and their audiences, at least, is going from meaningless film to meaningless film, polluting the waters for anything slightly better than what comes along. Yes, I’m talking to you “Horrible Bosses,” “Green Lantern,” and “Hangover II” (if you don’t like these choices you can substitute – well, I’m sure you can think of two or three).
United Artists (the film company founded in the twenties by disgruntled film artists Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplain and DW Griffith) – – Even First Artists (the film company founded in the 1970s by Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen) — Save us! We’re dying creatively out here. Television is thriving creatively mostly because of cable programming and its influence on the networks to push the envelope (though for every “Mad Men” there are 10 “Kardashians,” but I digress). It’s also serialized. For those of us who love our stories in one larger sitting, is there no hope at all? I don’t get it. Have the modes of entertainment changed that much. Or is it only about getting rich in the shortest possible manner?
If the rich and successful ARE the job creators (duh), uh, Hollywood’s wealthy – where are you? Are you only interested in creating crappy jobs? Does that hold for every industry across the country? Is that why we’re in the pickle we’re in? Did all the good jobs (and movie projects?) go overseas? Are we outsourcing ourselves, literally, into creative irrelevance, at least movie wise? (Duh and double duh).
This is certainly not limited to mainstream Hollywood. Two feature length independent films I saw last weekend at Outfest, the LA gay and lesbian film festival, are not any not better, and in one instance much worse, than any of the movies previously mentioned. That one in question was, in fact, so hideous, so absolutely without any wit or substance that it was actually embarrassing to watch. Not so for the director, who proudly hawked DVD’s of his previous films prior to this screening, much to the delight of a packed crowd at 10pm on a Sat night (which, it should be noted, is really the shank of the evening in gay time). Maybe that’s what it takes nowadays – absolute nerve and hype that whatever product you’re pedaling is the coolest thing in the world. Perhaps in this case, indie and mainstream moviemaking are more alike and have always been more alike than I want to believe. I might take a moment to sob just about now.
But just as I’m ready to give up I read that Glenn Close has a movie being released at the end of the year called “Albert Nobbs,” where she plays a woman who poses as a male butler in 1890s Ireland that is said to likely be one of this year’s top Oscar picks. I also read that Ms Close has been pushing to get it made as a film since she played it off-Broadway nearly 30 years ago. Kudos to her. But thirty years??? Well, okay.
And then there was the really interesting independent movie “Weekend” that I saw last night at Outfest by young British filmmaker Andrew Haigh that very much evoked the imaginative rawly emotional work of the young John Cassavettes. That was really promising and very bold and daring. So there is that. Not to mention the idea for a new script I thought of on my own a few nights ago that I’m just starting to take notes on and will continue researching and outlining this weekend. I’m starting to get excited to explore this new world and see what I can get down on paper. Perhaps I’ll even manage a little self-discovery in the process.
Hmm., who needs new bathrooms when we have all of that?