When Nero is Fiddling, Hollywood is Hot!

Okay, Okay, the Oscars and the gowns and the capped teeth and the funny fellows with squeaky voices and armchair critics, sure, in the scheme of things (look over DV for proof), is a drop in the proverbial well . . .  or proverbial outhouse.

Yet, I am rushing to get this out, since, now, another one of America’s past-times, these giant ghastly loud and garish and ring-toney, and digitized crassly commercial conceptual quagmires, is on the air. The Academy Awards, and all these smug and slim and purely absurd folks – actors, directors, financiers, stand-arounds, gowned and plump with their silly ideas of fame, importance, worth, value and vitality – they are something to behold. Silicon, silly, inside gamers, lovers of the low joke, the rolling roil of quasi-raunchy, or whatever these fools believe this flowing Byzantine score and Vaudevillian TV event might engender or evoke or result in, as in their bottom line — MONEY.

Poetry, they not know of, yet they recite, yammer with thy crybaby commercialized dirges. Just heard Bette Midler with the fool’s game, Wind Beneath my Wings. “God bless all those who passed away, in Hollywood.”  All that is wrong with this slave-worker, conflict-mineral-loving, war-inciting, unfair-trade-holding culture, is in Hollywood, Madison Avenue, NYC Publishing. Oh, no writers or directors getting under the skin and the marrow inside the real story of dramatic real in our lifetimes —  the inequity of wages, of wealth, of the game of kings and queens reeking havoc on US. Oh, Hollywood, glittering the gutters of our  princes and baronesses of the high roller class, those that have gotten every rotten cent in their trillions of pennies lives through the hard work, slavery, exploitation, death of all manhood/ womanhood, self-respecting US. That beautiful class of thespians, getting a cut of the action, some of the loot, a little tap dance, shuffle, big dramatic Willy Loman scene, for a few cool million. Did anyone say George Clooney is only a TV doctor? Yet he is GOD for Hollywood! Sham, shame and sick, really!

How can we take seriously these putzes, these prime-time prostitutes and pimps? Ethically-challenged. Values-less. Selling themselves to the highest bidder for the lowest of prurient and same old crappy bad white man/white woman stories for more bad-bad acting?

Seriously, they prance around with their one-percenter glow, their faux interest in things, you know, the realities of being part of the 280 million in this country, US, they dabble with in their racist ways, their educated and multimillionaire ways. Slumming with the majority, parodying, reality-TV sucking until nothing worthy of our class can connect to their follies. Us, who have to struggle, at least most of us have to, with the pain in the ass bullshit marketing and preening and all fluff, no values lifestyles, push onto our LIVES? These people are so out of touch, they might as well be permanently plastered and anchored to their little stars and hand-prints in Hollywood.

Can Americans really watch this Oscars crap and take any of it seriously, or as if it means shit? Can we? Bono with U2, cracking voices, white boys playing songs for Mandela? Very very bizarre. The multimillionaire God-totting M-16 and drone-seeking them, the silly factories of creme, the muck that is in the center of the Twinkie. Hollywood, TV, commercials, the crow’s feet filled in with the Silly Putty that is the substance of their souls.

These movies, up for awards, all the fabulous insignificance of their existences? These rotten Ellen DeGeneres  lovers, the jokes, the middle of the road death of culture, the pop-snapple-crack of this Hollywood, self-congratulating creep-dom? When do we finally see these Zionists, these corporatists, these directors, their transfinancial junk bondsmen, these crazy middling scriptwriters, the same old misogyny, racism, classicism hawkers, the Meryl Streep’s and pretty girls and funny fools, prancing on stage, these teary-eyed things, goofballs producing this stuff, this prime-time mutual admiration society country clubbers, where one peep of one tiny bit of rebellion gets shut down by the orchestrated Elevator Music, the pompous classical strings, the over-edited, over-scripted, over-multiple cuts, a million angle TV thing, when oh when, can we finally start throwing gasoline on their Bonfires of the Vanities?

Microcosm, Hollywood, theater, film, the mass propaganda silly, romanticized, under-achievers controlling the control room, cutting room, boardrooms of this boring crap. Monkey juice, really. Vast millions of gallons of mind-erasing stuff coming across the silver-plasma-filled-iPhone screen!

Funny bit of labor battle around this year’s rotten Oscars:

The security officers and others who make the star-studded event happen often earn yearly wages that are topped by the price of a single designer dress. About 50 security officers and supporters demonstrated in the lobby of the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard to protest the low pay and part-time work schedules they said leave security officers in poverty.

“When a dress becomes more valuable than the security officer who is protecting the lives of the entertainers and the folks that come to the event, that’s tragic,” Robert Branch, a security officer who has a full-time, union-negotiated job in downtown Los Angeles.

The protest was coordinated by the Service Employees International Union, which represents some security officers, janitors and other service workers, including Branch.

Oh, this academy (sic) thing, what embarrassing pap. More and more of this American blown-out culture and the ever-dwindling jobs of worth, the more battle lines jiggered by the One Percent and their 19 Percenters, well, it’s the name of the game, from the top (sic) down (sic). The dead-end Oscars. Who else is protesting that specific Genie thing called Fame and Film? Visual artists!

Do we want more of this mindless hate? More stories making fun of us, eviscerating our souls, black-facing entire classes of people in their trembling scripts. Just watching 10 minutes of a TV thing, Portlandia, oh, the jig is up, these educated (sic) inside jokesters, these white and Jewish writers and funny men and funny women, tragically so hip, tragically so imploding on self-loathing all the way to the bank account.

Who else is out protesting these valueless times, connected to the superficialness of this superficiality called Tinsel Town?

Influential members of the visual effects (VFX) artists community say they are planning another protest to coincide with the Oscar ceremony on 2 March. This follows a 400-strong demonstration against the industry’s treatment of VFX artists last year.

According to the Wrap, Daniel Lay, author of the VFX Soldier blog, is among those planning the new protest, which is being termed March in March. According to their Facebook page, their aim is to “bring awareness and show support for our effort to levy duties against VFX subsidies”.

Last year the VFX community focused its attention on Life of Pi, as the company that supplied its visual effects was forced to file for bankruptcy despite winning an Oscar for best visual effects. The mood was further hardened when director Ang Lee failed to acknowledge any VFX artists in his speech on receiving the best director Oscar.

Now, however, the protest is aimed at subsidies, which enable non-US VFX outfits to price US companies out of the market and the work to migrate to the UK, Canada and New Zealand. “We’re trying to focus on the destructive impact of the subsidies race,” said Lay. “It’s great that there’s an Oscar party going on, but a lot of us are being hurt by this subsidy.”

Lay has also co-founded an organization called ADAPT (Association of Digital Artists, Professionals and Technicians), which will agitate for a levy to be charged to films that benefit from such subsidies. Lay told the Guardian: “Many international artists are hurt by subsidies.”

This is the war zone, now, is it not? These people we funnel money down throats like force-fed prisoners at Guantanamo, these pigs of capital, shiny skin, Botoxed ethics, vapidity beyond vapidity. And we treat them like magnificent beings, harps and booming blasts of horns as if they produce ANYTHING for man-woman KIND.

Movies, audiences, some critical mass? What are these movies? I just finished 15 episodes of Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film. Interesting, and, yes, I see some film as important . . .  as is a lot of theater  . . . as is even more literature  . . . as is the real art and architecture and music of rebellion, humanity, revolution. Of course I do. I am a writer, poet, fictionalist, creative non-fctionist. Really, art is VALUABLE. Hollywood, well, sometimes the rare gets pushed through the valueless.

GK: People may complain that The Story of Film is not comprehensive, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. This isn’t a survey course of film history, but a presentation of what innovations in the industry prompted people to rethink how cinema is made and even consumed. You talk extensively about trends such as French New Wave, and Dogme 95, but touch only briefly on recent topics such as avant-garde film (Un Chien Andalou),  motion capture animation (Avatar), or even micro-trends like Mumblecore (Blair Witch Project). How did you structure the timelines/segments/themes?

Mark Cousins: You are right that it isn’t at all comprehensive. It doesn’t touch on Sam Fuller or Neil Jordan or Michael Snow! However, some people have said that it is very subjective. I argue that it is in fact more objective than most film histories because most film histories are white westerners writing about the cinema that they know best (white western cinema), with Asian cinema added. Such histories say little about African cinema, for example. I am a bit more objective because I think I haven’t left out big chunks of the world because they are not where I come from.

Yes, there’s not nearly enough on experimental cinema—though there’s Limite, Un Chien Andalou, Cavalcanti’s Rien que les heurs,  [Matthew] Barney, Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un poete, Assja Djebar’s La Nouba, Walter Ruttmann’s abstracts, Entr’acte, Polanski’s early short, the Themersons’s Polish films, Daisies, Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti, etc., etc., so at least a proper geographical spread. I gave what I thought was one striking example of motion capture and if I had more time I might have looked at Andy Serkis’s recent performances but, yes, given my theme of innovation, motion capture didn’t deserve too much more time than that I felt. On Mumblecore: I felt that Blair Witch was very innovative and there have been other good Mumblecore movies but given the choice in the last ten years of my story between, say, Mumblecore and what was happening in Korean cinema (which I under explore), it was not difficult to leave out Mumblecore.

GK: Likewise, you emphasize certain things, such as the role(s) of women in cinema. You discuss female screenwriters—e.g., Anita Loos, as well as filmmakers—Alice Guy-Blaché, Ida Lupino, Claire Denis, and Jane Campion, the latter of whom says only 3% of filmmakers are women, despite 50+% of the population being female. It seemed as if you wanted to investigate this more, or perhaps use these cases to emphasize this point. Can you discuss any agenda you had in making The Story of Film?

MC: Yes, I am a feminist. I believe that women’s achievements in many fields are under-recorded and under-recognized. To your list of women directors you mention, I’d add Samira Makhmalbaf, Lois Weber, Assja Djebar, Safi Faye, Forough Farrokhzad, Kira Muratova, Věra Chytilová, etc., as filmmakers whose work has been undervalued by film historians. They are all women, these directors, and most film historians are men. It seems to me that this fact, amongst others, explains why these filmmakers’ work is not properly recognized (and their film prints not properly conserved).

Politically, I am somewhat left of centre. By this I mean that I think colonialism was broadly a bad thing, that our culture was, and to a certain extent still is, blighted by racism, that social class worked to exclude many talents, that anti-gay sentiments are bad for society and its art, etc. The Story of Film shows signs of these political beliefs in that it gives time to decolonized film, black film, film about uncomfortable social truths, etc. but not in a blinkered way. Before its epilogue, my story ends, for example, with Aleksandr Sokurov’s beautiful Russian Ark, which many have positioned on the right of the political spectrum.

I wonder where Cousins is, in this homey and homily event? We worry about audiences in this Breaking Wind-Bad Wind era. Where movies about movie starts, about sins like Fucker-Zucker-Berg and Steve Jobs and all the other notorious felons are made, where the Wolf of Abscam Wall Street prop up the One Percent and their vapidity when it comes to real drama, entertainment,  pushing aside what’s really the value of a country, a class, a people, an art. US!

So much in Hollywood is bad TV, overacting, flailing and flaunting. Yelling, beady eyes, beady sweat. Glamor? These are Prozac-Wellbutrin-drug kingpins. Old when youn, conservative, wastrels, but so steeped in fantasy tradition, the blasting booming blustery self-congratulatory fanfare. Fawned over by their own kind, some posturing punks in the money, make-believe humans, all laughing at us, marginalizing the marginal, missing almost all cadence of the real culture. Yet, we throw money at them as if it’s as vital to them as it is for us to have clean air and water to live.

“Has Hollywood Murdered the Movies?”

I have in mind the great national audience for movies, or what’s left of it. In the 1930s, roughly eighty million people went to the movies every week, with weekly attendance peaking at ninety million in 1930 and again in the mid-1940s. Now about thirty million people go, in a population two and a half times the size of the population of the 1930s. By degrees, as everyone knows, television, the Internet, and computer games dethroned the movies as regular entertainment. By the 1980s, the economics of the business became largely event-driven, with a never-ending production of spectacle and animation that draws young audiences away from their home screens on opening weekend. For years, the tastes of young audiences have wielded an influence on what gets made way out of proportion to their numbers in the population. We now have a movie culture so bizarrely pulled out of shape that it makes one wonder what kind of future movies will have.

Nostalgia is history altered through sentiment. What’s necessary for survival is not nostalgia, but defiance. I’m made crazy by the way the business structure of movies is now constricting the art of movies. I don’t understand why more people are not made crazy by the same thing. Perhaps their best hopes have been defeated; perhaps, if they are journalists, they do not want to argue themselves out of a job; perhaps they are too frightened of sounding like cranks to point out what is obvious and have merely, with a suppressed sigh, accommodated themselves to the strange thing that American movies have become. A successful marketplace has a vast bullying force to enforce acquiescence.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, The Avengers, which pulled together into one movie all the familiar Marvel Comics characters from earlier pictures—Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and so on—achieved a worldwide box-office gross within a couple of months of about $1.5 billion. That extraordinary figure represented a triumph of craft and cynical marketing: the movie, which cost $220 million to make, was mildly entertaining for a while (self-mockery was built into it), but then it degenerated into a digital slam, an endless battle of exacerbated pixels, most of the fighting set in the airless digital spaces of a digital city. Only a few critics saw anything bizarre or inane about so vast a display of technology devoted to so little. American commercial movies are now dominated by the instantaneous monumental, the senseless repetition of movies washing in on a mighty roar of publicity and washing out in a waste of semi-indifference a few weeks later. The Green Hornet? The Green Lantern? Did I actually see both of them? The Avengers will quickly be effaced by an even bigger movie of the same type

Finally, it’s over, the Academy Awards . . . drum roll, please . . . . With Twelve Years a Slave winning the top honors (sic). There we have it. Pomp, circumstance,  glitz, gullible stuff. Take me out of here, John Steppling – theater and arts and cultural picador, on his “Thoughts on Playwriting” :

The compulsive repetitive nature of mass marketing has gone a long ways in the training of perception. But it is the mystifying of repetition, the pretense is of difference. And this seems crucial. The liberal white class, the people who run institutional theatre, and University programs in writing, believe largely in a marketed reality within which stories of individualism can be played out. Clear cut the forest, the better to inspect ‘psychology’ as it is operative in each ‘character’. This links also to my last post and this idea of mastery. You cannot master the forest, without mostly cutting it down. The sense of space: that theatrical space, linked to an ‘off stage’, to an elsewhere that is unconscious, is by its very nature submissive. The submission allows for that walk in the forest. That walk is creative and it also the discovery of a path. The Situationists used to say, get a map of Berlin and use it to navigate yourself around Milan.

There is a resurgent racism, and it is almost always coupled to a bullying tone of authoritarian rhetoric. It takes the form of Slavoj Zizek’s openly racist clown show, or Laurie Penny’s elitist hectoring and moralizing (per the bottom of this post) the rancid elitism of Bhaskar Shunkara, or mainstream reactionaries like Nick Kristoff et al, and culturally, in places like The New Yorker, where Emily Nussbaum is regressive feminist du jour. But what struck me this week was the bullying; when I happened to read THREE different postings in social media with links to the Nussbaum review of the new HBO show, True Detective. Now, all three postings also prefaced their posting of Nussbaum’s review with almost identical comments “I love the show, but of course she is right”. How can that be? How can Nussbaum be right, and you (all were women) love the show? The answer is, writers such as Nussbaum tend toward a tone of tacit bossiness, it’s the sound of a junior high school girl’s principle. Detention for you if you don’t denigrate this show. What is stunningly obvious is that 99% of what is on network or cable TV could be called misogynist. And in most cases, you’d be correct. But in fact I don’t think True Detective really is. But that’s not the reason it’s being attacked. It’s being attacked for two reasons. The first is that the show is about poverty. The second is that it’s about the psychic injuries men suffer when they cannot step outside the systems of domination and emotional crippling that the authority structure imposes. School, military, employment. The hierarchies of authority. The men are damaged, all of them. A culture of punishment in which masculinity is defined by brutality. What writers like Nussbaum do (and look, Nussbaum is a moron, who loved Girls and Orange is the New Black), and Laurie Penny and a few others, both left and right, is to appeal to women’s rights, to point to gender inequality while simultaneously validating the authority structure that created those inequalities. Hillary for President. Kathryn Bigelow as leader of women breaking through in directing. Lena Dunham is a genius. OK, now I mention this here because the writer of True Detective is well aware of the deformation of male psyches, and he is a kid from Louisiana, and a provincial college down there, not Harvard. His sensibility grates on Emily Nussbaum. Lena Dunham’s doesn’t.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.

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  1. Paul Haeder said on March 3rd, 2014 at 12:18pm #

    Thanks for the twenty-five cents on Oscar Awards night, Chuck from Taylor, Penn.


    In “When Nero is Fiddling, Hollywood is Hot,” you ask the important question, “Can Americans really watch this Oscars crap and take any of it seriously?” I posit Americans should not, but after decades of effective socialization designed to advance worship the “Beautiful People,” millions do take the Oscar awards very seriously. One must hand it to our Controllers who worship little except themselves, and have cleverly developed an entertainment civilization which encourages worship of “stars” much similar to the ancients who made demigods out of mortals. Cynical, I am (for one) curious to see if there will come a day where, upon death of an Oscar-god, the small-print “terms & conditions” shall require their servants to be put to death in order to serve them in a next world. Our society is so sick & vulnerable to sophisticated forms of propaganda &distortion, one might envision a trend where singers like Bono & U2 who have crooned for the Davos-set in this life, are suddenly raptured away in order to provide perpetual entertainment for either a deceased Bank King, Steve Jobs, or a death valley POTUS.

    (NOTE: Some “gowned & capped” tooth Academy Award winners who inevitably run afoul to the Law might proactively reflect upon how household-hand Kato Kaelin started yapping, and almost brought O.J. down in a Towering Inferno. Ancient Pharaohs likely knew enough to pre-empt dingbat slaves from talking, & despoiling a worthy Paramount Pictures legacy.)