The Hollywood Scene

Dear David,

Hooray from Hollywood, where we have by now totally forgotten that this week is about movies and are all in a collective state of hair and make-up. Your letter arrived as if from Katmandu, startling with its pointed critiques on the nominated candidates and all the attendant social controversies du jour. For us, that was last week—punctuated by John Nash’s appearance on 60 Minutes Sunday night—after which we voted on Monday and then proceeded directly to the wardrobe trailer. We’re very “next” around here. Thanks for reminding me what this is all about, and more on the real stuff in a minute.

But the hoopla here, the commercialization of our stars, the cross-promotion of fashion, media, and movie celebrity have become so systemic, so overt, so managed and packaged and branded, that the Academy Awards are in jeopardy of becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the global beauty business. The degree of it—the fever pitch of the Joan Rivers cry: “WHO ARE YOU WEARING!!??” of designers and famous hairdressers hawking their diamonds and gowns in hotel suites for free—threatens to drown out the actual point of all this until the very last second: Sunday night. The only good news about the vaunted red carpet is once they’re all inside, it’s over and it’s about movies again. So first the hoopla:

As soon as our votes are in, the New Yorkers take over. In the past few years, since the demise of Swifty’s Oscar Party and the rise of carpetbagger magazine editors anointing themselves as Hollywood’s hosts, the arrival of the New Yorkers paradoxically means the onset of Hollywood’s Oscar season. One first spots Elizabeth Salzman of Vanity Fair on the Monday American flight, Graydon Carter at Orso’s, Julian Schnabel at Bob Evans’ screening room on Wednesday (also hosted by Graydon Carter), where one hears Ingrid Sischy will show up at Schnabel’s opening at Gagosian Thursday. Diane Von Furstenburg is jetting in for husband Barry Diller’s Saturday-afternoon soiree, where one can count on more New Yorkers in attendance than natives. What does it mean? And why do I want to move back to NY when it seems to be coming here? It is slumming? Nostalgie de la boue? The old jet-set deeming our Academy Awards night the international black-and-white party of the moment? Or, a more horrifying thought—the Liza wedding? Perhaps our brass-ring night is the only thing we have worth co-opting! And what about those who toil here each and every day and don’t get invited to their own company-town soiree? Or invited to the weeklong spa at L’Ermitage where Frederick Fekkai and Chanel are offering free makeovers and martinis? Deciding among free jewels from Van Cleef & Arpels? Or given free Esplanades from Cadillac, G4s from Apple—the beauty angle here, please?—with Grey Goose Vodka loosening everybody up as they receive Botox injections from the town’s premier cosmetic dermatologist?

Schadenfreude is the prevailing wind in the atmospherics this year, and the New York media’s appropriation of the event doesn’t help. Everyone but everyone (except people who adored Moulin Rouge, herein referred to as Moulin Rougeies) hated—or purports to hate—all the movies this year. (Unless they are nominated or represent someone who is.) My votes this year were protest votes in a way—in many categories I voted for people I just root for, bereft of a real rooting interest. Many of my colleagues did the same, without an abiding passion for a particular film. Many are rooting for the very unlikely upsets, but we are divided on who they should be.

My theory is that, because this is the year we began to see the effects of last year’s strike, only two movies were released that would have been nominated in any ordinary year, Lord of the Rings and A Beautiful Mind, the classic academy brand. I would suggest this is one of the reasons two of your favorite movies are surprisingly nominated this year. The dearth of excellent mainstream product, inhibited by the strike deadline for production, allowed more indie fare to get notice, giving critical darlings more room to breathe. Fox—the Lucky Rougies—and Universal are clearly the most interested parties, and I personally think that Miramax has gotten a bad rap on this one because they’re such good copy, and likely high-profile Oscar hypers. Some say that In the Bedroom wasn’t Harvey’s pet and thus hasn’t gotten his full throttle. The scuttlebutt says that The Shipping News was his big entry this year, and it didn’t leave the port. But I am not a reporter, so who knows?

I think the controversy was generated not in the industry, but in the press for both legitimate (A.O. Scott and Suellentrop) and salacious (Matt Drudge) reasons. And I think the movie also got a bad rap for it, the hideous anti-Semitism swipe being the one clearly designed to irk and manipulate the academy. The academy may be oddly provincial, but it is not stupid, and all this can work in the frontrunner’s favor, backlashwise. And the can of worms that results from making a mainstream movie out of a real life befuddles and constrains me consistently in my work, so I am very sympathetic to the filmmakers’ dilemma on this subject. As Scott pointed out yesterday, it is a complex issue, one that comes up over and over again, highlighting a chasm between the journalist’s world view and the filmmaker’s, with respect to “biography.” There is the journalist’s master: the truth, and what movie-makers like call the film’s “emotional truth,” often rationalized by the term “higher truth.” We don’t and can’t make documentaries, so we must find the emotional metaphor that can connect a theme with the audience, our master. It works, it seems, when simplifying the narrative lines of the life don’t betray it—or trivialize it. Herein is the legitimate debate. Does the ending represent a genuine higher truth, the point to the life, the point the filmmaker was reaching for? It was the simple cure for schizophrenia that infuriated many about the adaptation of A Beautiful Mind, but the pathos of Crowe’s performance, the exquisite rendering of disorientation, hit its own emotional truth. It could easily be enough for Best Actor, but for Best Picture? We will see.

Boy, have you changed my mood. I better return to my hair and make-up mode: Tonight is the big industry party I plan to attend this weekend, as it is the last non-corporate, traditional Hollywood hosted bash in town: Ed Limato’s yearly “casual but chic” do. This year I almost didn’t get invited because I couldn’t close a deal with his client, but all’s well that ends well, in love and war and hair and make-up and all that.

Talk to you tomorrow, with an incisive report on the meaning of casual chic,