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

Plot Holes

I don’t take things at face value.  Never have.  One could say that makes me a cynic.   But I’d say a realist.    So let’s split the difference and settle on a little bit of both.

Hell of a time to be living in for us cynical realists.

There is nothing wrong with watching what’s going on in Washington, D.C. these days and feeling like a skeptic who is positive some dry ice machine hidden just beyond our collective eye-lines is creating that incessant shroud of dense black fog we all continually find ourselves trapped in.

MUELLER WHERE ARE YOU

The FBI is investigating the president, OUR U.S PRESIDENT for being a Russian spy, a willing Russian stooge, or a blackmailed stooge being made to spy on HIS OWN COUNTRY by…..RUSSIA???

Why, it’s like some bad John LeCarre novel that you always felt you should read but decided not to when you saw how thick it was and considered that much time might be better spent at least attempting to read Proust.  Or your latest bank statement.

Just one of the many seemingly absurd Hollywood movies that seem more relevant now #KevinCostnerwasHOT #wow

Of course, there is nothing wrong with escape.  Us cynical realists do it all the time.  I, for one, am a sucker for cheap thrills in mindless entertainment.  But cheap doesn’t mean vague and unexplained and even mindless needs to feel reasonable.  Or, well, follow-able within the unreality that is being created.

Beware — minor spoilers lay ahead.

So will someone tell me: WHAT THE HELL WAS EVERYONE LOOKING AWAY FROM IN Bird Box????  And why??  Why??  Why?????  Why did it make so many of them suicidal and yet others of them spiritually reborn or evil or just clever?  Why Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich??? Why do you need a new kitchen or house or small plane that badly?????

And while we’re on this subject, or genre:  If John Krasinski’s character cared so much about his family you’d think he’d have removed that foot long nail sticking out of the floor in A Quiet Place the first 500 times he saw it.  Or at least after it almost pulverized his beloved wife the first time.  Why???  Why????  Why doesn’t this bother anybody else?????

uh yeah Jim, that’s what we want to know!

But that all begs the question of how an earnest film like Boy Erased, a movie all about a gay teenager’s coming of age, can show us an early scene of him being raped and then NEVER address it again in a story that deals primarily with sexual identity and psychological well-being?  Why???  Why???  Why is it okay to just IGNORE the ELEPHANT YOU PLACED IN THE GOSH DARNED NARRATIVE ROOM?????? WHY??????????????

No wonder I often spend my days feeling like Rosemary Woodhouse AFTER she’s pieced together the truth on her living room floor with Scrabble tiles while everyone else tells her that the truth really doesn’t matter at all and to simply stay in her room, turn up the air conditioning and be quiet.

How many points for COLLUSION?

Yes, there are a few spoilers here but does it seriously even matter anymore if we’ve forgiven everything else?  Or at least you have?

As a writer, I don’t believe you can write (nee create) an important character and not understand their childhood, their family or their love life.  And, if they’re really important, I even need to know their favorite food, color and sexual proclivities.

Call me crazy, but you can’t really get a person unless you understand whether or not they were raised by wolves (Note: Literally and/or figuratively), what they like to eat and who they choose to… well, you know… or if they simply choose NOT to with anyone.

Let’s get personal

No judgments here.  Ask my writing students.  In fact, I get a perverse pleasure out of watching morally questionable behavior unfold as long as it’s earned.   But that’s just a start.  If you’ve made this stuff up by the numbers, or use it lazily to create ridiculous choices and/or inactions, it’s no better.  Either a lack of data and/or vigor means at the end of the day we (Note: Okay, I) won’t be able to feel it.  All you will be giving me is incomplete or hackneyed information neatly arranged into a bunch of consecutive index cards or visual PowerPoint presentations.

This, more than anything else, is my problem with most Robert Zemeckis films.  Not that anyone asked. #ForrestGump goes #BacktotheFuture3X.  And #WelcometoMarwen.

Janelle, you are way too cool for Welcome to Marwen #JUSTICEforJANELLE

This could all account for why I’ve been grossly riveted to cable news and the horrific events of our current Electoral College POTUS these last few days.

Childhood: Raised in my hometown of Queens. Beat the crap out of other kids his age and younger in his youth.  Expelled from high school and sent to military school.  Used Dad’s $$$ to get him out of the REAL military and into IVY league higher education, during which time he was known to have never picked up a book.

What? I’m tired!

Family:  Raised in my hometown of Queens (Note: Still) by extremely rich parents  who marketed in racism, corruption and various other dirty deeds in order to build and keep their massive empire afloat.

Love Life:  Married three times, during which there were countless affairs, various incidents of rage, violence and at least one case of alleged rape with his first wife.  More incidences of sexual harassment and inappropriate manhandling of women in airplanes, parties, movie premieres and television sets than anyone can count.  Or would want to.

Is it working?

Favorite Food: Well-done steak, french fries, ice cream, anything McDonalds and an estimated one DOZEN cans of Diet Cokes per day.

Favorite Color:  Gold. (Duh).

Sexual Proclivities:  I can’t even….   Stormy Daniels knows all.  Though let’s give equal credence to the mysterious #PeeTape once it surfaces.  Which it inevitably will.

If you say Pee Pee Tape three times, Stephen Colbert appears.

The consistent, salient details of DJT has, if nothing else, made me BELIEVE his most unlikely of stories.   That is because if you simply pay attention nothing is shrouded in fog.  The data continues to unfold in a consistent pattern and with the rigor of the best Shakespearean tragedies.  That is where, in the final act, the main character meets his inevitable demise because of every action he took in each scene of his play.

It doesn’t take much to see it’s all very Aristotle’s Poetics.

Both storytellers and audiences should take note for future reference.

The All-American Rejects – “Dirty Little Secret”