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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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movies about Hollywood

Posted 02-13-2010 at 02:27 PM by TommyJohn
Updated 03-13-2010 at 02:34 PM by TommyJohn

I find that I love movies about Hollywood-I just love the entire creative process from start to finish and I like to know about the wheeling and dealing just as much as I like to watch and analyze movies. Even movies about actors and actresses hold my attention. I guess it is the frustrated creative genius in me. OK, "genius" is taking it a bit far. I am like Salieri-blessed with the desire to come up with ideas and stories and camera shots and what not, but the actual execution of them would make Ed Wood seem like Orson Welles in comparison to me. I think there are seeds of talent in me-just seeds. Tiny ones. I am not a Scorsese or Kubrick.

That being said, here are some of my favorite movies about Hollywood.

Ed Wood-I am no fan of Tim Burton, as I have stated numerous times on this site, but I admit I like his salute to Hollywood's most inept filmmaker, Edward D. Wood, Jr. One reason I like it is because Burton, a grade A weirdo, actually toned down the real Ed Wood's weirdness for the movie.

The movie also does not mock or scorn Wood-it portrays him as a guy who loved movies and wanted to make them as badly as anyone-to the point where he fails to see that he is just no good at it.

Of course, the movie does take liberties with the truth-Wood was not as relentlessly upbeat as Johnny Depp portrays him, nor was he blind to the incompetent nature of his films. He simply worked with what he had been given. The film also shows Dolores Fuller pretty much breaking up with him after he gives her part in Bride of the Monster to another actress. The real Fuller claimed it was more complicated than that-the real Wood was an abusive alcoholic, and she also felt he was going nowhere.

The movie, despite its playing with facts, displays a lot of heart and a genuine affection for its characters.

Sunset Boulevard-Montgomery Clift was originally offered the part of the screenwriter-turned-gigolo, but I honestly cannot see anyone but William Holden playing it-his scratchy monotone was perfect for the weary, cynical writer who is about to pack it all in and head back to Ohio when a twist of fate brings him to the mansion of faded silent movie queen Norma Desmond.

He finds her alone in the sprawling mansion, served by a faithful, German-accented butler. A constant wind coming through the windpipes of an organ add to the eerieness. She is 50 years old and hasn't made a movie in 20 years-but that doesn't stop her from working on a screenplay that she is convinced will lead to her big comeback. He reluctantly agrees to stay and help her-big mistake. He is soon basically trapped-when he attempts to escape on New Year's Eve, he is lured back after she attempts suicide.

The best scene in the film comes when she returns to Paramount-scene of her glory days. She believes that Cecil B. DeMille has summoned her to make a new movie with her. Crew members, extras, and other members of the lumpen, non-Hollywood proletariat treat her as returning royalty, but higher-ups including Yes-man suck ups and Cecil B. DeMille himself (delivering his lines as if he is Moses giving the Commandments to the Hebrews) brush her off and send her on her way.

It all descends into madness and murder-Joe finally works up the gumption to leave, Desmond shoots and kills him in desparation. This leads to the unforgettable final scene-in which an insane Norma Desmond, convinced she is in the studio making a movie, announces she is "ready for her close up" and walks toward the camera and into movie history.

The Day of the Locust-One reviewer called Ed Wood "the movie that The Day of the Locust wanted to be." Perhaps, but I think that this John Schlesinger-directed film is underrated. It shows a group of people on the fringes of Hollywood, led by Karen Black's Faye Greenaway, an aspiring actress turned prostitute.

The main character is Tod Hackett, an Ivy Leaguer in Hollywood to try his luck at scene design. He gets nowhere until a chance meeting with a studio head gets his foot in the door. He also has a crush on Faye, who just uses men until she she gets bored, then discards them.

Another character is Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson. Yes, that is right-Homer Simpson. Homer is a retired hotel accountant who doesn't seem to have any real connection with anyone in the group-he meets and falls in love with Faye, who of course couldn't care less about him. He also is shy and afraid of women. His self-hatred boils over at a pivotal scene and leads to tragedy when he attacks a child star named Adore Loomis, memorably played by Jackie Earle Haley. Contrary to his name, Adore is truly the most vicious, hateful brat you will ever see in a movie. Adore hits Homer in the head with a rock, which leads Homer to chase and stomp him to death, all the while making noises like a gorilla. This happens on the outer fringes of a movie premiere. Members of the crowd see it, attack Homer and tear him apart, leading to a full-blown riot which is the climax of the movie.

Barton Fink-John Turturro is the title character in this, the Coen Brothers' mocking parody of Clifford Odets. Fink is a humorless, pretentious New York Jewish intellectual who wants to write plays that will "uplift the common man." His first such play gets rave reviews and leads to an offer to write for movies, which he accepts.

Once in Hollywood, Barton checks into a run down, seemingly deserted hotel run by an overly-friendly bellman (CHET!). The heat is stifling, the wallpaper is peeling and the walls are so thin he can hear what is going on next door.

Barton shows his true nature when he meets his neighbor, a burly, pleasant salesman played by John Goodman. Here is one of the "common" men that Barton professes an affection for, yet when the salesman (Charlie) extends his hand in greeting, Barton refuses to touch him, nor does he even invite him in to his room. Barton does warm up to Charlie, to whom he expresses his desire to "uplift the common man" with his work. He talks a good game, but when Charlie tells him "I could tell you some stories!" Barton doesn't have any interest in hearing them, preferring to hear himself talk about his grand plans for a new kind of drama.

Fink then meets the studio boss, an arrogant motormouth named Lipnick. The boss smooth-talks him in their first meeting and tells him how wonderful he is, then assigns him to write a Wallace Beery B movie about a wrestler. Barton also meets the producer of the movie, another mile-a-minute yapper named Giesler. He winds up with the worst case of writer's block in movie history-he can't type a letter. He seeks advice from an eminent Southern novelist-turned-screenwriter who turns out to be a drunken woman-abuser.

This is all a little too much for Barton, who shares a night of passion with the novelist's secretary/mistress/ghostwriter. She turns up dead, revealing his buddy Charlie as a demented serial killer. It all ends badly for Barton, who finally conquers his writer's block to churn out a story, (which actually has the same ending as his play on Broadway-it seems Barton knows only one kind of story) only to have it rejected by the suddenly abusive Lipnick ("We can't put Wally Beery in a fruity movie about suffering!") Barton ends up on a lonely stretch of beach with a lovely girl (whom he had seen earlier in a postcard).

I realize these explanations are convoluted, but I am writing in shorthand. I am not a good enough writer to analyze minutiae, nor to go into probing details about what makes these great movies. Another weakness of mine. I can only tell you why these movies appeal to me, or what is in them that I enjoy.
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