What Liberal Hollywood? posts
Sunday July 19, 2020
Would-Be Religious Conservative Mogul Denies that Religious Conservative Movies Already Exist
Recently on Fox News and its website, we apparently needed to know the following information:
And it's about time! Stupid liberal Hollywood. There's just no place for religious conservative filmmakers to tell their stories.
Except, of course, for Pure Flix Entertainment, which has produced and/or distrubted 88 such movies this century, including “God's Not Dead” (2014, $61m), “God's Not Dead 2” (2016, $21m), “Unplanned” (2019, $19m), “The Case for Christ” (2017, $15m), “Hillary's America” (2016, $13m), and “God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness” (2018, $5.7 m).
Then there's Affirm Films, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures. It distributed three religious films in the past three years: “All Saints,” “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” and “Overcomer.” The last is about a high-school coach who trains a troubled teen in long-distance running. It grossed $34 million in August 2019.
Other studios have also gotten in on the religious conservative action. This year, Lionsgate distributed “I Still Believe,” about Christian music star Jeremy Camp, which had the bad luck to open as the Covid pandemic was starting but still managed to gross $9 million opening weekend. Last year, IFC Films distributed “Mary Magdalene” ($124k) and 20th Century Fox distributed “Breakthrough,” which was that “my son broke through the ice, please pray for him” movie that featured, among others, Topher Grace, Dennis Haysbert and Josh Lucas. It took in a cool $40 million.
There's also just the plain religious stories, sans “conservative,” that Hollywood has told in recent years: “Noah,” “Silence,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” “The Nativity Story.” Hell, Tyler Perry's entire hugely successful career is based on telling Christian tales in modern settings. (Caveat: it's black people.)
And if none of that works for you, well, you can still check out mainstream Hollywood fare, in which, often, 1) two attractive white heterosexuals meet and fall in love, or 2) some American dude saves the world—generally with his NRA-approve firearm.
A few follow-ups we didn't get from host Maria Bartiromo. Does Sabato, Jr.'s promise about making movies by “religious conservatives” includes other religions besides Christianity? And do the people at Pure Flix Entertainment view Sabato Jr. as a potential partner, a rival, or just some doofus trying to steal their glory?
As for the idiot idea that religious conservatives are “blacklisted” in Hollywood? Just refer him to Clint, Arnold, and any number of right-wing stars doing regular work in Hollywood. If you can make money for someone in Hollywood, they‘ll hire you. If you’re a professional with a known face and schtick who won't waste anyone's time on set, they‘ll hire you. And if you’re neither of these things, then you're just like every other schmuck clawing for a piece of it. Welcome to the party, pal.
Monday May 18, 2020
Famous Hollywood Conservatives Say There's No Blacklist Against Hollywood Conservatives
John Milius: I‘ve been blacklisted as surely as anybody in the ’50s.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: I don't believe that much in a blacklisting idea because I have always been out there as a Republican. They don't care if you‘re Libertarian, if you’re an independent, if you decline to state if you‘re a Republican or a Democrat, that means nothing to Hollywood.
Clint Eastwood: They don’t care if you‘re—if you’re Lenin himself.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: In Hollywood, the only thing that means [anything] is money.
from “Milius” (2013), a documentary about writer-director John Milius
Friday March 20, 2020
Success at Any Price
Here's Otto Friedrich on John Howard Lawson, the first member of the Hollywood 10 to speak before HUAC, and a playwright before his Hollywood days:
Lawson's second Broadway production, Processional (1925), brought him success at the age of thirty. Subsequent titles tell a story: Loud Speaker (1927), The International (1928), Success Story (1932). Success lured him west, as it lured so many others, and the Hollywood titles began to tell a different story: Dream of Love (1928), Our Blushing Brides (1930), Bachelor Apartment (1931), Success at Any Price (1934) ...
He was the first president of the Screen Writers Guild, and he made no secret of his ideological views. Writing in New Theatre magazine in 1934, he announced that he had joined the Communist Party, and he added, “I do not hesitate to say that it is my aim to present the Communist position.” There was something sad about Lawson's efforts to “present the Communist position” on the screen. In 1938, the same year in which he wrote Algiers to introduce Hedy Lamarr, he also wrote Blockade, Walter Wanger's account of the Spanish civil war, which somehow failed to say which side was which. “This I accepted because it was the only way in which the picture could be undertaken,” Lawson said.
Not only did it fail to say which side was which, it failed to mention which country they were in, or that it was even a civil war; it actually seems like a war between different countries. So the great Hollywood movie about the Spanish Civil War that was made during the Spanish Civil War doesn't mention either “Spain” or “civil war.”
In a few grafs, Friedrich lays out the absurdity of the HUAC attacks. HUAC says it was concerned with communist infiltration of Hollywood and the messages these spies were lacing into movies. And yes, there were communists in Hollywood in the 1930s and '40s. But even the most vocal of them, given a dream project, still produced pablum.
The Coen brothers played off this nicely in “Hail, Caesar!”
Saturday March 07, 2020
HUAC and the Battle of 1898
Amid Otto Friedrich's great account of the Hollywood 10—the unfriendly witnesses to appear before HUAC in 1947, and the bluster back and forth—in his great book on Hollywood in the 1940s, “City of Nets,” is this appearance by the 11th member of the Hollywood 10, Bertolt Brecht, who, here, despite Friedrich's description, reminds me of nothing so much as Droopy Dog, disarming his opponents with a kind of lugubrious, disinterested stillness:
Brecht always looked a bit like a raccoon, or a fox, sharp-eyed, wary, quick, but never more so than now. He also smoked one of his cheap cigars. “I was born in Augsburg, Germany, February 10, 1898,” he said. The committee seemed strangely unready for him. “What was that date again?” Thomas* asked, as though he had missed something important. “Would you give that date again?” asked Stripling**. The date was repeated. Representative John McDowell*** echoed it: “1898?” Brecht repeated it: “1898.” The committee then offered Brecht an interpreter, David Baumgardt, a consultant in philosophy at the Library of Congress, and Stripling resumed his interrogation: “You were born in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, on February 10, 1888, is that correct?” Brecht docilely agreed to the misstatement. One of the attorneys, Bartley Crum, intervened to say that it was 1898. Brecht agreed again. “Is it ‘88 or ’98?” Stripling asked once more. “Ninety-eight,” Brecht said.
This account gave me great joy this morning.
* J. Parnell Thomas, U.S. representative from New Jersey's 7th district, and chairman of HUAC, who, a year later, would face corruption charges (relatives on the payroll, fraud, kickbacks, tax evasion), to which he would ironically plead the Fifth; he was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
** Robert E. Stripling, chief investigator for both HUAC and its forerunner, the Dies Committee. A civil servant, he resigned after Democrats took control of Congress again in January 1949. In a quote in the New York Times, he said he would return to Texas to rest and then “accept a position offered me in the oil industry.”
*** McDowell, a representative from Pennsylvania, wasn't re-elected in 1948 and committed suicide in 1957.
Saturday July 27, 2019
HUAC: ‘All We Are After...’
Rewatched this doc on the original Hollywood moguls the other night. Their lives should be a miniseries. Or you could make a good feature film out of it, maybe focusing on one mogul, maybe Louis B. Mayer, but keeping the same theme: fleeing pogroms in Europe for America, rising to fame and fortune in the nascent movie industry, creating stories that reflect that—full of American ideals and “the American dream”—while subsuming your entire Jewish background, only to face the pogrom again in the form of HUAC, which was led by a virulent anti-Semite and bigot, Rep. John E. Rankin of Mississippi. Then knuckling under. Then the sad final years. Mayer even thought about converting to Catholicism in the end. Did he lose himself? That's the question. Or a question.
We hear the following, by the way, as HUAC begins its investigation into communist infiltration of Hollywood:
The Committee has determined that the hearings shall be fair and impartial. We have subpoenaed witnesses representing both sides of the question. All we are after are the facts.
Not so much, it turns out.
Friday March 22, 2019
Taylor wasn't the target.
The original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” movie was co-written by Michael Wilson, who also wrote “A Place in the Sun,” “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” and who had been blacklisted during the 1950s, so he didn't get initial proper credit for the original “Bridge” or even “Lawrence.” Born and raised in Oklahoma, Wilson was a U.S. Marine during World War II. After HUAC declared him an unfriendly witness, he moved with his family to France. About the nicest fallback position you could imagine.
I didn't know any of this until I began reading “Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002.” In the beginning of that book, authors Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner argue that, in “Planet,” Dr. Zaius cross-examining the chimpanzee scientists Cornelius and Zira is a kind of HUAC moment. Cornelius finds the ancient human civilization, Zira determines there's no physiological reason for humans to be mute, and Zaius wants these discoveries discredited. Taylor (Heston) is his excuse to do so. His target isn't Taylor, in other words, but the scientists and science generally.
“Your case was preordained,” he says to Taylor. “You made it possible for me to expose” the chimpanzees.
This is the part that really knocked me for a loop:
In Wilson's inner narrative, then, there was another warning accompanying the larger one against nuclear war contained in Serling's famous ending, when Taylor finds the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. The inner warning was addressed to the liberals of the Cold War: you may think they are after Communists, but in fact they are after you.
I'd always thought liberals like Edward G. Robinson getting entrapped and having to beg for redemption from the likes of Ward Bond, and often not finding it, was a bug of HUAC and the blacklisting system; according to this insight, it was a feature. That road, discredited though it was by the 1960s, eventually led to the “liberal Hollywood” attacks of today. The Breitbarts of the world don't need the communist cover anymore.
Tuesday January 08, 2019
What Liberal Hollywood? Part 101
“We‘re just so divided right now. Even in the identity of Hollywood as being the liberal place, when you’re in Hollywood, you know that's not all true. In fact, if you look at Ronald Reagan, he was not liberal, Clint Eastwood not liberal, Arnold Schwarzenegger not liberal. If you look at most action stars, in fact, they‘re not liberal. And they go on to politics.”
Peter Farrelly, director of “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary,” speaking to The Daily Mail at the Golden Globes ceremony, where his latest film, “Green Book,” won best comedy/musical, even though it's neither.
I‘ve been saying it for years from a product (movies, TV) perspective. And it’s true of the community itself, too? Jesus. BTW: Farrelly says it, the Mail, a dirty, conservative rag, repeats it, but conservatives will still push the “liberal Hollywood” meme because there's too much money and divisiveness in it for them not to. In a way, they want both. They want the scapegoat, and they want Hollywood to be theirs.
Saturday January 05, 2019
Fear of a Blacklisting
Patrick Radden Keefe's must-read piece in The New Yorker, “How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success,” is, as you gather from that title, mostly about how we wouldn't be in the precarious situation we‘re in without the Mark Burnett-produced reality show, “The Apprentice,” which restored and burnished the career and the image of the oft-bankrupt Donald Trump. Hell, in some ways, it created that image. And, god, the lengths they had to go to to make him seem like an intellilgent and intelligible human being. Reading, you think, it’s not just “sad”; it's a fucking crime.
And I didn't even mention Trump's mobsters reference yet.
Anyway, amidst all that, there's the following quote that made me flash back to all the whiny conservative complaints about how they can't be all whiny and conservative in Hollywood for fear of a “liberal McCarthyism.” Never mind Jon Voight, never mind Kelsey Grammer. Never mind that the real blacklist in Hollywood in the 1940s/50s was the result of collusion between right-wing and often anti-Semitic forces in the U.S. Congress (HUAC), the FBI, Hollywood (the MPA) and business (Red Channels); these guys feel bad because they can't wear their MAGA hats to a table reading for “Fresh Off the Boat.” Cry me a river. If you want to make America great again, learn some fucking history.
Here's what made me think of that. Is Burnett, the man who gave us Donald Trump, and who is still a Trump friend, on the outs in Hollywood? The opposite:
He had now achieved such a level of power that, even in reflexively liberal Hollywood, his association with Trump was discussed mostly in whispers. Many people who spoke to me for this piece would not do so on the record, citing fears of being blacklisted.
I assume they mean blacklisted by him and his shows and his production company. Only a few, like Tom Arnold and Jimmy Kimmel, have spoken up or out. It points out the lie of “liberal McCarthyism.” There's no collusion, per the real Hollywood blacklist of the ‘40s and ’50s; there's just individual tastes, and everyone is worried about stepping on the toes of the powerful—whether they‘re on the left or the right.
It’s not criminal, it's just sad.
Monday June 18, 2018
Fox Family Values
This is the latest Fox-News anti-Hollywood piece. It's in reaction to Robert De Niro cursing out Trump at the Tony Awards. De Niro said “Fuck Trump” twice and got a standing ovation. So this.
Fox counters De Niro with Zachery Ty Bryan, which is a little like countering John Updike with me. Who's Bryan? He played the non-heart-throb child of Tim Allen on the 1990s sitcom “Home Improvement.” He's now a producer.
On air, Bryan seems like a decent sort, but he raises two problematic points. The first is apparent from the headline:
Former Sitcom Star: There Are 'A Lot More' Conservatives in Hollywood Than You'd Expect
Meaning Hollywood isn't as liberal as we think? So it‘s not liberal Hollywood? Fox gets a lot of mileage out of calling it that. Indeed, that’s most of their Hollywood coverage. So do they need to stop now? And if these conservatives are so numerous, aren't they a bit cowardly for not “coming out” sooner?
A lot to unpack there.
The second problematic point occurs at the end, when the female host brings up how great “Home Improvement” was. She says it wasn't political, it was just about “family values” (“Tool Time Girl” notwithstanding), and “what so many families go through: the ups and the downs.” She wants TV to do this more. “Just take it back to family. Just being a family.” Bryan agrees:
We need to start getting back to our traditional values. Because we've lost that. And a lot of things happening in the world are because of losing that family background.
Saturday May 26, 2018
We All Want to Change the World
I like that Noah Berlatsky has a piece on Hollywood that includes the following sentences:
Conservatives claim that Hollywood is hopelessly liberal, constantly pushing feminism and LGBTQ rights and other subversive agendas. But when it comes to portraying actual subversives, Hollywood isn't enthusiastic. On the contrary, big-budget action films often go out of their way to show that radicals are corrupt, misguided or ridiculous, and to insist that the status quo, whatever its faults, is the thing worth fighting for.
Good god, yes. Beyond that, Hollywood mostly glamorizes guns, violence, sex, and an absolutist vision of the world (white hats/black hats) because that's what sells. Most Hollywood plots would feel right at home at an NRA convention. So not “liberal.”
But the headline of Berlatsky's piece is misleading:
Hollywood isn't on the side of the resistance
His point is that Hollywood isn't revolutionary. Resistance to Trump (which most Hollywood folks back) and actual revolution (which ... not so much) are two different things. Indeed, you read the piece and you go, “Corporations don't want to lose power? No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for the news.”
That said, I'm a fan of anyone calling out the lie in the “liberal Hollywood” charge.
Wednesday April 26, 2017
Going up against Hedda Hopper excluded.
The following excerpt is from Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” and relates to a 1951 meeting of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, the right-wing org that invited HUAC to Hollywood in the first place.
This was HUAC's second go-round at Hollywood. The first, in 1947, led to the Hollywood 10 being found in contempt of Congress and imprisioned. It also led to the Waldford Statement among moguls and producers, which led to the blacklist, which led to ruined careers and lives, and a sad stink permeating our democracy.
In 1951, HUAC returned with sharper teeth than ever, and the first witness before them was Larry Parks, the star of “The Jolson Story.” The committee broke him. He admitted he'd been a communist, didn't want to name names, but eventually, in tears, did. He gave up his honor, dignity and friends to keep working. And it didn't keep him working. From Frankel:
The next evening, the Motion Picture Alliance held its annual meeting at the Hollywood American Legion Auditorium. The alliance was riding high and more than a thousand people attended. John Wayne, its president, expressed sympathy for Parks. “When any member of the Party breaks with them, we must welcome him back into American society,” said Wayne. “We should give him friendship and help him find work again in our industry.” Guest speaker Victor Riesel, a fire-eating syndicated columnist, showed no such mercy. “The hell with Parks,” he declared. “He didn't tell us anything we didn't know.” Fellow columnist Hedda Hopper stood up and excoriated Wayne. ...
... a chastened Wayne rose to apologize for expressing sympathy for Parks.
Sunday April 09, 2017
First Farce, Then Tragedy
A few weeks back, I wrote a piece for Salon satirically slamming conservatives in Hollywood who claimed they had to keep their opinions to themselves these days, that there was a new McCarthyism from the left and a kind of blacklist to keep conservatives from working. “If you are even lukewarm to Republicans,” one unnamed conservative actor said, “you are excommunicated from the church of tolerance.”
My point: there's nothing happening today like the confluence of forces (FBI, HUAC, Red Channels, et al.) that made up McCarthyism. Sure, it's a bummer that if you shoot your mouth off about how great Trump is, people might not like you—but that's true if you talk up Obama in parts of Georgia, Mississippi, California, et al. More, the government won't subpoena you to answer charges before a committee in which your choices boil down to: 1) inform on your right-wing friends; 2) never work again.
What I didn't know when I wrote the piece? But I know now since I'm reading Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic”? “The blacklist of the left” was actually an argument utilized by the right before they instituted their version in '47. What they imagined happening to them by their enemies, they created against their enemies. It's politics as projection again.
This is from the original HUAC hearings in September 1947:
[“Friendly” witness] Adolphe Menjou called Hollywood “one of the main centers of Communist activity in America.” ... “Communists in the film industry,” Menjou added, “are so powerful that many little people in the industry—innocent people—are afraid to move or speak out against them.”
Sound familiar? Frankel, an author based in Arlington, Va., then sums up the early hearings:
Over five days [the “friendly” witnesses] painted a portrait of a Hollywood under siege by Communists and their allies. All of them agreed that the Reds had sought to create labor strife in order to seize control of the unions, tried to infect movies with their twisted ideology, and created a reverse blacklist in which Reds and their supporters got jobs while non-Communists were excluded.
I thought today's conservatives were playing the victim because there's a kind of power in it. But they've actually played this exact same victim before; right before they became the worst victimizers in Hollywood history.