Tag: Hollywood

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Phoenix at a Nadir


So, I’m at a diner last Sunday and the Oscars are on. But the sound was off. Which I considered Thomas Aquinas’ Sixth Proof of the Existence of God. So, as I glance up at the screen and the first award’s announced, Brad Pitt bounds onstage to grab it and I’m thinking “The man is 56. His hair’s gotta be getting a lifetime achievement award.” Actually, it was for best supporting actor, but either way, my not caring could’ve been measured in mega-tonnage till a waitress gets up and, much to my chagrin and over my internal screams of “C’mon, God, I’ll do anything you want if she just doesn’t–,” but it’s too late. She grabs the remote and doesn’t just flip on the sound, she turns it up to its “This is gonna ruin Richard’s night” level (for “Spinal Tap” fans, yes, that is higher than 11). Now, I’m in show business so I understand all the inner technical workings of how things go, but for the uninitiated, you know what happens when you turn the sound up on an awards show? Actors speak and you’re forced to listen to them!

Now, I’m not saying actors are dumb … just … lacking breadth. And … depth. But, to be fair, if you’re a world-class talent in anything, you’re probably focusing on that from a very early age and aren’t a walking library. My guess is as a teenager Serena Williams probably thought “Anna Karenina” was the Estonian qualifier she bageled the hell out of in Berlin last week.


Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Super Bowl: A Data Point on the Re-emergence of Roman Decadence


A friend of mine recently lent me a book called The Social Results of Early Christianity, by C. Schmidt, Professor of Theology in Strasburg. The impetus for the book, written in the 19th century, was an essay contest proposed by the French Academy “to trace the influence of Charity on the Roman World during the first centuries of the Christian era.” The first third of the book is devoted to describing various facets of Roman society and culture as they existed at the appearance of Christianity.

The parallels of pre-Christian Roman culture to the ethos of secular Western culture in our own age are numerous. Chapter 3, section 5 addresses the “Occupations of Slaves. Actors. Gladiators.” The Super Bowl, with its garish halftime show, represents a unique confluence of the actors and gladiators in American entertainment. Schmit’s description of the state of Roman entertainment I found especially pertinent:


Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. February Group Writing: Advice from Popular Culture


From Hollywood to kids’ cartoons, to sappy inspirational Facebook posts, entertainment culture is full of advice on how to live our lives. Imagine the consequences of taking this wisdom seriously. Actually, you don’t need to imagine: our culture is littered with living examples of men and women who embraced the subtle and not-so-subtle popular messages. Still, it would be interesting to flip through a book called A Year of Living Hollywood. Here is some of the most common propaganda of social media, celebrities, and movies:

1. Follow your heart. This pretty saying comes first because it’s our culture’s favorite. I remember years ago asking a wise older friend for advice about getting married, and this is what she said to me, very tenderly though: Follow your heart. I was confused. My very problem was that I had followed my heart, and it wasn’t getting me anywhere. What I needed was some sensible input, help weighing up the pros and cons and identifying flags of all hues in this relationship.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Hollywood: The Scene That Celebrates Itself


Actor and comedian Ricky Gervais did the unthinkable Sunday night: he made an awards show interesting. As millionaire celebrities and billionaire moguls congratulated each other at the start of another tedious awards season, Gervais took a flamethrower to the house of cards.

In this room are some of the most important TV and film executives in the world. People from every background. They all have one thing in common: They’re all terrified of Ronan Farrow. He’s coming for ya. Talking of all you perverts, it was a big year for pedophile movies. Surviving R. Kelly, Leaving Neverland, Two Popes. Shut up. Shut up. I don’t care. I don’t care.


We’ve got three compelling martinis to help you ease back into that first day back at work or school. Join Jim and Greg as they applaud comedian Ricky Gervais for hammering Hollywood for its hypocrisy and self-importance at the Golden Globe Awards Sunday evening on topics ranging from Harvey Weinstein to Jeffrey Epstein to Chinese sweat shops. Jim also urges President Trump to stop threatening to strike cultural sites in Iran because military targets make much more sense and discussing cultural sites could turn other nations against us. And they cringe as the video of Julian Castro endorsing Elizabeth Warren comes across as inauthentic, with Castro coming to Warren’s house, telling Warren how wonderful she is, and Warren agreeing with him.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Hollywood Directors in the Golden Era: 3 Autobiographies


I picked Raoul Walsh’s “Each Man in His Time” (1974) off the shelves. I very seldom look at it; it’s one of the least re-read of my film books, scoring maybe one and a half re-reads in forty-five years. Walsh, born in 1887, worked as a young man for D.W. Griffith and his career as a director was already fifteen years on when sound came in. Amazingly, his work would span all the way from “Birth of a Nation” to the end of the Fifties. Walsh credibly manages to equate the end of his directing career with the end of classic Hollywood altogether, and ties in the deaths of Humphrey Bogart (1957), Errol Flynn (1959), Clark Gable and Gary Cooper (1961) as being the last of the major stars of the classic period.

Like many autobiographies, we can guess that some of these detailed memories were written years before Walsh turned 87, and I have no doubt that some or even a lot of it is exaggerated. But this is one of those books where you have to say “If even a third of this is true…” as Raoul Walsh stands on the set of “Intolerance”, rides with Pancho Villa, directs Fox’s first sound film, discovers John Wayne, has an affair with Pola Negri and about, oh, 500 other women, goes to the racetrack with Winston Churchill, becomes a regular guest at San Simeon, and takes Jimmy Cagney to the “Top of the world, Ma!” Quite a life.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Weinstein, Messing, and McCormack: A Study on Power and Control


“Will and Grace” was a TV show that aired about a decade and a half ago. It was based around the lives of four friends, two of whom were gay, living in New York. The show was funny; it was good, it made me laugh. NBC decided to bring it back, but this time their goal was to do as many seasons as they could bashing President Trump and his supporters. And bash they did, for three entire seasons. And it was as boring as can be.

Eric McCormack and Debra Messing play the title characters, Will and Grace. Now McCormack and Messing have both taken their roles as Trump bashers off the set and into the streets of Twitter.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. You Say You Want a Revolution, Part 3


In a recent post, we revisited fifty years ago, a cultural turning point with many similarities to today’s, a tumultuous, angry year when much of Hollywood saw mass audiences respond to Easy Rider and M.A.S.H. But inadvertently, it triggered a powerful law-and-order backlash whose inexhaustible fury would ensure that Archie Bunker, General Patton, Dirty Harry, Popeye Doyle, Vito Corleone, and Charles Bronson would provide the most iconic screen moments of the early Seventies.

To understate things, it sure seems today like a lot of people in this country, tens of millions of media consumers, are frustrated by their relative powerlessness. The Woke Market is not as big or bigger than the rest of America put together, and yet you’d never know that if you looked at a list of current films or TV shows. We can debate the reasons why, but there’s clearly an unsatisfied need to hotwire a path to cultural change, because whatever market mechanism is sending a corrective signal to the media, it’s not reaching enough of a real response.


Marshall Herskovitz, writer, director and producer (thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Dangerous Beauty), drops by to talk about how he got his start in Hollywood, when he decided he’d rather fail and leave the business than keep writing things that didn’t feel like him, the TV movie that kick-started his and partner Ed Zwick’s careers into high gear, and what kind of reboot he would do for thirtysomething if the opportunity arose. Learn why he, Ed, and Winnie Holzman wound up sobbing when they had to do the DVD commentary for the My So-Called Life pilot, why they were terrified of Claire Danes, and why the way we define risk is so destructive in our society. Marshall shares how making Dangerous Beauty (one of Bridget’s all-time favorite films) was his all-time favorite experience in the business, what the film meant to him, and the reason for its incredible longevity after initially bombing at the box office. They discuss everything from the extreme the changes in the movie and television industry in the last 10 years, to the truth about climate change, how Democrats are getting the messaging wrong, the difference between investment and cost, and how the economy is like a bottle of wine. Don’t miss Bridget’s story about Jared Leto and Marshall’s story about Brad Pitt.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Silver Screen? Or Distant Mirror?


Half a century ago, as the final year of the Sixties unfolded, Hollywood studios looked at the youthful trends of the previous year and loaded themselves up with inexpensive campus political dramas, left-wing fare that would be ready for release in the spring and summer of 1970. “The Strawberry Statement”, “The Revolutionary”, “Revolutions Per Minute” and “Zabriskie Point” were one-sided bets on what audiences at the dawn of the Seventies would be eager to pay for—sympathetic, appealing violent dramas and coarse comedies about campus rioters who sleep around and curse a lot. To the chagrin of Hollywood planners, who were usually stuck with two-year lead times on feature film projects, they bet wrong. There will always be an audience for violent drama and coarse comedy; it was the “rioters” aspect, the anti-police violence as entertainment that proved to be an astoundingly tin-eared wrong step on Hollywood’s part. It would cause an enduring, decades-long counter-reaction that at the time was dismissed as a transient “backlash”.

The Vietnam War was still near its height as springtime ’70 brought on the protesting season, as it’s been in much of western Europe since the 1830s or thereabout. The first Earth Day was planned for April 22, and would be the most peaceful of the year’s mass demonstrations. The campuses were already primed to explode. Mine literally did in March, when a homemade bomb killed its radical builder and leveled a Greenwich Village townhouse. When President Nixon announced an incursion into Cambodia—okay, raids, an invasion, let’s not be too fussy—the semester was nearly over anyway and many campuses, although non-violent, were also non-functional. When four students were killed at Kent State University on May 4th, school ground to a halt all over the country.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. You Say You Want a Revolution, Part 2


Here’s what this post, and last week’s post are about: The cultural changes in the media that Ricochet readers don’t like didn’t happen by pure accident. They took decades. We propose equally patient, persistent, but ruthlessly effective efforts to push culture in another direction over the next 20-plus years. We are chewing over how to create or capture a big chunk of tomorrow’s media and the arts. It’s a myth that nothing can be done about the entertainment business. Success is Hollywood’s definitive history teacher.

@drewinwisconsin raises a tough point. He said, “So that’s probably why it’s important to try to change or break the current system rather than try to build an equivalent system that will have no users. Consider how much power and scope Google+ had, and it still couldn’t survive against Facebook. And that’s Google — already a malignant influence.”


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How the Nerds Took Revenge


We were all once nerds, or cool kids, jocks, bullies, dorks, AV cart-pushers, theater geeks, motorheads, preppies, break dancers, valley girls, wastoids, heshers, skaters, surfers, outcasts, and teacher’s pets. Microchip technology was nascent as we learned the term “hacker” from Matthew Broderick changing his grades via modem, while Anthony Michael Hall demonstrated how hyperactive geeks could end up with the Homecoming Queen.

We delighted in watching nerds take revenge. After all, those narcissistic jocks deserved it, which became an oft-repeated trope in many films of the 1980s. The smartest, but most socially awkward would exact vengeance on anyone who previously shunned them, both men and women. While comedic in tone and extremely satisfying to watch at the time, there’s no doubt that said retribution has since morphed into something darker; the entitled psyche of yesterday’s and today’s disenfranchised.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Blacklist! Hollywood Communists 4


Stars Face Blacklist” screams the headline. Most people who’ve heard of the blacklist will immediately think of Joe McCarthy in 1954, of witch hunts and ruthless right wing inquisitors. But look again: the headline is from 1945, the earliest known use of the term in Hollywood. It’s the Hollywood Left threatening to boycott non-striking actors—in other words, it’s the opposite of what you’d think. A lot of what people know about that period just isn’t so. Communist writer Lillian Hellman later called it “Scoundrel Time”. But a far better writer, Mary McCarthy, famously said of Hellman, “Every word she ever wrote is a lie, including “and” and “the””.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. ACF Critic Series #27: Classical Music and Evil


Today, I am joined by Theodore Gioia for a conversation on how classical music became the favored soundtrack for evil, villainous masterminds. What happened to classical music in Hollywood! How did we get from classical music ennobling movies and deepening characterization — to Hannibal Lecter murdering people to Bach’s Goldberg variations! We start from his fine essay over at The American Scholar. You can also find more of his essays over at his site!


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Hollywood Communists 3, Part 1: The Road to the Blacklist


You look at news film of a violent event and it’s chaos; in the blur of shaky, confused images it’s hard to tell who is hitting who, who is on which side, and who started the riot. But sometimes you can learn a great deal going over it frame by frame. You see the subtle flash of a concealed knife, a face in the distant background being shoved out of sight, and a group of men who always seem clustered around someone getting a beating. Suddenly you can see what really happened as it was experienced on the ground, in the middle of the fight. Run the film again. Now it all seems so obvious; why didn’t you see it the first time?

In Episode 1, early Hollywood was undergoing the tumult of entering the sound era, then the Depression, and the left wing of the labor movement began a war between film craft unions that mirrored the harsher, more realistic conflicts that were beginning to seep onto the silver screen. In Episode 2, we took a close look at one specific case study, the Disney strike of 1941, how it was a high water mark of forced organizing, the backlash it caused, and what the longer range consequences were. Now, in Episode 3, we get to the main event, the top bout of the fight card, the real story of the Hollywood blacklist, told in two parts. As before, a number of sources will be pulled in, but the most useful source on this controversial period is Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley’s “Hollywood Party” (1998, Prima Publishing). He didn’t just do a “conservative” job; he wrote a detailed, definitive, nailed-down final chapter in this sorry saga that should receive more attention from film historians.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Hollywood Communists part 2: The Disney Strike


Strikers confront non-strikers at the front gate of Walt Disney Studios, June 1941. News photo via El Lado Oscuro de Disney. All rights belong to copyright holder. 


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. By the Time I Got to Hollywood, the Communists Were Disappearing


Lester Cole, member of the “Hollywood Ten”, on the Moscow River with our Soviet guides/handlers. July 1985, weeks before he died.

Maybe I should explain that title. I’m talking old school, OG, bottled in bond Hollywood Communists. Stalin, that kind of stuff. I’ve known a few. This begins a short series of sketches and book reviews about their lives and times in motion pictures.


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I’ve finally seen this movie, which is supposed be the movie that A Star is Born used as its inspiration. While the premise is similar, I would say that to go beyond saying that the first version of a Star is Born may have been suggested by this movie is stretching things. They are two […]

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Real Story Behind ‘On the Basis of Sex’


The new highly publicized movie “On the Basis of Sex” offers a somewhat fictionalized account of the early professional life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Intermingled with her life story, the film presents an idealized narrative of her early legal crusade against gender discrimination, fought in part with her late (and most devoted) husband, the eminent tax lawyer Martin Ginsburg.

Ginsburg argued or participated in several of the early influential cases on sex discrimination and went on to found the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. When she started teaching, she was one of only about 20 female law professors in the United States. She was very much a pioneer in the women’s rights movement, motivated by her own life experiences. She had on numerous occasions been rejected from positions solely on grounds of her sex, notwithstanding her great academic distinction, and was well aware that similar obstacles fell in the path of other women who sought to make a career in the law. The film goes into these issues in depth, but I shall not dwell on them here. I am a lawyer, not a film critic, so I will comment only on Justice Ginsburg’s substantive arguments against gender discrimination