I’m Going to Dreamland

** Minor Spoilers of Netflix’s Hollywood ahead **

I don’t know about anyone else but for the last few months I’ve been living in dreamland.

This is a good place to be for about 50% of the time, given the realities of a worldwide pandemic.  Which doesn’t change the fact that for the other half of the time it’s been, let’s face it, kind of nightmarish.

Yeeps

Of course, nightmares are also dreams, just ones that bring out strong feelings of fear, terror, distress or anxiety.  At least, that’s the dictionary definition.

Though most of us don’t think of dreams or dreamlands quite that way.

We Americans especially like our dreams.  We like them so much we even once upon a time coined the aspirational phrase, The American Dream and had ourselves believing it for more than several generations.

In 1950, anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker took this idea one step further by famously naming Hollywood The Dream Factory.  In that seminal book, she masterfully dissected the push and pull between art and commerce in a culture and industry that has never done particularly well at balancing both.

Still, we soldier on and attempt to make sense of things, don’t we?  In much the same way we try to understand how a wonderful dream could just as easily become an unendurable, soul-crushing nightmare.

Certainly anyone who has lived in Hollywood for any length of time could wax poetic on both (Note: Depressingly so, for at least 50% of the time).  As a Hollywood resident myself for close to four decades, well, don’t get me started and don’t even ask where I would start….

It was with this understanding that I approached Netflix’s new Ryan Murphy miniseries Hollywood.   That is because, well, there is no other way to approach it.

Let Miss Patti take you for a ride

Hollywood is a perfectly flawed, dreamy, nightmarish and confoundingly implausible representation of the American, well, dream, told through the lens of moviemaking in the 1940s.

It’s fabulously beautiful in both sets and human beings, the latter of whom seem almost inhuman, especially the men.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?  When you can’t get beauty in real life Hollywood can always, to some degree, provide it.

How is this allowed?

It is also fabulously absurd in a fairly satisfying way as it attempts to bridge the gap of facts and fantasy by using the lives of both real life Hollywood people and make believe characters we might have enjoyed them encountering in order to address the sins and Pyrrhic victories of our collective pasts.

I, for one, don’t mind seeing a shy, soon-to be-famous Rock Hudson falling in love with a talented and very hot Black male screenwriter.  Not to mention, it’s pretty thrilling to experience the smart mouthy woman married to an obnoxious, know-it-all studio chief get the chance to choose what movies she thinks should get made when her husband becomes unceremoniously, um, indisposed.   Most especially, who wouldn’t enjoy seeing Eleanor Roosevelt making a convincing case for the first Black female star of a mainstream Hollywood movie to a mini-board room of power brokers and somehow managing to change history?

Too much, too silly, too ridiculous, too many plot holes?  I don’t think so.  And yes, of course, there are and it is.

Like most Ryan Murphy shows this is the point, the conceit, the infuriating flaw and the watchable/unwatchable challenge we’re up against.  We dealt with it to good and bad effect in every season of FX’s American Horror Story, raged at it all during the first season of his continuing Netflix series The Politician, admired the tight balancing act in the Emmy award-winning The Assassination of Gianni Versace and marveled at the sheer strangeness of it in his first bona fide big hit TV show, Nip/Tuck.

Not to mention his most delicious camp delicacy #mamacita4Ever

The one thing you can say about Mr. Murphy’s work is that it’s seldom drab and dull.  As a fellow gay man of a certain age, I’ve personally dubbed him The Great Pasticher.  Take any one of his series and you’ll find multiple homages to scenes from famous movies and TV shows, history, current events and pop culture in general all twisted in whatever fashion HE deems fit in order to tell a story.

It’s a love it or hate it approach to art but it’s almost never boring.  I’d rather deal with a zillion plot holes than be bored to tears and on this score, nothing he does, even the trashiest of the campiest, ever totally disappoints.

Boring is not in his vocabulary

One of the primary conceits of Hollywood is the centerpiece location of the Golden Tip service station (Note:  Oh yes, he did come up with that name), where men, women and presumably anyone in between can hire one of many hunky hot male attendants for sexual favors and get their every tank imaginable filled to dizzying effects.

All you have to do is drive up to the gas pump, look into the attendant’s eyes and utter the magic phrase:

I WANT TO GO TO DREAMLAND.

Take me away

And then, yeah, it’s just that damn easy.  In fact, far, far simpler than finding the balance in real life and, well, who wouldn’t like that???

Of course, this fictional filling hole is not made up out of thin air but rather a roman à clef version of a gas station in the real 1940s Hollywood famously run by the late Scotty Bowers. 

If you’re a gay guy of, once again, a certain age like myself and Mr. Murphy and haven’t heard of Scotty at this point, well, that’s impossible.  But for the rest of you, check out his 2012 memoir, Full Service, about the business in question and you’ll see Hollywood (the miniseries, at least) strays only far enough away from the facts to make its overall point.  You might also want to check out the 2017 documentary of his life, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood and ask yourself if, at the end of the day, you don’t find everything he says and has claimed, well, mostly true

This is the consistent aspirational nature of much of Mr. Murphy’s work.  That would be a what if fantasy correcting the past for any of us who have been or ever felt marginalized. (Note: This of course, is pretty much everybody as far as real-life Hollywood is concerned).

It’s not always an accurate or totally buyable portrayal but, somehow, if you squint, he often makes it seem possible and, strangely, beautiful.  It’s a different kind of dream factory, to be sure, but one that gives us a brief respite from the Nightmare (Note: Pick One) we’re currently living through quite nicely.

Netflix Hollywood Trailer Music

Oscars So RIGHT

How is it that after 92 years the Oscars finally came up with both a telecast and a list of winners to be proud of?

Hitting the right notes, literally, for just about everything, the 2020 Oscars will probably be best remembered as the first time in history a foreign… ahem… INTERNATIONAL film won best picture.

Show tagline: PARASITE, NO HOST

Not only that, Parasite writer-director Bong Joon-ho took home THREE more Oscars for best director, best screenplay and best international (formerly foreign) film.

The hottest name in Hollywood!

And it was only a mere five decades ago when another Oscar winning writer-director, Billy Wilder, famously quipped to his cameraman:

Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.

That Parasite managed to touch the hearts and souls of a majority of Oscar voters is not in doubt. But what also seems clear is that the choice of a non-American film about economic inequality as the Motion Picture Academy members’ big winner was a very clear and very present way for voters to send out another message to the world. And that message is:

2020 America, and Americans, are NOT living in a bubble or behind a WALL. We are not isolationists who want to disengage with you. We, in fact, do get IT, even if it doesn’t always seem that way these days So don’t give up on us…yet.

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

In fact, I might be reaching or making this up out of whole cloth. Though truly, I don’t think so.

How I will try to think of 2019 in America

Hollywood might not literally speak for all 327 million people living in the U.S. but as an industry it is one of its chief representatives to the rest of the world. American movies reflect America to international audiences and what the Oscars choose to represent as the best of the best carries that weight.

Taken in that light the major category victories for Parasite were no small thing. No, they certainly don’t change the state of the world but, at the same time, they proclaim that things aren’t staying stagnant. If the same staid Academy that made the safe choice of Green Book as last year’s best picture is now doing a full 360 and saying a South Korean film dealing with class warfare is the gold standard, well, who knows what else is in store from any number of American industries looking to project some message to the outside of who we really are.

Don’t ever look back!

Oh yes, hope springs eternal. But then again, why not?

This message of change, or perhaps inclusion was reflected all throughout the Oscar telecast on Sunday night.

Singer-songwriter-performer extraordinaire Janelle Monae had Oscar’s best musical opening in history as she went from mock Mister Rogers garb to full blown, self-proclaimed, queer Black artist singing revamped lyrics to her 2010 tune Come Alive. Sashaying her way through a panoply of back up dancers and celebrities, she actually managed to make the Academy Awards seem hip and happening for the first time in…..well….EVER.

At one point THIS happened

But that was only one of a string of ingenious, nostalgic and just plain awe inspiring musical moments.

We had Idina Menzel belting a Disney song along with belters from more than a dozen countries in THEIR native languages.

Then there was Eminem appearing seemingly out of nowhere to rap his 2003 Oscar winning song Lose Yourself with some updated lyrics evoking the era of Trump.

OK so the song is as old as Billie Eilish, so what?

Soon Elton John was pounding on his red piano and singing the soon-to-be Oscar winning song he co-wrote with longtime lyricist partner Bernie Taupin for their autobiographical film Rocketman.

That followed twice nominated Cynthia Erivo also bringing the house down with her inspirational ballad Stand Up from her film about abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Harriet. 

And her dress was PERFECTION #QueenCynthia #EGOTiscoming

Then, as a capper, we got a haunting version of the Beatles’ Yesterday sung by this year’s multi-Grammy winner, 18-year-old Billie Eilish, in memory of the many film artists we lost this past year.

And amid all of that was this quite subversive high comic moment of the evening:

Rebel Wilson and James Corden entering in the crazy train makeup and costumes from their 2019 film disaster, Cats, to give this simple introduction to the award they were tasked to present:

As cast members of the motion picture CATS nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects.

Proving it’s never to soon…

Certainly one could gripe about a few misfired jokes from various presenters or any number of times when any one of us knew the wrong person, or people, were standing center stage with an Oscar in their hands that we felt belonged to someone else.

Still, it is difficult to argue with what most of those who did win were trying to say in their acceptance speeches.

They rambled, but we stuck with them

Aside from thanking their immediate families, or their teams, or their friends or cast mates, almost every major speech felt like a sincere outreach to an international audience for us all to find some way come together rather than to continue to be pulled apart by the circumstances of our times.

While the ceremony theoretically honors the art and craft of film, this year’s Oscars somehow felt more like a hand extending far beyond Hollywood and the borders of the U.S. towards the rest of the world in solidarity.

PLUS This is now Oscar-winning, so really, all is right with the world

Though on second thought, perhaps it’s more like a cry from those of us within to everyone watching on the outside for…help?

Janelle Monae – Oscars 2020 Opening