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Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Detailing Culture

The celebrity interview format is about as rigid as the Quran. It goes something like this: an obsequious reporter for a large publication contacts the people behind which ever celebrity they wish to “interview.” Arrangements are made. At the beckoning of the celebrity, the reporter is herded through a hotel suite along with other reporters, from other major publications. They take turns sucking up and asking non-threatening questions until they are waved away by the gods of the new Hollywood Mount Olympus.

The subsequent interview is published to coincide with the release of the star’s new film. It remains unclear to me who is best served by whom in this arrangement but I suppose that everyone makes out pretty well since the folks who own the movie companies also own the magazines. A lousy film sells a lousy magazine because we all want to hear about the star on the cover.

I read a recent issue of Details magazine I found at the gym. Matt Damon is on the cover and inside he half-heartedly promotes his most recent movie, The Bourne Identity. The interview is fatuous and reveals nothing of the star except the fact that he is rather dull, has absolutely nothing to say, and is unworthy of an interview. To his credit he seemed as bored with the whole process as I was reading about it.

Another issue of Premiere magazine was on the floor next to me. Tom Cruise graces its cover, and as I already know what he is about I didn’t bother picking it up. On some women’s magazine the swollen-lipped Angelina Jolie tries to look seductive. There is a vast industry that promotes this fast-growing religion of celebrity.

Personally, I like foreign movies for one simple reason: I don’t recognize the actors. Take a movie like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. For all I know those guys could actually be a bunch of two-bit London hoods. When I see a superstar on screen my minds yells out, “There’s Tom Hanks!” If the superstar does a decent job of acting I may gradually begin to sink into a position of suspended belief but often I just see the star on screen.

This familiarity with actors, this incestuous need to use the same handful of stars in films, has made the process more of a ritual, like a Catholic mass, than art. Forget about the rigid three act formulas, and the stock characters involved, the personnel alone severely limits the quality of Hollywood mainstream films.

When I listen in on other people’s conversations about film I generally hear the question, “Who’s in it?” The stars sell the movies, no ifs, ands, or buts. This is truly unfortunate. Hollywood is becoming increasingly more drawn to the big budget, big pay-off films. Fewer and fewer films are made for adults in mind. Film is a limited enough medium for the expression of thought without abandoning any idea unfit for teenage consumption. In a culture that shies further and further away from the novel I wonder how people articulate their own thoughts on the human condition. Movies like Star Wars and Spiderman don’t help. These are children’s movies, folks.

I’m not suggesting that we need to be elevated by every movie we see but once in a while this should happen. I am suggesting that everyone go out and see a low budget film, a film that has none of the standard Hollywood stable of actors. Even if this low budget movie sucks—and plenty do—at least you have caste a vote. A vote in favor of choice. A vote in favor of diversity. A vote for films for adults. The vote, a very American idea. I'm a big fan of voting.

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