DON’T WORRY FOLKS, IF YOU WANT THE SCOOP…(Segue of the Day: 10/16/17)

….Just check in here first.

Last week (10/11/17) I wrote about the psychic damage Harvey Weinstein, as the man who, for two decades plus, controlled access to more plum “prestige” parts than any other ten producers combined, had likely done to a generation of first-rank Hollywood actresses.

For those who understandably don’t want to plow through the whole thing again, here’s the salient passage (The Round Place in the Middle: 11/11/17):

So read the names: Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Rose McGowan. That’s just from those we know about.

And just from those who were attacked by Harvey Weinstein, who exactly no one thinks was a lone wolf.

Even by itself, that’s a gaping hole blown in a generation’s worth of top tier talent.

This week, the idea has taken hold across the big-name spectrum.

Here’s Dana Stevens, checking in from the left (Slate: 10/13/17):

THE SEX FIEND AND THE DAMAGE DONE…

(Warning: Spoilers for the Lee Daniel’s movie The Paperboy included.)

One of the questions that’s been swirling around the Harvey Weinstein revelations is why, after all these years, his enablers at places like the New York Times suddenly turned on him. (The notion that they were scared of being scooped by The New Yorker, the weekly which had decided to run with Ronan Farrow’s piece here seems a little thin on the ground, as does the notion that he had become too “pro-Israel.” But I confess I haven’t heard anything better, at least not anywhere but my own head.)

My best guess is that Weinstein is a sacrificial lamb, something Hollywood has been good at since the Fatty Arbuckle days,** and modern day Wall Street has turned into an art form (see Michael Milken, Jordan Beltran, Bernie Madoff). He’ll now be the poster boy for all the things a corrupt system surely doesn’t do anymore because it has learned the profit-margin-eating error of its ways (“Look what happened to that guy! We wouldn’t dare do such a thing again!”), while said system rolls merrily along.

We’ll see.

My bigger interest right now is in looking into what Weinstein and his ilk have cost the culture.

This is not to diminish the personal damage done to the lives and careers of the many women–most of them not famous–he molested in one form or other, likely up to and including rape. Of course, for them, any damage to the rest of us is secondary and rightly so.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t all have a stake.

I confess my take was sharpened by just having watched The Paperboy, a southern potboiler (I ordered it because I’m trying to work up a post about Florida movies…might be a month or two as I have some holes to fill), which features Nicole Kidman in a Nympho Southern Belle role that’s very similar to Rosanna Arquette’s brilliant turn in The Wrong Man.

Kidman’s a fine actress, of course, and she catches the outre aspect of the character expertly. But she misses the barely disguised vulnerability. The script allows her to reach for it and she does…she just doesn’t quite grasp it. So it’s sad what happens to her (she dies) but not as sad as what happens to Arquette in The Wrong Man (where she has to watch her meal ticket die while his possible replacement is riding down the track on a train that’s already going too fast for him to jump off).

So, the only time these two played on the same turf, Arquette won and it wasn’t even close.

But Kidman is the much bigger star and the far more “respected” actress. I don’t say she didn’t earn those things. Oh no, far from it. You can’t fake talent. But what the Weinstein revelations have called into question is just how tilted a never-very-level playing field was to begin with.

Arquette is one of the prominent actresses who is now telling her story. She’s one of those who said no (like Mary Weiss, she is who we thought she was…let us not hold our collective breath waiting for the mostly male critics who impugned her “choices”–hardly without interest in any case and now cast in an entirely different light–to apologize). And she clearly paid a price.

Not as much of a price as Rose McGowan, who has basically quit acting. But more of a price than Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie (and I’m not saying the price they paid was small, just that they didn’t have their careers entirely derailed).

I note here the pecking order, of which Harvey Weinstein and all similar minded Hollywood big shots were keenly aware. Paltrow is the daughter of a famous producer/director and an even more famous award-winning actress. Jolie is the daughter of Oscar winner Jon Voight. Arquette is the daughter of two moderately successful actors who are more famous for their children than themselves but nonetheless, like Mira Sorvino, who has also come forward, “of the community.”

McGowan is a kid who showed up from Nowheresville.

Many others have come forward. But studying just these five–plus the even harsher fates of those lesser known, many of whom were driven out of the business–one can detect a pattern.

The more connected you were, the more likelihood Weinstein would forget and forgive if you turned him down.

The way you were defined as “connected” was if a) you were born into the club; or b) you were already a big star (which, for instance, Nicole Kidman was by the time she started working with him on a regular basis). In the case of the latter, it was likely you would be spared Weinstein’s bathrobe and potted plant routine, as Kidman, Meryl Streep and others of similar stature evidently were.

Again, what happened to them is between them and Weinstein and I don’t care if they choose to put it all behind them with a PR statement or send someone to put a horse head in his bed. They’re all quite capable of managing their own affairs without advice from me.

But I can’t help wondering how much all this cost–and, if I’m right about the transient nature of the outrage, will continue to cost–the world at large.

Any given generation only produces so much talent. We have trouble accepting this in our current State of Industrialized Egalitarianism, but it’s as true now as ever, and as true for actresses as any other group of artists.

The element that binds every single one of those who have accused Weinstein of harassing them and, either by threat or implication, making them fear for their careers, is that none of them ever reached their full potential. (Streep and Kidman have…but they were never threatened. And, to be clear, I have no respect for Streep or anyone else who stood up for the self-confessed-and-proud-of-it statutory rapist Roman Polanski over the years. Hollywood has earned its reputation for shameless hypocrisy, but that’s not the topic of this post.)

So read the names: Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Rose McGowan. That’s just from those we know about.

And just from those who were attacked by Harvey Weinstein, who exactly no one thinks was a lone wolf.

Even by itself, that’s a gaping hole blown in a generation’s worth of top tier talent.

You can multiply it exponentially by adding the “chill” effect.

To all the jobs they were never considered for because Harvey Weinstein–the principal taste-maker of the age–either wouldn’t hire them, or would only accept them in minor parts (like Arquette’s scene-stealing cameo in Weinstein favorite Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a movie that, IMHO would have earned its rep if Arquette and Uma Thurman had merely switched places–and if Tarantino never let this occur to him because he knew how Harvey felt, then he’s even more of what I’ve always said he is: a coward), add all the roles they were never considered for by like-minded thugs because of the, Hey,isn’t she the one who turned Harvey down? factor. (In case Harvey wasn’t prone to talking about the ones who turned him down–some thugs do, some thugs don’e–all they had to do was look at who he wasn’t hiring.)

And then add in how many times they weren’t even considered for the next good part because they didn’t get the last one.

And then keep on adding all the factors we can’t even see. Maybe, for instance, the psychological damage done even to a reasonably secure Child of Hollywood like Gwyneth Paltrow, who has–for whatever reason–devoted much of her adult life to things she probably never dreamed of doing when she was putting in the hard, humbling yards required to be a go-to actress, the kind of trial-by-fire you could be forgiven believing one would only go through if coming out the other side was as important as breathing.

How many good or great movies did she–or any of the others–simply decide not to do because they didn’t want to deal with the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, knowing that, even if his sins ever did come to light, the first question asked would be why they didn’t out him sooner?

If, that is, they were among the few who decided it was worth coming forward at last, even if they knew that question was coming.

I’ll buy that Weinstein’s carefully chosen political beliefs bought him decades of cover. I’ll even suggest that he chose those “beliefs” for that very reason, or, at very least, chose to quell any doubts he might have had about those beliefs in order to get on with the pursuit of thuggery which is bound to be the only aspect of life that really excites a thug.

But you can bet there are others–perhaps many others–who are out there right now, lying low for the moment, holding their breath, cozying up to those very same Editors and Publishers, winking and nodding, waiting for the heat to die down.

So they can start on the next generation.

**Silent star Arbuckle was accused of murder in Hollywood’s first really earthshaking scandal. It was probably a pure scapegoating job. He was tried three times. The first two were hung juries. The third jury acquitted him and offered him a written apology for his ordeal. His career was ruined, however, and his reputation sufficiently blackened that, nearly a century later, one has to provide explanatory footnotes. His actual case is not comparable to Weinstein’s. The means to which the respective cases were/are put to use, likely will be.

LAND OF THE PHARAOHS (And Then There Was Hollywood: Fourth Rumination)

Land of the Pharaohs (1955)
D. Howard Hawks

(NOTE: Contains mild spoilers)

Hollywood has never known quite what to do with the feral versions of Siren Sex. No woman who has possessed it in sufficient abundance to make ignoring it impossible has ever sustained major stardom without cloaking it under a serviceable veneer, usually The Comedienne (see Jean Harlow, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe) or The Actress (see Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Angelina Jolie…Monroe died trying to make the leap).

Lately, Jolie and Scarlett Johansson have been able to work a variation, Action Girl, where the Siren quality can be safely subsumed by Special Effects.

Pack enough CGI on the screen and the Sex can blend with the scenery.

Beside all that, you have the long history of women who couldn’t or wouldn’t shape themselves to fit what the world could handle. Hence a long list of actresses whose careers tend to be summed up by the crit-illuminati with some version of why do you suppose they didn’t amount to more, poor things.

Gloria Grahame and Marie Windsor were partially saved from this ignominy by the happy accident of having their prime years coincide with those of film noir. But later shoulda beens–Karen Black, Rosanna Arquette, Ileana Douglas, Rebecca DeMornay, to name only a few of the more obvious–were left stranded in the Brief-Flirtation-With-Stardom-Inevitably-Reduced-to-Working-Actress category.

It’s always been a fine line to walk, but the hard parameters have remained the same from the days of the Hays Code to our current enlightened state of Free Unlimited Porn on the Internet.

Sex, yes.

But please don’t radiate it.

Which brings us to this:

That’s just the black and white version. Of Joan Collins in 1955.

It doesn’t matter if she’s not your type, or that it’s the only still I could find from this Technicolor extravaganza (which the illuminati are universally confident can be dismissed as “camp,” a word they often deploy to dismiss anything they find unsettling….they’re prudes before they’re anything else, no matter how much porn they brag about watching) that comes close to matching the flesh impact Collins has in the film, where, with nothing vulnerable or modern about her, she seems to have been cast as the antithesis of the Hawksian woman.

Of course, she’d have to be something other than modern or vulnerable, given she’s playing someone who had to survive in a time and place where feral sex was one of the few qualities present that is still recognizable (if barely) in our own.

Here’s an attempt to understand it all, from The Guardian, circa 2013:

Khufu has her flogged. “Education is sometimes painful, isn’t it?” he gloats to her afterwards. This is the kind of line that makes a character permanently irredeemable, and the screenwriters (who included Nobel laureate William Faulkner) clearly couldn’t work out how to fix it. So the voiceover just says: “In the succeeding weeks, she became the favourite of the pharaoh. They were married and she became his second wife.” What? How? Why?

It’s nice, of course, that, for now, we live comfortably ensconced in a world where flogging a girl before you marry her is “irredeemable.” But I’m always a little bemused when someone who fusses over Wronged History–dates, places, English accents on Egyptian Pharaohs–because it doesn’t allow the properly educated to either close the distance or keep it at arm’s length (I’m never sure which), can’t bring himself to acknowledge the part that rings true.

Anyone who is really confused about what Pharaoh sees in Joan Collins’ princess–why she might become his favorite once he thinks a good flogging has tamed her–is too stupid to be writing for publication. Anyone who lies about it is….well, you can make up your own mind about those who pretend not to comprehend the obvious, whatever the subject.

But it was Hollywood’s problem before it was The Guardian‘s, and mankind’s long before it was Pharaoh’s.

Yes, Jack Hawkins is badly miscast as an Egyptian. That’s a hole in the movie even Collins can’t quite fill, though she might have with a director who understood feral sex, or a world that ran on it, as something other than perversion (the only time Hawks got the concept across was with Ann Dvorak’s incestuous sister act in Scarface, which was a long way behind him by 1955).

Instead, he–or Hollywood, or Faulkner the Laureate–knew no better than to reduce Collins’ princess to a standard issue shamed harlot in the final scene, when, having been reunited with Pharaoh’s boundless treasure for eternity, she should be in her element and smiling triumph over the peons who think they’ve tricked her.

It’s not a surprise, though.

Failing to punish her for greed, lust and murder in an “unenlightened” world that thrived on all three, would have required real sophistication on someone’s part.

Faced with a character–and an actress–who was nobody’s idea of a Good Wife, Hawks lost his nerve. That, his relatively lackluster hand with crowd scenes (a rather important deficiency in a Sword and Sandals epic filmed on location with the proverbial cast of thousands), and the absence of Yul Brynner, broke his twenty-five year run of commercial and critical success.

Though it lost money, Land of the Pharaohs was hardly a disaster on the first count. And it has gained defenders over the years, including some, like Martin Scorcese and me, who agree on little else. Hawks’ gift for interior scenes and memorable sets is intact and Collins’ performance is a rejection of camp, ferocious enough that it took a quarter-century, middle-age, and the damp squab of real camp on television, for anyone to find any version of it, or her, the least bit acceptable.

I’ll always revisit Land of the Pharaohs.

I’ll always wish it was a little bit better.

I’ll always get at little restless, waiting for the jolt of energy Collins’ entrance gives it and I’ll always marvel at how she sustains it in every scene until the false ending lets her down.

And I’ll always reserve a smile for those who think mankind–and Hollywood–not knowing what to do about Vulgar Sex is the same as having left it all safely behind.

JENNIFER ANISTON DRIVES THE CRIT-ILLUMINATI CRAZY….AGAIN

Jennifer Aniston has a movie out this week. A couple of years back, when The Switch opened, I rounded up a few typical quotes from the media’s heavy thinkers. And even though We’re the Millers is pretty clearly headed for “hit” status, nothing has really changed.

So…first a few quotes from back then:

“OK, something will go wrong, like Jennifer Aniston will have one too many total flops, but she’s still a member of that club. And she will still manage to … like a star forming in the universe, things will swirl around her and it will suddenly solidify into another vital tasteless rom-com, a little glitter next to the Crab Nebula,” (Rupert Everett, coherent as ever, 12/30/10)

“Overall Jennifer Aniston has been in as many movie flops as hits so Rupert Everett may have a point.” (Joe Dorish, Yahoo.com 12/30/10)

The Switch, a new movie in which Jennifer Aniston is impregnated by Jason Bateman and a turkey baster, grossed an abysmal $8.3 million this weekend, good enough for 8th place at the weekend box office, behind the likes of Lottery Ticket and Nanny McPhee Returns. Is this officially the end of Jennifer Aniston’s run as a major movie star? Or was she even one to begin with? The critics are turning against her.

“Marketing genius ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons was the first to put Aniston’s career under the microscope in his column last Friday. Noting that only two of Aniston’s last eleven releases have been solid performers at the box office, Simmons points to the ‘Angelina/Brad/Jennifer love triangle, which is like Brett Favre’s comeback/retirement/comeback routine multiplied by 10, but has been cruising along for twice as long’ as the crucial element to Aniston’s success. She may never have opened a picture on her own, but by staying in the tabloids she guarantees ‘built-in publicity buzz for every crappy movie she promotes.’ Personal strife, according to Simmons, is Aniston’s bread-and-butter. Without it, she would have already faded to the ‘B- and C-list obscurity’ of her former “Friends” co-stars.

“A Mystery For The Ages: Patrick Goldstein of The Los Angeles Times isn’t sure how Aniston’s movie career can be considered over when she never had one in the first place. ‘When it comes to enduring mysteries,’ observes Goldstein, ‘it’s hard to come up with something more mystifying than how Jennifer Aniston became a movie star…She’s made an almost-unbroken string of forgettable movies that have rarely made a lot of money.’

“Critic-Proof At Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeff Wells calls Simmons’ rundown of Aniston’s woes ‘the best piece of analysis I’ve read about any actor’s career in a long time.’ It was even more welcome, Wells suggests, since those inside the industry are plagued by Aniston-fatigue. ‘I could argue that the failure of ‘The Switch’ to make more than $8.3 million at 2010 location ($4125 per screen average) betokens or foretells the gradual collapsing of the Jennifer Aniston brand,’ writes Wells, ‘or I could just let it go. I’m glad that Bill Simmons didn’t.’

(Ray Gustini, The Atlantic 8/23/10)

“Overall Jennifer Aniston’s biggest rival in Hollywood and in real life is Angelina Jolie and without any doubt Angelina Jolie is a bigger celebrity and a bigger box office movie draw.” (Joe Doris, 12/30/10)

AND NOW LET US ALL TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND REVIEW…

Jennifer Aniston’s actual career (not counting animated voice parts, cameos, pre-fame Z-budget appearances, etc.) (NOTE: Also not updated to include the most recent releases by either her or Angelina Jolie as there is not world enough and time…These are the stats as they stood when The Switch was in theaters three years ago):

Aniston–Total Number of movies: 24

Number which made back production budget on domestic box office alone: 17 (including 9 of her last 11….including The Switch)

Number which made an overall profit based on public accounting: 18

Angelina Jolie’s actual career (ditto):

Total Number of movies: 25

Number which made back production budget on domestic box office alone: 5

Number which made an overall l profit based on public accounting: 11

There are probably about ten thousand theories as to why virtually no one questions Angelina Jolie’s status as a “real” movie star even though she:

1) Has turned a profit well less than half the time.

2) Has earned back the production budget a staggeringly low 20 percent of the time on domestic box office (the best measure of whether the American public–which, believe me, is the only one any of these “pundits” remotely care about–actually goes for somebody).

3) Has had numerous major outright flops: At least seven by my count, and while no one can hold her directly responsible for all of them, you ultimately have to take the blame if you’re going to get the credit for the hits. (BTW: I clinically define “major outright flop” as any movie that lost what even Hollywood is likely to consider a whole lotta money.)

4) Has needed the foreign box office to lift her to profitability more than half the paltry number of times she’s managed to achieve it. (Granted foreign money is just as bankable as domestic, but I have a feeling that the “club” Rupert Everett seems to know so little about would rather have it be the gravy than the meatloaf.)

Leaving aside the hallucinatory quote above about the relative “celebrity” status of the two**, there are probably another fifty thousand theories as to why virtually no one (in the media at least) concedes that Jennifer Aniston is–or ever has been–a “real” movie star, even though she:

1) Has turned a profit 75 percent of the time (to Jolie’s 44 percent)

2) Has earned back the hard-core production budget (the number all business people care about first and foremost in every for-profit enterprise ever designed by man) on domestic box office alone 71 percent of the time (to Jolie’s 20 percent) in a career of almost exactly the same length.

3) Has had only one verifiable outright “flop” (i.e., Rock Star) in fifteen years (Note: you could add Wanderlust since, though neither was the sort of colossal flop Jolie has specialized in).

4) Has only once (Rumor Has It) needed the foreign box office to earn back the basic budget on her extremely high percentage of profitable movies (she’s otherwise strictly fallen or risen on domestic box office except for the break even Office Space, which I lifted to the profitable category on the safe assumption that its returns from DVD sales and rentals are somewhere close to obscene. For the record, I gave Jolie a break on several close calls as well and with far less reason.)

Since I haven’t seen my own particular theory laid down anywhere else in the course of my extensive (though by no means exhaustive) research, I’ll just say that this serious disconnect from reality might just possibly have something to do with the kind of movies Aniston makes.

By “kind of movies” I mean the genre (mostly romantic comedy) but also the actual plots.

Those usually involve her choosing a man over a boy (see Picture Perfect or Rumor Has It–where the boy is a fifty-ish Kevin Costner–for prime examples) or, more commonly, forcing a boy to become a man (see The Switch and The Breakup and, subsequently, both Wanderlust and We’re the Millers, not to mention the Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler vehicles).

Or, as she says in Office Space: “Come back when you grow up.”

Since she says some version of this in practically every one of her movies, I don’t think it’s an accident that a media dominated by arrested adolescents to whom these are probably the most frightening words in the English language (with “marketing genius” Bill Simmons being a poster-child example) consistently dumps on the movie star who, on screen at least, keeps insisting they should grow up, while giving a pass to the movie star–once heralded by many serious people as the actress of her generation, a judgment most of them would likely now rather have you forget–who has just as consistently pandered to teen-age fantasies (see Salt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the Lara Croft franchise, Wanted and Gone in 60 Seconds–a list which, oh by the way, accounts for every one of Jolie’s major American hits.)

Nor is it any way surprising that the schoolboys keep congratulating each other in print on their own tough-mindedness in rebelling against what is actually the prevailing narrative. That’s all very standard stuff.

And I’m not passing a blanket judgment on the movies themselves. I like having my teen-aged fantasies pandered to as much as the next Earthling and Aniston’s rom-coms, while collectively more worthwhile than her critics care to admit, are certainly a deeply mixed bag.

I’m just suggesting that the manner in which a conversation dominated by middle-aged white males clinging to eternal boyhood consistently cooks the books between these two is a convenient window into a certain collective mind-set.

And one more good reason why no one should ever trust the purveyors of said mind-set on this or any other subject.

**–I don’t recall the exact quote, but I heard Adam Sandler, who is at least as big a “celebrity” as Angelina Jolie, give an interview when he was doing the publicity for Just Go With It and he basically said: “If you’re under any illusion about being famous, go stand next to Jen for thirty seconds.”

….And just how Aniston has gotten away with being both Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor is a topic for some other day when I want to contemplate the cheap and gaudy possibility of Camille Paglia’s head exploding.