Thursday, March 14, 2013
Heath Holland On...The Changing Face of Hollywood
The impetus for this column came from two things, the first being an article I recently read about the highest paid actors and actresses for the year of 2012. I was flabbergasted, perplexed, dumbfounded, and other words that mean the same thing upon learning that Adam Sandler made $37 million last year and has a net worth of $280 million. I knew he was popular and made a lot of money, but COME ON. Kristen Stewart scored $34.5 million just last year. What started out as me seeing the annual income for the top actors and actresses got me thinking about the nature of celebrity, where it came from, the stars of the past, and how the current crop stacks up against those of our silver-screened past. Is Hollywood forever?
16 hours and 4 pots of coffee later, I managed to pull out of that black hole and started a search to find out where modern celebrity culture came from. It led me to England…not by plane, but by Google. Professor of Cultural Studies Fred Inglis has written a book called A Short History of Celebrity. Now I only read the article ABOUT the book, not the book itself, but what I gleaned from it was that it can be traced back largely to the poets and artistic community of two hundred years ago, and that Lord Byron was the powdered-wigged equivalent of Russell Brand. I knew Byron was a bad boy, but I hadn’t really connected him (as Inglis does, among others) to being the start of what is now our current obsession with celebrities, i.e. how we pick people who have status and spend considerable amount of time observing them do things that we wish we were doing ourselves. We live vicariously through them. When Byron defrocked ladies (and men) on the boudoir floor and wrote scintillating poetry about it, his readers wanted to be him, or the lady (man), or both. And that’s what we still do, innit? We project ourselves into the lives of our celebrities. They are a standard by which we judge ourselves.
Alright, this is all getting a bit academic and heady. Let’s bring it back down to Earth. Do our current movie stars still have that IT factor that Byron did -- or Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, James Cagney, and Clark Gable after him? I’ve noticed that the older I get (I’m 66), I am less and less interested in the keeping up with movie stars. Not just their private lives (though sometimes I am, as you’ll see further down) but even their films. I rarely go see movies based on who is starring in them like I used to. Back in the day, I saw EVERYTHING Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro starred in. Now? Not so much. I still have a few favorites, but a lot of my heroes are either dying out or have ended up in Movie Jail for not bringing in audiences anymore.
These days, I’m thinking harder than ever before I put my money down for a ticket or a Blu-ray. Looking back on my movie-going trends last year, I mostly got out to the cinema for the stories and not for the stars. When a movie is sold on the power of an actor, I’m rarely interested anymore. “A powerhouse performance you have to see to believe!” No, that’s alright, I don’t think I do. And it’s particularly true of Oscar bait. The movies that the studios want me to see the most are the movies I have the least interest in lately. I’ve watched The King’s Speech a grand total of one time and have no idea when I’ll watch it again. I’ve no interest in The Artist or Argo. I’m not saying those aren’t great movies or that I’m superior -- or even right -- in my lack of interest (remember, my motto is “like what you like…”along with “he who smelt it, dealt it”). I’m just saying that I’m less and less interested in what hits cinemas each year. The premises, the actors and the actresses don’t have the pull on me that they used to. The glitz is wearing thin. How many of us even watched the Academy Awards this year? And of those who did, how many actually enjoyed it? More often than I’d like, I’m saying “F THIS MOVIE!” When I should be saying “F! This movie!
The last couple of years have brought me significant joy in discovering the stars of Hollywood past: Charlie Chaplin, Erol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, Gregory Peck, and Marilyn Monroe. Those actors are charismatic, extremely watchable, and masters of their craft, and I FEEL (I don’t KNOW) that there’s not nearly as much of that today as there used to be. Is it just me? Am I just turning into a curmudgeon? Am I the only one who finds today’s Hollywood to be far less enchanting than the tinsel town of yore?
Look, I dealt with this with my parents when I was growing up, too. I’d come home from seeing something like Lethal Weapon 4 or The Matrix and try to tell them how awesome it was. Sometimes they’d even give it a shot. But then they’d start in on how movies aren’t like they used to be, and go on and on about To Kill A Mockingbird and 12 Angry Men. And I’d say “No, you don’t get it! This is so cool! They introduce this thing called BULLET TIME and it’s like time just stops!” And they’d smile, nod and go back to watching AMC. We went to all kinds of movies when I was a kid, and went as a family to the late showing of Batman Returns on opening night. We saw A LOT of movies. But by the time I was 20, they had become almost completely uninterested in what was playing at the theater. These days they may see one movie a year because, to them, it’s not the Hollywood they remember. They say it’s all changed.
Now here I am, years and years later, and I’M saying to myself “This is not the Hollywood I remember!” And I’m kind of freaked out by that, because I don’t want to be closed off to all the wonderful things still coming out; at the same time, I’m having a harder and harder time relating to many of the movie stars and films coming out each year. It’s a weird thing, too, when you become older than the people that you’re watching on screen. Something seems to happen in your brain. I’m now noticing this in a lot of areas in my life. We just bought a car and the salesman was A CHILD to me. I wanted to ask him if his parents knew where he was. And in the movies we watch, I’m now older than many of the actors on the screen. Not all of them, but more than I’d like. I’m getting older, but Hollywood is getting younger. It’s not just freaking me out, it’s affecting how I am able to relate to the people in the movies I watch.
I’ve also recognized that the awe I have of celebrities has died out in recent years. As a teenager and into my early twenties, I avidly pursued and collected the autographs of movie stars. Few were obtained in person, but you’d be surprised what you can get with a well constructed letter and a return, postage paid, manila envelope. But now when I run across that binder full of 8x10 headshots covered in silver penned scrawl, I feel something very different. There’s a bit of regret for idolizing these people so much and treating them as larger than life. At the end of the day, they’re just like us. I go to my job, they go to theirs. They are not better than us or smarter than us. I’ve been to too many conventions and seen someone I idolized looking bored at a table all alone (there’s nothing more myth shattering than seeing, say, George Romero sitting all alone at a folding table looking sleepy), or worse, behaving like a child. These days if I ran into, say, George Clooney at a Starbucks, I’d think “Oh, cool, it’s The Cloon-Dog.” If we made eye contact, I may even give the universal nod of acknowledgement. But I don’t need an autograph or a photo, or even a handshake. He’s just a dude getting coffee. And he’s going to go to work filming a movie that I may or may not go see. He’s not a giant or a god. That perspective is relatively new for me, and I’m not even sure when it formed.
Why do we put these people on such a pedestal? Is it seeing them in our cinema, 40 feet tall and bulletproof? And then on the poster in the lobby? Why do we put so much of ourselves into them? Is it the passage of time that allows a legend to build? Jennifer Lawrence has only been at this for a few years. In a couple of decades, will she be as revered as Meryl Streep?
And while I’m asking questions, why do we love to build them up and put them on a pedestal and then smile when they fall off that pedestal? I love Robert Downey Jr. I love that he’s a redemption story, a morality tale come to life, but I HATE that about myself. He’s a human being, not one of Aesop’s Fables, and his has been a life full of trials and mistakes followed by redemption. And it all took place in the public eye. The same can be said of Charlie Sheen. Heaven help her, Lindsay Lohan has taken such a public beating that I wonder if she’ll ever be on our “nice” list again. These people’s private lives, their addictions and their failures (or successes, for that matter) are none of my business, but I find myself investing in spite of myself. I’m a sucker for a good redemption story. I try not to get involved in their personal lives, but it’s hard because that private life is on the front page of every magazine in the supermarket checkout line.
It’s nothing new. Remember, it all goes back to Byron. We idolize these people and make them into avatars. They know it, and play their part for us all too willingly and well. Keith Richards, while not an actor, is still a huge celebrity known the world over for his outrageous behavior. He said in his autobiography Life that he does a lot of the crazy things he does because people expect it of him -- they need him to be someone they can’t be and to do things that they can’t do, and he’s going to do his best to live up to those expectations. The same could be said for many of these actors and actresses.
Again, I’m straying. My original point is that I see fewer and fewer actors that I want to be LIKE and actresses that I want to be WITH, and I’m wondering if it’s just me or if you guys see it, too. I swear, it didn’t hit me until I saw the article about Adam Sandler and Kristen Stewart. That got me thinking about all the faces that I had thought were new, but who aren’t new anymore. They’re modern Hollywood. The Hollywood I grew up with in the '80s and early '90s is long gone. Patrick Swayze, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Julia Roberts, and Michelle Pfeiffer slowly gave way to a New Hollywood with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cameron Diaz, Julianne Moore, and Gwyneth Paltrow. But now they too are fading, and it’s changing again, but I feel farther from it and less connected this time. I don’t know where it’s all going. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Chris Hemsworth, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis: these are the new movie stars. Do they have that indefinable quality? Are they the Katherine Hepburns and Spencer Tracys of the future? I don’t know, but I do know that Hollywood has changed. It’s still changing, and I want to discuss it. Is the Hollywood of today still as relevant and magical as the Hollywood of days gone by? Do these actors still have the power to cast a spell over us? Does it still mean the same thing to you?