August 12

Celebrity Meltdowns

First it was Tom Cruise. Now it’s Mel Gibson. Some of Hollywood’s best and brightest just can’t seem to keep their facades together these days. What’s going on out there in LA-LA-Land?

Tom Cruise fired his publicist, hired his sister, started spouting Scientology and jumping on couches, and began berating everyone from a squirtgun-toting fan to Matt Lauer. Mel Gibson got smashed, messed around with a bunch of women who weren’t his wife, drove drunk and showed his chauvinist/racist side. Suddenly, the usually forgiving folks in Hollywood are avoiding Cruise like yesterday’s fashion and calling for boycotts of Gibson’s movies. Is this the same town that forgave Roman Polanski and Robert Downey Jr.?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely not defending Cruise or Gibson (or Polanski or Downey, for that matter!) As a liberal, I find intolerance abhorrent. Cruise’s tirade against anyone who takes anti-depressants or seeks psychiatric help revealed his intolerance and arrogance. Severely depressed or mentally ill people must do whatever they can to improve their lives; Cruise is not a doctor, and he has no right to flaunt his celebrity in order to forward his own warped opinions. Gibson’s anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments to the officers who arrested him for DUI confirm the rumors that have circulated around him for some time. Like his father, Gibson has an inherent dislike for Jewish people and a lack of respect for women.

Personally, I have never been a huge fan or either actor. I probably won’t go to any more of their movies. The overall Hollywood response to their behavior, though, still surprises and baffles me.

There seems to be little consistency in Hollywood’s reactions to celebrity snafus. Let’s look at some of the highlights and see if we can identify some kind of pattern. In 1921, Fatty Arbuckle was charged with the rape and subsequent death of a young startlet; although he was eventually acquitted, he became an outcast in Hollywood, socially shunned and professionally ruined. In 1952, Elia Kazan went to Senator Andrew McCarthy’s anti-Communist committee and “outed” many of his friends; when he was given a lifetime achievement award in 1999, Hollywood was still split about whether or not to forgive him. In 1977, Roman Polanski pled guilty to sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl then promptly fled the country; Hollywood has turned him into a martyr, setting him up as the innocent victim of an unjust system. Then there’s Robert Downey, Jr. who has been in and out of rehab for a decade and has been arrested on weapons charges as well; Hollywood gives him a standing ovation every time he shows up. Yeah, I just don’t understand.

And there’s another wrinkle in this sticky situation: Paris Hilton. Okay, I just used her name as shorthand for what I like to called the “Hollywood stupids.” But just think about all the idiots out there who are doing ridiculous crap ALL THE TIME: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Tara Reid, Colin Farrell. They are constantly getting drunk, getting high, getting divorced, getting arrested, getting naked. Constantly. And no one in Hollywood calls for boycotts of their work.

Why do some folks get away with really bad behavior all the time and Cruise and Gibson are instantly vilified for one or two unusual episodes? Is it because Hilton, Spears and company are younger? Well, Russell Crowe, who is older than these others and should know better, was quickly forgiven for his phone-throwing incident. Does Hollywood expect the best behavior only out of its truly talented? No, Robert Downey, Jr. contradicts that theory; he’s a Golden Globe winner, Academy Award nominee who’s been pardoned many times for his bad behavior. Does liberal Hollywood forgive only liberals? Well, Kazan was a renowned liberal who had once been a Communist party member himself, and he was thoroughly vilified. Does Hollywood reserve its disdain for misogynists only? I have two words for that idea – Jack Nicholson. Maybe it gets upset only with religious intolerance? Not quite: Leni Riefenstahl, a woman who produced documentaries and propaganda for Hitler, was honored at the 2004 Academy Awards.

I can’t make any sense of it. But I don’t have time to think about it much. I don’t even have time to go the movies more than three or four times a year! If I start making decisions about which shows I’m going to watch based on the morality, politics or values of the performers, I probably will just read a book instead. But then, there are those rumors about Mark Twain being an atheist…

August 10

A Trip to the Movie Theater

A lot of people have been complaining about movie theaters these past few years. Movie makers are upset that fewer people are going to the theater; customers are complaining that it’s too expensive and inconvenient. Critics whine that the public has no taste; the public replies that Hollywood has forgotten how to entertain us. Good points all.

Here’s an idea. Instead of talking about why we don’t go to the theater, let’s talk a little about why we do.

I’ve been to the cinema four times in 2006. That’s four times as many as in 2005 when the only film I saw was “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” This summer I’ve seen “The Da Vinci Code,” “Cars,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean II” twice. Okay, so what about these movies compelled me to spend the $10 a pop, find child care, burn my gas money, endure the lines, the crowds, and the interminable commercials and previews?

Both “Harry Potter” and “The Da Vinci Code” were film versions of good books that I had read. Plus, they were, for me, opportunities to go out and bond with my girl friends. My sister and I have a tradition of going to the midnight showings of all the HP movies. And another friend and I had both really enjoyed “Da Vinci” and wanted to see how the film compared.

“Cars” had the benefit of being from Disney/Pixar. My family has loved all of the Pixar movies. The marketing was cute and effective, and the reviews were good. Bottom line, though, my son wanted to see it and didn’t want to wait for it to come out on DVD.

Then there’s “Pirates.” I plunked down a total of $30 on this picture, so I think this one’s worth looking into. I saw the midnight showing with my sister the night it came out. I’ve been a longtime fan of Johnny Depp; my sister and I both used to work for Disney, and we love the ride which inspired the films. We were big fans of the first movie and were eagerly awaiting the sequel. It’s kinda goofy, but it’s sexy and funny and truly entertaining. I took my husband the very next day. We’ve been talking about going again with another couple we pal around with.

In the end, then, it’s more about the moviegoer than the movies. I attended these films more to be with the people I love than to see the movies themselves. The movies I chose had a personal connection to me and the people I went with: we’d read the book or ridden the ride that inspired them, enjoyed previous films from the series or the studio or the actor, worked for the company that produced them. We could have waited for the DVD as I did with “Wedding Crashers” or “40-Year-Old Virgin.” For certain movies, though, going to the theater is an event. I go to share a special experience with special people.

A few of my friends and I may go see Will Ferrell in “Talladega Nights.” The previews are really funny, and we could all use a laugh. And we do live in Indy – if we don’t go see a movie about racing, who will?